NTS LogoSkeptical News for 5 December 2009

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Saturday, December 05, 2009

The Creationism vs. Evolution Debate


David BarberIssue date: 12/2/09 Section: Viewpoints

Several weeks ago our campus was flooded with large full color posters and large portable billboards advertising a "Creation/Evolution Seminar" with Dr. Brad Harrub.

I'm interested in evolution and I could tell that Dr. Harrub would be arguing for creation. I called the phone number on the poster and was told that Dr. Harrub would be speaking for about 20 minutes and then have a discussion with the audience. On these terms I decided to join about 200 people at Watkins for the session on November 21, "Evolutionary Hoaxes and the Dinosaurs."

Dr. Harrub, a charismatic man in the mold of a seasoned televangelist, established the parameters of his argument in the first minutes of his talk. As I understood him, Dr. Harrub believes that Americans have been indoctrinated into a false belief in evolution. Champions of evolutionary theory, Dr. Harrub contended, largely base their claims on falsified evidence and even evolutionists themselves know that the evolutionary story they tell is a lie.

Dr. Harrub began his talk with a discussion of "Evolutionary Hoaxes." He chose for his example the story of the peppered moth, a famous case about which many of us have heard something. Prior to the industrial revolution in England the peppered moth was a light colored moth with a sprinkle of black spots. As England's industrial towns began to pour sooty pollutants into the atmosphere these moths turned much darker in color, evolutionists claiming that this was a case of natural selection. That is, the moths with less "pepper" in their coloration were easier prey for birds when cast against the darker background of the soot-laden trees. Moths with more "pepper" survived and passed on this trait to subsequent generations, leading to a progressive darkening in the moths' coloration.

Dr. Harrub exposed this classical example of natural selection as a falsehood. The scientist who conducted the experiment in which he tested light colored versus dark colored moths for their vulnerability to predation had conducted shoddy science, at best.

People not familiar with the extensive scientific work demonstrating natural selection's power might well assume that this peppered moth story was typical of how scientists hoodwink the public.

That this is false, that species do change, and change radically, in response to their environment, is proven every single day, however. Insects, for example, have developed resistance and immunities to poisons that formerly killed them in droves. We now have strains of staph bacteria that have successfully engineered resistance to a variety of drugs. Formerly treatable bacterial infections are now killing people. In other words, these insects and bacteria have evolved before our eyes.

But having discredited the peppered moth story, Dr. Harrub felt no need to conduct a serious discussion of natural selection. It was time to get to the heart of his lecture: evolutionists, according to Dr. Harrub, begin indoctrinating Americans from a very young age using for their purpose that creature which every child loves, the dinosaur. Go to any museum, Dr. Harrub urged, and you will see reconstructed fossils of these giant reptiles. Beneath these fossils you'll see little explanatory plaques telling you that the dinosaurs lived a hundred million years ago and became extinct 65 million years back, long before human beings came on the scene.

Dr. Harrub determined to set this record straight. His first witness: the Bible, or rather how Dr. Harrub reads the Bible. According to this Ph.D. in Neurobiology, God created the world and everything on it in six days some 6000 years ago. If this is so, then it would be obviously impossible for the dinosaurs to have died 65 millions years ago; and, human beings and dinosaurs must have coexisted with one another.

Evidence? Dr. Harrub offered a powerpoint slide of a small dinosaur within the gut of the fossilized remains of a mammal. I am not sure why Dr. Harrub believes that this is evidence that humans and dinosaurs coexisted. Evolutionary scientists affirm that mammals and dinosaurs coexisted over a period of nearly 150 million years. This piece of Dr. Harrub's presentation makes sense only if you hold that animals don't evolve. The presence of a single mammal, I guess, proves that human beings must have existed too.

I should mention that by now Dr. Harrub had consumed the twenty minutes I'd been told he'd speak and he was still going strong. I was getting antsy because I had as yet heard no real evidence for Dr. Harrub's argument. But now Dr. Harrub was threatening to demolish one of the key elements of evolutionary theory: radiometric dating. Radiometric dating is one of the most important tools scientists use to date the age of the earth and the age of fossils.

A variety of chemical elements - potassium, carbon, uranium, thorium, etc. - exist in stable and unstable, or radioactive, forms. Over time, the unstable forms of these elements deteriorate and leave behind a stable element in its place. This deterioration of the unstable "isotope" occurs on average at a steady rate, expressed in terms of radioactive half-life.

Radioactive carbon, Carbon-14, for example, has a half-life of not quite 6,000 years. When an animal or plant dies it ceases to consume Carbon-14, and the Carbon-14 begins to deteriorate, turning into the stable element Nitrogen, Carbon-14's "daughter" element. Since the amount of Carbon-14 in the environment remains fairly constant, if the remains of a given animal contain only half the Carbon-14 that one would expect to find in the cells of a living animal, then scientists can say that the animal likely died 6,000 years ago. To be sure, especially given the peculiarities of Carbon-14, and its relatively short half-life, scientists must be extremely cautious in their Carbon-14 dating, cross-checking their findings with other means whenever possible.

Naturally enough, Dr. Harrub trained his guns on Carbon-14 dating as the sole representative of radiometric dating. Powerpoints of living animals dated as having died 10,000 years ago! Powerpoints of one and the same animal with widely divergent ages! And, of course, since Dr. Harrub offered not one word of how scientists attempt to compensate for and cross-check Carbon-14 datings, it was hardly necessary for him to ask the obvious: how could any intelligent human being rely on such unreliable data to assess the age of dinosaurs, or of anything?

But wait, Dr. Harrub was not done demolishing the validity of radiometric dating. He called as his next witness AGAINST radiometric dating none other than Richard Dawkins, world renowned atheist and one of the foremost champions of evolution in the world today, a modern day Darwin. Here is the confession that Harrub extracted from Dawkins and placed on his powerpoint :

"The radiocarbon stopwatch buzzes round at a great rate, so fast that, after some thousands of years, its spring is almost wound down and the watch is no longer reliable. It is useful for dating organic material on the … timescale where we are dealing in hundreds or a few thousands of year, but it is no good for the evolutionary timescale where we are dealing with millions of years" (from Dawkin's book, The Blind Watchmaker, p.226).

Well, this is certainly a triumph for Dr. Harrub. How could scientists seriously say that dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago when the great Dawkins says that radiocarbon dating is worthless for measuring millions of years? Only … only, Dr. Harrub has avoided the fact that scientists don't use radioCARBON dating for measuring the age of ancient fossils or rocks. Of course, this is precisely what Dawkins was explaining when Harrub lifted Dawkins's words out of context.

Some radioactive isotopes have extremely long half-lives. Rubidium-87, for example, has a half-life of 49 billion years. Thorium-232 has a half-life of 14 billion years; Uranium-238 has a half-life of 4.5 billion years, and so on. Because an ancient rock has a combination of these and other radioactive elements, each with a different half-life, you can cross-check the findings on one radioactive isotope with the findings of two, three, or more isotopes in the same rock. So for example, the same sample of moon rock taken back to Earth by the Apollo 11 astronauts was tested using three different radioactive isotopes, Argon, Rubidium, and Samarium, and all came back with ages ranging from 3.49 billion years to 3.57 billion years.

The oldest rocks on earth, ancient meteorites, have, by these means and cross-checks, been dated at 4.5 billion years of age. And it has been through these careful samplings and cross-checks of radioactive isotopes that scientists of whole variety of nationalities and religious beliefs have come up with the estimate that dinosaurs went extinct about 65 million years ago, on the one hand, and that modern day humans first walked the earth less than a million years ago.

Well, at about this point Dr. Harrub announced that he'd go on for another 30 minutes. As his first 20 minutes were already up, and as he had made no serious argument for his thesis to that point, I left, angered and dismayed. Angered and dismayed because I suspected that the majority of people in Watkins that night knew very little about evolutionary theory going into Dr. Harrub's talk, and went away with even less knowledge. Angered and dismayed, because many of those people left Watkins that night more convinced than ever that they are the victims of a massive effort at indoctrination, indoctrination aimed at taking away from them everything they hold dear.

And of course, ironically, they are right. A massive effort at indoctrination is afoot. But it is not the scientists doing the indoctrinating.

Dr. David Barber is Associate Professor of History at the University of Tennessee at Martin.

Roger Ebert is such a skeptic


Category: Skepticism
Posted on: December 3, 2009 10:41 AM, by PZ Myers

He takes on our country's curious attitude towards patent inanity.

We are edging into an Election Season where strange beliefs will get an unusual airing. Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee are up front in their disdain for Darwinism and their embrace of one degree or another of Creationism. Obama and most Democrats, and many Republicans have no problem at all with Darwinism, but will be wise to keep that out of their basic stump speech. Palin can draw applause by affirming she doesn't believe mankind shared a common ancestor with oran utans, but Obama will prudently refrain from revealing his belief in the quite provable fact that we do.

It will be a fascinating aspect of the coverage of the approaching campaigns to watch how mainstream news organizations tread on this thin ice. There was an outcry in some circles when most news outlets were slow to simply state that George Bush was wrong about Brownie doin a great job, and Palin was wrong about the Bridge to Nowhere. They were wrong, but few in the MSM said they were, and even fewer, perhaps none, of those outlets will say that Palin or Huckabee are just plain wrong, wrong, wrong about Creationism. Not since Flat Earthers has there been a public dispute in which one side (Darwinism) has so throughly and merciless demolished the other (Creationism). Yet at most the MSM might venture to mention a "debate" or "controversy" between Darwinism and Creationism. News at 10: The debate about the theory of gravity.

He doesn't just target the right-wing follies, either: the lefties get a skewering for their promotion of New Agey Nonsense. It's a good read.

Another debate with creationists


Category: Creationism

Posted on: December 3, 2009 1:38 PM, by PZ Myers

Oh, when will we learn? Michael Shermer and Donald Prothero duked it out with a pair of Discovery Institute charlatans recently, to predictable results: the creationists cried victory afterwards. It simply doesn't matter that they had no evidence.

Anyway, a couple of things struck me as too typical in these affairs.

The creationists changed the topic the morning of the debate, from the general "Origins of life" to the "Adequacy of Neo-Darwinian natural selection and mutation to explain the origin of life", which already skews the subject. It's amazing how common it is for creationists to pull this tactic of shifting the goalposts the day of the game. It's also surprising how often we let them get away with it.

Despite their change of topic, the creationists ignored it! One guy yammered on about "information," despite not understanding it; the other made the impossibility of whale evolution the centerpiece of his argument. Whale evolution is cool, but it's a fact…and note that there were no whales around at the time of the origin of life.

As usual, our side is all about the evidence. Their side is all about rhetoric and appeals to biases. Guess which side fares best in the debate format? It's even true in their books: note that Meyer's book is subtitled, DNA and the Evidence of Intelligent Design, and he couldn't gasp out any evidence at all for their theory, which they cannot even state.

Oh, well. We're game, at least, and willing to charge into their playing field no matter how much they have to stack the odds against us. Now if only they would try to do likewise…but of course, they can't. They've got nothin'.

CA Science Center Sued for Info by Intelligent Design Group


By The Christian Post on December 4th, 2009

By Nathan Black|Christian Post Reporter

The Discovery Institute, an intelligent design think tank, has filed a petition against the California Science Center for refusing to disclose certain public documents.

The petition comes after the American Freedom Alliance filed a lawsuit against the science center for canceling a contract to screen a pro-intelligent design video at the center's IMAX Theater.

Following the cancellation, the Discovery Institute requested the center to release public documents under the California Public Records Act. On Nov. 2, the center released 44 pages of documents and claimed no documents were withheld, except some personal information such as telephone numbers and email addresses.

However, the intelligent design think tank contends the claims are false and that some e-mail communications, including ones with the Smithsonian Institution – which allegedly expressed angst over the screening – and ones by decision makers, were not disclosed.

"The Center withheld public communications by decision makers who cancelled the contract with AFA," said Casey Luskin, program officer in Public Policy and Legal Affairs at the Discovery Institute. "We believe the reason the California Science Center withheld these public documents is simple: the e-mails show evidence of discrimination against the pro-intelligent design viewpoint."

The film, "Darwin's Dilemma: The Mystery of the Cambrian Fossil Record," had been scheduled to be shown at the California Science Center on Oct. 25. The Los Angeles premiere was being sponsored by the AFA.

"Darwin's Dilemma" is the third film in the intelligent design trilogy from Illustra Media. It explores the Cambrian explosion, "when in a moment of geological time complex animals first appeared on earth fully formed, without evidence of any evolutionary ancestors." Some of the scientists interviewed in the film propose the theory of intelligent design as an alternative explanation for the appearance of animal life in the Cambrian period.

Pro-evolution film "We Are Born of the Stars" was also scheduled to be shown to provide balance to a discussion about life's origin after the screening.

However, early in October, the center canceled its contract with the AFA, according to the Discovery Institute. The AFA alleges in its lawsuit that museum officials were fearful of having intelligent design discussed in any context.

AFA says its free speech rights were violated and alleges that CSC officials "conspired to drop the event because they did not want the museum to be viewed as legitimizing intelligent design as a scientific theory."

A request was made to the center for the release of public documents.

Among some of the documents obtained, one e-mail sent by University of Southern California professor Hilary Schor on Oct. 6 states, "I'm less troubled by the freedom of speech issues [i.e., the suppression of freedom of speech] than why my tax dollars which support the California Science Center are being spent on hosting religious propaganda!"

Another document shows Ken Phillips, a curator at the CSC, stating, "I personally have a real problem with anything that elevates the concept of intelligent design to a level that makes it appear as though it should be considered equally alongside Darwinian theory as a possible alternative to natural selection. In other words, I see us getting royally played by the Center for Science and Culture resulting in long term damage to our credibility and judgment for a very long time. … No institute supporting an essentially religious philosophy of creation is required to assure that appropriate critique comes to bear on the Darwinian theory."

AFA and the Discovery Institute argue that the cancellation was a result of discrimination and "intolerance for the scientific viewpoint expressed and scientific content contained in 'Darwin's Dilemma.'"

"[I]t is a fundamental principle of First Amendment jurisprudence that when a governmental entity or sub-unit (such as CSC) opens its facilities as a public forum, it is not constitutionally permissible to censor speech based on viewpoint or content," the think tank maintains.

The California Science Center, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, is a public-private partnership between the State of California and the not-for-profit California Science Center Foundation.

Copyright 2009 The Christian Post.

2009 Daniel of the Year


Stephen C. Meyer, director of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, fights to show that all lives have eternal value because they are the work of a Creator and not the product of chance | Marvin Olasky

WORLD's 12th annual Daniel of the Year does not save lives abroad, as Britain's Caroline Cox and Sudan's Michael Yerko do. Nor does he regularly save lives of the unborn, as Florida's Wanda Cohn does through her pregnancy center work. No, Stephen C. Meyer, director of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, fights to show that those lives have eternal value because they are the work of a Creator and not the product of chance.

This fall Meyer came out with a full account of what science has learned in recent decades: Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design (Harper One, 2009) shows that the cell is incredibly complex and the code that directs its functions wonderfully designed. His argument undercuts macroevolution, the theory that one kind of animal over time evolves into a very different kind. Meyer thus garners media scorn for raining on this year's huge celebration of the birth of Charles Darwin 200 years ago and the publication of On the Origin of Species 150 years ago.

Meyer's Seattle-area office is filled with books and papers, drawings of the interior of plants, and trilobite fossils—obviously evolved, a Darwinist would say. Hanging from the ceiling is an obviously created mobile that displays sets of eyes along with pictures of people from many cultures. That mobile, made by Meyer's teenage daughter, reminds him of the passage from 2 Chronicles 16 that notes how "the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward Him." Those with biblical faith in God see both fossils and the mobile as works of intelligence.

From his office Meyer has ventured forth to debate at least nine prominent Darwinians on CNN, NPR, FOX, the BBC, and other venues. In it he has written numerous newspaper and magazine columns in defense of Intelligent Design (ID), as well as an academic article that became notorious five years ago when Richard Sternberg, a Smithsonian-affiliated scientist, agreed to publish it in the peer-reviewed Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. Darwinian higher-ups demoted Sternberg for allowing the other side to have its say. They interrogated him about religious and political beliefs.

ID proponents regularly receive that type of harassment: No lion's den, but denials of tenure and media depiction as anti-science. Ironically, scientific advance is now backing ID, which starts with the idea that—in Meyer's words—"certain technical features in a physical system reveal the activity of an intelligence or a mind. A simple example might be Mount Rushmore: You drive into the Dakotas and you see carvings of the presidents' faces up on the mountainside, and you immediately recognize that you're dealing with a sculpture, an intelligence, rather than an undirected process like wind and erosion."

Our new ability to peer into cells also shows ID: Meyer says, "We don't see little faces but we do see other indicators of intelligent activity, such as the digital code that's stored in a DNA molecule, or the tiny little miniature machines, the nanotechnology, the sliding clamps and turbines and rotary engines that biologists are now finding inside living cells." Darwin did not know any of that and Meyer, 51, did not always know it. His career shows the four-stage pattern that is common among intellectual Daniels: Questioning, discernment, courage, and perseverance.

Meyer's questioning stage came in the 1970s and 1980s. He grew up nominally Catholic—he, his wife, and their three children now attend Covenant Presbyterian in the Seattle area—and as a teenager "had a long and tortuous conversion experience. I was constantly asking myself questions and over-thinking things. In my junior year in high school I vowed that I would not think about Christianity for two whole weeks and I broke the vow within a day. I probably was already a Christian but I had so many questions and I wasn't sure."

At Whitworth College in Spokane, Professor Norman Krebs introduced Meyer to books by Francis Schaeffer that helped him answer theological questions and also led him to a philosophy of science: "I was very taken with Schaeffer's argument from epistemology that the foundation of the scientific enterprise itself rested on certain assumptions that only made sense within a theistic worldview, in particular, assumptions about the reliability of the human mind."

Meyer after graduation kept thinking about "the big questions" and "was first inclined to accept the evolutionary explanation of things mainly because all of my college science professors did." While working as a geophysicist in Texas, he dropped in on a conference concerning the origin of the universe and of life: "Nearly all the panelists acknowledged that there was no materialistic, evolutionary explanation for the origin of the first life . . . the veneer of objectivity in the discussion broke down and some of the scientists started scolding and lecturing this other scientist about his giving up on science. . . . It got really personal and kind of ugly."

Non-questioning minds would have steered clear of what looked like trouble. Meyer's reaction: "I want to know more about this debate"—so he accepted a fellowship that allowed him to study at the 800-year-old University of Cambridge, which includes among its alumni Isaac Newton, Darwin himself, and 85 Nobel Prize winners.

The question that occupied Meyer at Cambridge was, "Could this intuition of a connection between information and intelligence be developed into a rigorous scientific argument?" He "began to study the scientists who had developed a scientific method for studying biological origins. That led me, obviously, to Darwin, and from Darwin to his mentor, the famous 19th-century geologist Charles Lyell, who had pioneered the method of studying events and causes in the remote past. . . . Lyell had a way of distilling this principle of reasoning: He said we should be looking for presently acting causes, or as he put it, 'causes now in operation.'"

Meyer recalls the beginning of his discernment stage: "When I saw that phrase, 'causes now in operation,' the light went on, because I thought, 'What is the cause now in operation that's responsible for the creation of digital code, of alphabetical information in a digital form?' There's only one: intelligence. So I realized that by using Darwin and Lyell's principle of reasoning, you could make a compelling scientific case for Intelligent Design." That type of evidence assessment is different from the standard scientific method emphasis on laboratory analysis and experimentation, but it's what historians use in looking at singular past events and inferring their causes from evidence left behind.

When Meyer completed his dissertation, "Of Clues and Causes: A Methodological Interpretation of Origin of Life Studies," the University of Cambridge in 1991 awarded him its prestigious Ph.D. Meyer, having proceeded through questioning and discernment stages, had to decide whether to enter the courage stage. Everyone knows that microevolution—change within species—occurs, but the critical issue is whether the descendants of dinosaurs become birds through natural selection. Denying macroevolution leaves scientists unprotected even at some Christian colleges.

Meyer says, "You ask how someone gets the moxie to take something like this on. Part of the answer is that I didn't know any better when I was young. I was just so seized with this idea and these questions: 'Was it possible to develop a scientific case? Were we looking at evidence that could revive and resuscitate the classical argument from design, which had been understood from the time of Hume and certainly the time of Darwin to be defunct?' If that was the case, that's a major scientific revolution."

Courage becomes a determinant once we count the cost and see that it's great. Meyer's first inkling came when "talking about my ideas to people at Cambridge High Table settings, and getting that sudden social pall." But the cost was and is more than conversational ease: San Francisco State University in 1992 expelled a professor, Dean Kenyon, who espoused ID, and other job losses have come since. Meyer and other ID proponents saw "that this would be very controversial. One of the things that emboldened all of us who were in the early days of this movement was meeting each other. In 1993 we had a little private conference [with] 10 or 12 very sharp, mostly younger scientists going through top-of-the-world programs in their respective fields who were all skeptical. I think the congealing of this group gave everyone the sense that this was going to be an exciting adventure: Let's rumble."

Meyer taught from 1990 to 2002 at his alma mater, Whitworth. Then he and his family moved to Seattle and full-time work at the Center for Science and Culture, which he had planted in 1996 following "an electric conversation" with famed free market economics writer George Gilder, a Discovery Institute leader. Gilder understands that the creative ingenuity of the human mind, and not material stuff by itself, leads to wealth creation. Similarly, biological functions arise from information in DNA, which points to a designing mind. Our computer age knowledge of the role of information technology helps us to grasp what Darwin did not: That matter does not matter unless someone or Someone precisely arranges it.

Many who enter the courage stage at first think that the war in which they find themselves will end in a few years. There comes a time in many lives, though, when a hard realization sinks in: It will not be over in my lifetime. That's when some give in while others proceed to the perseverance stage. That's where Meyer is: Signature in the Cell ends with a long list of testable predictions concerning the direction of science over the next several decades. Meyer predicts that further study will reveal the importance of "junk DNA" and the reasons for what seem to be "poorly designed" structures: They will reveal either a hidden functional logic or evidence of decay from originally good designs.

Life for ID Daniels may even grow harder as some Darwinists realize that time is not on their side. As ultrasound machines have undercut abortion, so information revolutions have led more scientists to embrace ID. As Meyer says, "When we encounter a computer program we can always trace it back to a computer programmer. . . . So the discovery of information in DNA points decisively back to an intelligent cause, to a mind, not a material process."

That discovery undermines the current Darwinian empire, which is and will be striking back. Meyer's wife Elaine occasionally asks him, "Is it too late for us to still be farmers?" It looks that way: Meyer is way past the point of no return for a placid academic life. And today's Daniels hang in there, as their predecessor two-and-a-half millennia ago did.

American Freedom Alliance sues California Science Center, Discovery Institute files petition


December 4, 10:58 AM Christian Worldview Examiner Bill Belew

The American Freedom Alliance filed a lawsuit against the California Science Center and the Discovery Institute filed a petition against the same.

AFA says the California Science Center reneged on a contract to screen a pro-intelligent design video at it's IMAX Theater despite the plan for a pro-evolution group to film "We Are Born of the Stars" afterwards to provide a balance.

"Darwin's Dilemma" was the third film in a series. CSC didn't want viewers faced with what some scientists think are a satisfactory explanation to the Cambrian explosion - "when in a moment of geological time complex animals first appeared on earth fully formed, without evidence of any evolutionary ancestors."

Do the evolutionists really think that the only way they can continue to propogate their lies is by not allowing any opposing idea to be considered?

Haven't the evolutionists learned anything from the church?

The best way to get folks attention is to tell them not to look, no?

If evolution is science, then it ought to stand on its own merit regardless of what is said to the contrary, no?

For goodness sake, let people talk, see, think, be entertained, read, be challenged. What are the evolutionists afraid of?

Evolution education update: December 4, 2009

Three members of NCSE celebrated Origin Day in columns for their local newspapers. And a new issue of Evolution: Education and Outreach is now available.


Adding to the recent celebrations of the sesquicentennial anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species on November 24, 1859, were three members of NCSE, writing for their local newspapers.

Mark Farmer, writing in the Athens Banner-Herald (November 24, 2009), compared Darwin to Copernicus, concluding, "Rather than challenging mankind's place in the universe, these two ideas liberate and enable us to move on to an ever greater understanding of the universe and our place in it. Through our genes we are connected to every living thing. Through our chemistry we are connected to the Earth. Through our very atoms we are connected to the stars and the universe. Big ideas indeed, and ones that challenge us to consider our place in the cosmos. These are ideas that should be embraced, not rejected. Ideas that should fill us with wonder and joy, not fear." Professor of Cellular Biology at the University of Georgia, Farmer also serves on the media advisory panel of Georgia Citizens for Integrity in Science Education.

Richard Firenze, writing in the Binghamton Press and Sun-Bulletin (November 24, 2009), discussed the theological impact of the Origin, which he described as arguably "the most influential non-fiction work ever written in the English language." He explained, "What Darwin offered, much to the chagrin of many, was a way to explain this apparent design without a designer. It should be noted that Darwin did not say there was no designer, only that one was not necessary to scientifically explain life's complexity." Lamenting the "controversy that distracts from our collective appreciation of the splendor of the mysteries of our natural world that so inspired Darwin throughout his life," Firenze urged that "we ... put aside our differences and make this a day of celebration." A recipient of NCSE's Friend of Darwin award, Firenze is Professor of Biology at Broome Community College.

Steven Schafersman, posting on the Houston Chronicle's Evo.Sphere blog (November 24, 2009), reviewed the scientific reception of the Origin. "Darwin's book presented evidence that the diversity of life arose through a branching pattern of evolution across millions of years of time, and that all living organism[s], including humans, were the product of this long history of genetic and morphological change," and the scientific community was swiftly convinced. Darwin's proposed mechanism for evolution, natural selection, was not as fortunate, of course, but today "Darwin's concept of evolutionary adaptation through natural selection became central to modern evolutionary theory and is now the unifying concept of the life sciences." A recipient of NCSE's Friend of Darwin award, Schafersman is president of Texas Citizens for Science.

If you're a member of NCSE and you celebrated Origin Day -- by writing a newspaper column, holding a party, or just rereading the Origin -- let the NCSE office know! And if you're not a member of NCSE, you can fix that -- by joining today.

For Farmer's column, visit:

For Georgia Citizens for Integrity in Science Education, visit:

For Firenze's column, visit:

For Schafersman's column, visit:

For Texas Citizens for Science, visit:


The latest issue of Evolution: Education and Outreach -- the new journal aspiring to promote accurate understanding and comprehensive teaching of evolutionary theory for a wide audience -- is now available on-line. Among the highlights are Ian Tattersall's "Becoming Modern Homo sapiens," a trio of papers expounding the evolution of morality and arguing for its place in the curriculum by Douglas Allchin, T. Ryan Gregory's "The Argument from Design: A Guided Tour of William Paley's Natural Theology (1802)," Shelley L. Smith and Raymond A. Eve's "Texas Biology and Biological Anthropology Faculty Express Their Views on Teaching Evolution," and Ulrich Kutschera's "Darwin's Philosophical Imperative and the Furor Theologicus." And there is a flock of reviews, too: Andrew J. Petto, a member of NCSE's board of directors, reviews Louis I. Held Jr.'s Quirks of Human Anatomy, Stephen W. Paddock reviews Evolution: The First Four Billion Years, edited by NCSE Supporter Michael Ruse and Joseph Travis, Paula Ann Spaeth reviews Jerry Coyne's Why Evolution is True, and Adam M. Goldstein reviews Richard Milner's Darwin's Universe.

Also included is NCSE's regular column for Evolution: Education and Outreach, Overcoming Obstacles to Evolution Education. In "Homology: Why We know a Whale is not a Fish," Andrew J. Petto and NCSE's Louise S. Mead argue, "Homology is a fundamental concept in comparative and evolutionary biology and yet often the focus of antievolution challenges. In describing structural similarity that is the result of common ancestry, hypotheses about homology require rigorous testing and form the basis for making predictions about anatomy and physiology as well as the fossil record. Communicating the basics of homology to students is essential for a high school biology curriculum." They conclude, "textbooks could stand to be clearer on the definition of homology versus diagnosis, the descriptive and predictive nature of hypotheses, and the fact that hypotheses of homology are not just a matter of overall similarity of gross morphology, but emerge from development, biochemistry, genetics, and ecology. ... Organisms are never classified biologically by a single criterion or a single feature, but on the basis of mutually reinforcing and concordant patterns at multiple levels of analysis -- and this is the essential concept for teaching homology in biology classes."

For Evolution: Education and Outreach, visit: http://www.springerlink.com/content/120878/

For Petto and Mead's article, visit:


The links to the Religion Dispatches essays by Lauri Lebo and Edward J. Larson in the November 27, 2009, Evolution Education Update were accidentally interchanged.

For Lauri Lebo's essay, visit:

For Edward J. Larson's essay, visit: http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/scienceenvironment/1813

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

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Discovery Institute Sues California Science Center for Suppressing Public Documents Showing Viewpoint Discrimination Against Intelligent Design


LOS ANGELES, Dec. 2 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Discovery Institute has filed a lawsuit against the California Science Center (the "Center") for unlawfully refusing to disclose public documents requested by Discovery Institute under the California Public Records Act.

Discovery Institute filed the public documents request on October 9, 2009, following the Center's October 6, 2009 cancellation of a contract with the American Freedom Alliance (AFA) to screen a pro-intelligent design video, Darwin's Dilemma, at the California Science Center's IMAX Theatre on October 25, 2009.

On November 2, 2009, the Center released 44 pages of documents claiming to have disclosed "all documents" and that "no documents have been withheld," apart from a few e-mail addresses that were redacted.

"California Science Center's claims are not true, and we know for a fact that e-mail communications exist, including communications with the Smithsonian Institution, that should have been disclosed in response to our public documents request but weren't, showing clear violation of California's Public Records Act," said Casey Luskin, Program Officer in Public Policy and Legal Affairs at the Discovery Institute.

"The Center withheld public communications by decision makers who cancelled the contract with AFA," said Luskin. "We believe the reason the California Science Center withheld these public documents is simple: the e-mails show evidence of discrimination against the pro-intelligent design viewpoint."

Discovery Institute's lawsuit follows a separate lawsuit filed against the California Science Center by the AFA for cancelling its contract to show the pro-intelligent design video.

"We also have evidence that the California Science Center had written communications with the Smithsonian Institution expressing angst over the AFA's pro-intelligent design event," explained Luskin. "Yet not a single e-mail, letter, or other document disclosed by the California Science Center mentions the Smithsonian, even though our public documents request specifically asked for documents referencing the 'Smithsonian'."

The California Public Records Act guarantees the public "access to information concerning the conduct of the people's business is a fundamental and necessary right."

"If the Center wrongfully refused to disclose certain now-known public documents, how many other public documents remain to be uncovered that evidence the California Science Center's viewpoint discrimination?" asked Luskin. "We hope this lawsuit will answer that question."

The lawsuit was filed in State Superior Court in Los Angeles County. Docket number: BS123905.

SOURCE Discovery Institute

Saturday, November 28, 2009

150 years later, 'Origin' is both a pillar of science and a still-volatile subject


This is the first in an occasional series of articles we will run in this year that scientists have dubbed "The Year of Darwin."

By Sharon Schmickle | Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2009

Here's professor Sehoya Cotner's "Five Cent Tour of Human Evolution" in summary: Fossils, DNA and other evidence add up to the unassailable conclusion that humans gradually emerged more than 100,000 years ago as part of the great ape family.

For many of the 200 students in Cotner's University of Minnesota biology class her "tour" was the first serious exposure to the subject, even though evolutionary theory is a foundation for biology and many other courses they should have prepared to study in college.

"They didn't allow evolution to be taught in my high school because of the controversial issues," student Brandi Ziegler said after the class.

It is 150 years ago today since Charles Darwin published "On the Origin of the Species," laying down a theory for understanding the intricacies of life on the planet. If Darwin could come back today and walk through laboratories and libraries in Minnesota alone, he surely would be amazed see the vast body of knowledge built upon that theory.

A detail of British artist John Collier's 1883 painting of Charles Darwin.Still, evolution remains so culturally volatile that many high-school teachers shy away from it, leaving students with major gaps in their understanding of basic science, according to research by Cotner and professor Randy Moore, another U of M biologist who has written books about evolution.

Here are highlights from survey findings they reported in BioScience, a journal of the American Institute of Biological Sciences:

• Minnesota law requires that academic standards — including the theory of evolution — be taught in the state's public schools. Yet, most students entering college failed a test on the basic principles of evolutionary theory.

• Courts have held the teaching of creationism to be a violation of the Constitution's prohibition on establishment of religion. Yet, roughly one in four students entering U of M biology classes said they had been taught creationism along with evolution in high school.

• Despite state law, many high-school teachers apparently avoided the controversial subject altogether. Nearly 10 percent of the students said they had been taught nothing about evolution or creationism.

• Even many students who had been introduced to evolution in high school said they had seen only a timid brush with the landmark theory. "We merely touched on it," one student commented.

"We have done many surveys on this subject and the results are stunningly consistent," Moore said.

The reasons some teachers are either unwilling or unprepared to deal with a basic academic standard define a cultural chasm that has divided Americans all the way back to the days of Darwin.

Maybe you are reading this article as one of the roughly 50 percent of Americans who accept Darwin's theory. Maybe you are among the 40 percent who reject it, or the 10 percent who just don't know.

On one point, we can agree. Our differences remain deep, much as they were 150 years ago when Thomas Huxley — known as "Darwin's Bulldog" for his defense of evolutionary theory — was challenged to state whether he descended from an ape on his grandmother's or his grandfather's side. Huxley's answer, in essence, was that he would rather have an ape for an ancestor than a fool.

University of Minnesota Prof. Sehoya Cotner doing research on worms in the Itasca area.In America today, the differences define not only educational gaps but also political fault lines on issues that excite deep passions across the land.

Here's one example: After the massacre at Columbine High School in 1999, Gil Gutknecht, a Republican who represented southeastern Minnesota in the U.S. House at the time, read into the Congressional Record [PDF] a letter suggesting that the violence erupted because "our school systems teach children that they are nothing but glorified apes who have evolutionized (sic) out of some primordial soup of mud by teaching them that evolution is a fact."

So intense is the opposition that Darwin has been blamed for causing pornography, murder, rape, atheism, UFOs and even the metric system, Moore said. Along with Mark Decker, another U of M biologist, Moore wrote the book "More Than Darwin: An Encyclopedia of the People and Places of the Evolution-Creation Controversy."

The watershed moment in the controversy on this side of the Atlantic came in 1925 when John Scopes was found guilty of teaching human evolution in violation of Tennessee's Butler Act, Moore and Decker note in their book.

The story of that notorious "monkey trial" is well known.

Minnesota militancy Not so well known is the influence exerted from the First Baptist Church in Minneapolis. The church's charismatic pastor, William Bell Riley, had convinced the Tennessee Legislature to pass the Butler Act. And Riley successfully urged William Jennings Bryan, the prominent Democratic presidential candidate, to help prosecute Scopes, thereby thrusting the trial onto the national stage.

"For Riley, truth demanded militancy," Moore and Decker said. "This was especially true for evolution, which Riley believed was immoral, destructive and atheistic."

Riley led antievolution rallies around the country. In Minnesota, he drew 2,600 people to Minneapolis' State Theater and another 9,000 to the Hippodrome on the state fairgrounds where Bryan declared that "evolution is a menace to civilization," says an article [PDF] by Ferenc Szasz on file at the Minnesota Historical Society.

"I say to you scientists, you professors, you evolutionists, that I have a right to demand to what bird or beast or reptile you pay your respects on fathers' day," Bryan told Minnesota crowds, which included hundreds of university students.

But schools always have been the front line for this cultural war. And Riley lost the battle to bar evolution from Minnesota classrooms. The Legislature rejected his proposed ban in 1927.

Historical hangover The Scopes trial settled little in a legal sense because John Scopes' conviction was set aside on a technicality.

Its cultural impact endures, though, as "a very real historical hangover," said U of M professor Mark Borrello, a science historian.

Darwin's theory steered clear of the supernatural, the realm of religion, focusing instead on the material world. The same could be said about Newton's mechanics or Galileo's physics, once denounced as heretical for showing that the Earth is not the center of the universe.

But the Scopes trial placed Darwin in the crosshairs of people who see morals and beliefs threatened by purely material explanations of their world. Fair or not, Darwin became uniquely culpable for the fact that the wonders of the natural world increasingly could be explained with no mention of god.

"The message that Darwinism somehow undermines morality and represents all of the ills of modern culture was established in the 1920s," Borrello said. "And, particularly in the United States, we have been unable to shed that notion."

Classrooms as battlegrounds So the battle rages through school districts across the country, intensifying in recent decades as antievolution forces pushed for teaching creationism and intelligent design. States from Wisconsin to Florida, Pennsylvania to New Mexico have grappled with the issue recently, according to the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life.

In a Minnesota case, Rodney LeVake, a biology teacher at Faribault High School, was reassigned after his colleagues observed that he was not teaching evolution in keeping with the school's curriculum requirements. LeVake told school officials he did not regard evolution as a viable scientific concept and he would teach students the "difficulties and inconsistencies of the theory without turning my class into a religious one," according to court documents.

With help from Pat Robertson's American Center for Law and Justice, LeVake sued the school district, contending that his reassignment violated his constitutional rights to free speech and freedom of religion. He lost the case in the Minnesota Court of Appeals, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear his appeal in 2002.

From Eden to the swamp If anything in today's controversy would surprise Darwin, it would be the consistency of the opposition, the sameness of the arguments across the decades.

The first edition of Darwin's book sold out quickly and drew stabbing criticism, which "gave him great pain," said Dame Gillian Beer, a professor of English literature at Cambridge University who has written extensively about Darwinist thought in Victorian England. (Quotes here are from her lecture in April at a session of the Templeton-Cambridge Journalism Fellowship.)

While Darwin drew eager support, much of England was repulsed by the notion that "human beings were not exiles from the Garden of Eden but instead descended from denizens of the swamp," Beer said.

Humans never were the center of Darwin's great family of life. That in itself was and is an affront to those who see themselves as the crown of creation — not just another creature in a vast web of competition and extinction, managing to survive along with so many beetles and cabbages, birds and hippos.

"Hidden in the metaphor of the great family is the fact that we are part, promiscuously, of a family that embraces every living organism," Beer said. "That is not a very privileged place."

Cartoons of the day depicted Darwin's bearded head atop an ape body, and accused him of promoting everything from atheism to bestiality.

The book went through six editions in Darwin's lifetime and he revised it in response to critics, even to the point of stripping away references to nature as "she" in order to show he never meant to personify his theory.

Still, critics take it personally even today.

Other side of the cultural chasm Now let's turn 180 degrees and look at the other side of our cultural chasm, where scientists have made huge strides in understanding evolution.

"It's really phenomenal, what we know and the evidence we have that is consistent with Darwin's theory," said Borrello, the science historian.

Take an example as immediate and personal as worries about this year's flu bugs.

The vaccine that could save you from flu-induced misery — or even save your life — depends on understanding evolution.

"We use evolutionary models to predict which strains of the virus will be the most virulent next year, and those are the ones that we vaccinate against," Borrello said. "It is an important piece of scientific understanding of the world around us."

That is not to say debates about Darwin's theory have been settled on this side of the cultural chasm. Darwinian evolution continues to generate big questions, big ideas and big battles among scientists.

The process of extinction prompts one fascinating fight. According to Darwin, extinction is not only natural but also common.

So how far should we go to save a species of whales, old-growth trees or polar bears? Scientists disagree, thanks to Darwin.

"The mass extinction 65 million years ago that ended the age of the dinosaurs was not a good thing for the dinosaurs, but it turned out to be a fine thing for the mammals," Borrello said. "So we grapple with the loss of species and diversity."

Even so, Darwin's footprint is so big today that it extends far beyond biology and ecology.

"It's so vast it's ridiculous," Borrello said. "Economists are using evolutionary and ecological theory to try to understand economics better because it looks like rational-choice theory has been problematic. ... Evolutionary psychology is a big field."

Tree of life Biology remains home base for the studies, though. There are far too many in Minnesota alone to cover in one MinnPost article, one book or even one Google search.

So let's see what we can learn about this Darwinian elephant by examining one of its toes — just one in the profusion of projects built on evolutionary theory.

In Minnesota's fields and forests, researchers scout mushrooms on decaying wood and take samples of them to a laboratory in St. Paul for analysis.

The results go into a global database called the Tree of Life Web Project, where biologists from around the world are assembling exhaustive information on every living thing from — yes, fungi — to head lice to mistletoe.

Darwin sailed to the Galapagos Islands to study the intricate relationships in nature's abundance. Modern-day biologists can tap out a few keystrokes on their computers and find a depth of detail beyond his dreams.

The more they find, though, the more there is to learn. The story of the lowly mushrooms tells why.

In Darwin's era, scientists considered mushrooms and other fungi to be plants. Building on his theory in the 1860s, scientists cataloged the known forms and traced their lineage. But that avenue led to questions no one could answer until the 1990s, when biologists deploying new DNA tools made a remarkable discovery: Fungi are animals.

Now, scientists have sequenced the genomes of more than 70 species of fungi. And guess what? They've also learned there are at least 700,000 more species to analyze. In other words, their work has just begun.

Further, they've learned that many fungal secrets are hidden not in DNA alone but also in levels such as microscopic walls between cells. That's where the Minnesota team is focused. Researchers are examining questions like why the same genes can lead different fungi to take on different structures.

MinnPost photo by Sharon Schmickle Prof. David McLaughlin displays a famous mushroom photo in his office.

"All of this is driven by evolutionary theory and the ability to find the relationships and then to understand where things fit into a big picture," said U of M professor David McLaughlin, who leads the research as curator of fungi for the Bell Museum of Natural History.

More than academic curiosity drives the research. The studies have practical applications for medicine, the environment and agriculture.

Fungi are among the worst pests that plague farm fields in Minnesota and around the world. When a fungal plant disease crops up in the future, scientists should be able to analyze its DNA and turn to its family tree for known close relatives.

"If you know how to control its closest relatives, you get a better understanding of how to control this new disease," McLaughlin said.

Powerful tool, not panacea Step back from the fungi and contemplate the entire tree of life. From branch tips to roots, it is filling in at a remarkable rate as scientists sequence DNA of the various species, something that has been possible for only a decade.

"It's not a theoretical thing," Borrello said. "You are checking the change at the molecular level so you know what's going on, evolutionarily speaking. ... That alone would blow Darwin's mind."

But, like Darwin, new pioneers on evolution's frontiers are the first to caution that the theory does not explain everything we value in life.

"I don't think evolutionary theory tells us what it means to be a good human being," Borrello said. "It is not going to solve all of the world's problems."

Still, like that metaphorical tree, Darwin's theory has grown over the years as the pillar of the biological sciences. Hence the great debate about teaching it to students.

Sharon Schmickle covers science, international affairs, Greater Minnesota and other topics.

Science | Tue, Nov 24 2009 8:22 am

ORPINGTON: Author Brian Woodrow releases new book exploring evolution and creationist theories


2:01pm Tuesday 24th November 2009

PHILOSOPHER and author Brian Maurice Woodrow's new book Both Ways Work Together broaches the decades-old controversy of creationism versus evolution.

The Orpington author contends that both creation and evolution are responsible for our universe and all that it contains.

From personal experience, years of research and exploring various kinds of meditation and religion, Woodrow expounds on this treatise.

Both Ways Work Together, by Brian Maurice Woodrow, is available to buy now. To buy a copy, visit amazon.co.uk or for a signed copy, visit worldpeace.org.uk/your_money.htm#For Sale

Jerry Moore: The primitive thinking of creationism makes our country weak


By Jerry Moore, jmoore@mysuburbanlife.com
Suburban Life Publications
Tue Nov 24, 2009, 12:38 PM CST

Downers Grove, IL -

Something on the radio last week really bugged me.

Supporters of Sarah Palin were calling to discuss why they like her. One fan said: "So, she believes the Earth is 6,000 years old. That's OK. … Maybe what we need (in the White House) is a caveman mentality."

Charles Darwin may have been amused by the caller's juxtaposition of the former Alaska governor as someone who doesn't believe cavemen existed while thinking like one of them. Or he may have been bewildered that our political leaders hold such primitive views.

This week marks the 150th anniversary of Darwin's first book on evolution, "On the Origin of Species." Thoroughly scrutinized, Darwin's monumental work has stood the test of time.

Sadly, though, some people just don't grasp the value of scientific inquiry. Palin wants creationism taught alongside evolution.

The polling firm Gallup reported this year that 39 percent of Americans accept the truth of evolution, that 36 percent have no opinion on it, and that 25 said they don't believe it. With such apathy toward the natural world, it's no wonder children from other nations have surpassed American students in science and technology.

Religious beliefs are best passed on through families. In an online comment of one of our stories, a reader advocated "the complete integration in everyday life of religious values" as a way of reducing abhorrent behavior.

The commenter makes a very good point. But some people want to inject their personal religious principles into science curriculums because they believe practices such as teaching evolution lie at the heart of what ails this country.

They're wrong. We're getting hurt globally because we cling more to myth and ideology rather than to reason and scholarship. The world marketplace is soon not going to have much room left for people who want to re-argue the Scopes Monkey Trial.

Jerry Moore is the opinions editor for Suburban Life Publications. Contact him at (630) 368-8930 or jmoore@mysuburbanlife.com. His blog, Suburban Shoutout, can be found at blogs.mysuburbanlife.com/jerry-moore.

Fear Not blog: "The Mysterious Islands" offers early screening in Huntsville


By Kay Campbell November 24, 2009, 5:15PM

Dolores Ochoa / APRed crabs scuttle over volcanic rock at the Galapagos Islands, site of Charles Darwin's historic explorations and setting for the new creationist documentary, "The Mysterious Islands."HUNTSVILLE, AL - Celebrate the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin's "Origin of the Species" by exploring the Galapagos Islands with filmmakers Jon and Andy Erwin through their new documentary, "The Mysterious Islands."

The 90-minute film will be screened Wednesday, Nov. 25, at 6:30 p.m. at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. Admission is $10 for a family, $5 for individuals.

Because of limited space, reserve a place by contacting Joshua Walsh at JoshuaDirect@gmail.com, 352-408-6190.

"The Mysterious Islands" follows Joshua Phillips, 16, son of the film's producer, as he looks at the same animals and adaptations seen by Darwin, but comes to a very different conclusion, ones he terms "mediated design," in which God remains creator of all, working through Creation.

Vision Forum produced the film by Birmingham natives Jon and Andy Erwin, who have won Dove Awards for their Christian music videos. The film, released Nov. 13., offers a pro-Creationism view of the islands on which Darwin formulated the theories that would become the basis for the evolutionary model of cosmic and human development. Dr. John Morris, president of the Institute for Creation Research, contributes to the film.

Check out the Web site, whether or not you can make the movie, which is being offered here as the Erwin brothers drive from Birmingham on to their next stop on the film's debut.

I've always figured however Creation occurred, it is a miracle, and the gorgeous photography of these intriguing islands bear that out, however it is that you personally fit God into the story of how things came to be and to become.

Darwin's Jewish Defenders


October 2005

For the many American Jews who choose public education for their children, the teaching of creationism and intelligent design is an especially weighty issue. Enter civil action groups like the American Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Committee, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations and others. Since the early 20th century, these groups have adamantly defended the First Amendment provision requiring separation of church and state, most notably within state school systems. That "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion" has been the foundation argument for Jews who do not want a religious version of creation entering into classroom science or undermining the religious rights of Jews and other minorities. As far back as 1925's Scopes "Monkey" Trial—which roused public attention to the evolution vs. creationism debate—and up to the present, these Jewish groups have argued for the elimination of spiritual teachings, regardless of denomination, from public spheres.

1968 Epperson v. Arkansas

Louisiana's "anti-evolution" statute forbade the teaching of evolutionary theory in public schools and universities.

A Jewish Supreme Court Justice, Abraham Fortas, delivered the majority opinion that the statute violated the First Amendment.

1982 McLean v. Arkansas

Jewish groups took action after Arkansas Governor Frank White signed into law the "Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science Act." Finding that the law in fact violated the First Amendment, a U.S. District Court ruled that "creation science is not in fact a science," and moreover, that the theory of evolution does not presuppose either the absence or presence of a creator.

1997 Freiler v. Tangipahoa Parish Board of Education

A Louisiana school board mandated that a disclaimer be read immediately before teaching evolution in all elementary and secondary classes. The Eastern District Court of Louisiana agreed with the American Jewish Congress, American Jewish Committee and Hadassah, and declared that the disclaimer effectively deemed faith in conflict with science, a violation of the First Amendment. The Supreme Court upheld the decision.

2005 Selman v. Cobb County School District

This yet unresolved controversy began in the spring of 2002 when Atlanta's heavily Christian Cobb County School District adopted a high school textbook that includes extensive coverage of evolution. Fearful of public reaction, the textbook committee labeled books with stickers that remind readers that evolution is a theory to be considered critically. The American Jewish Congress, American Jewish Committee and the National Council for Jewish Women argue that the school district has taken the side of religious objectors in the debate over teaching evolution.

2005 Odessa, Texas School Board Controversy

As the Odessa, Texas, school board makes plans to add elective Bible study to the 2006 high school curriculum, critics are crying out against sectarian biases. The American Jewish Congress asserts that more appropriate textbooks and approaches to classroom Bible discussion must be found to fit within constitutional precedents.

2005 "Intelligent Design" Controversy

In Kansas, the State Board of Education has approved a draft of science standards that harshly criticize evolution.

The standards—used to develop state tests for 4th, 7th and 10th graders—alarm Jewish groups who recognize "intelligent design" rhetoric in the draft's language.

2005 Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District

A rural Pennsylvania community has become the nation's first to mandate the teaching of "intelligent design" theory. Both Jewish and secular constitutional activists denounce the community's 9th-grade biology curriculum as an attempt to include creationist philosophy in public education; they argue their case before the Supreme Court this fall.

—Rebecca Dreilinger

British creationists: some numbers


Those who reject Darwinism in Britain are numerous, largely irreligious, and ignorant of science

The previous blog discussed how creationist opinion formers think: given that formal creationism is a belief that must be taught, this seems a sensible line of enquiry. By formal creationism, I mean the belief that most scientists have more or less malevolently misinterpreted the data for the last 200 years to prove that the Bible is not literally true. That survey dealt only with 50 opinion formers, interviewed in depth. But how many people do they represent?

The answer to that comes from an earlier Theos survey, published this spring, which contained truly shocking figures as to the amount of biological ignorance in the country; but at the same time, it suggested that this had nothing much to do with religion. How could it, when the number of people reporting either Young Earth creationism, or ID, at 25% is something like five times as large as the combined Muslim and evangelical population of this country? Twice as many people are confused about what they believe, and only another quarter are convinced of the truth of evolution.

These results were obtained by a fairly sophisticated set of questions, designed to discover what people actually believed, rather than the labels they would attach to it. Much of it, I think, is the result of innumeracy in general: someone for whom all numbers above about a thousand are indistinguishable blur may very well think that the earth is 10,000 years old and mean by this that it is really really seriously, like, old.

Such people don't pose any threat to the teaching of science in schools. They just make it look entirely pointless, since they have themselves been "educated". But that is a different and more serious problem than religious creationism. The anti-Darwinians interviewed in the most recent survey are a tiny, articulate and self-conscious minority. The real problem for public understanding, as anyone knows who has done any science writing, are the millions of people whose position is that they don't know, don't care, and don't want to do either.

Auditorium drops censorship of 'Mysterious Islands'


Documentary challenges Darwin's theory of evolution

Posted: November 26, 2009
12:00 am Eastern

By Bob Unruh
© 2009 WorldNetDaily

A government-owned facility that was rented for screenings of "Star Trek" and a "Harry Potter" film has reversed its stance after originally telling makers of the new 90-minute Vision Forum Ministries film "The Mysterious Islands: A Surprising Journey to Darwin's Eden" they could not use the auditorium because it challenges evolutionary theory.

The documentary was shot and directed by award-winning Jon and Andy Erwin of Erwin Brothers Motion Pictures. Vision Forum supporters had requested to rent the auditorium at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala., for a screening tonight.

The agency advertises its facility, which hosted 153 special events last year, as an attractive setting "for any type and size of event." It previously was used for the pro-evolution "The Magic of Flight" and "Blue Planet."

On Nov. 17, USSRC told Vision Forum its theater was available for a showing of "The Mysterious Islands."

But a day later, after viewing the movie's website, USSRC contacted Vision Forum to say it would not be "able to host your event."

Vision Forum reported it later was informed the issue was not one of timing but that the movie was too "political."

"It was later clarified that the film was 'inappropriate' for USSRC because of the movie's stance opposing evolution," Vision Forum said.

The film, released in time for the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin's "On the Origin of Species," follows a team of Christian scientists who traveled back to the birthplace of evolution to "prove Darwin wrong."

The scientists embarked on a journey to the Galapagos Islands, the same island chain Darwin visited during the voyage of the HMS Beagle in 1835. Many scholars today agree that the animals and plants Darwin saw on those islands contributed greatly to his becoming an evolutionist.

Convinced that different species had evolved from common ancestors, Darwin began forming his theory of evolution within two years of the ship's return to England in 1836. His 1859 book "On the Origin of Species" became the impetus for persuading many members of the scientific community to accept evolution in the 1860s.

The USSRC stance was reversed, however, within a day of a letter arriving at the center from the Alliance Defense Fund.

The letter pointed out that the rejection of the rental plan was "based upon disapproval of the movie's content."

"This refusal is in direct violation of Vision Forum's First and Fourteenth Amendment rights," the ADF letter said.

"A state agency that makes its facilities available for use by other groups may not deny specific groups equal use because of the content of their speech," the letter advised. "Public facilities become designated public fora when authorities have by policy or practice opened those facilities for indiscriminate use by the general public.

"Since the USSRC has allowed events or statements supporting biological evolution … its denial of access to an event which takes a contrary view because of that view is viewpoint discrimination," the letter said.

The USSRC immediately reversed its position, and the screening was scheduled for tonight.

"Christian groups that rent public facilities should not be discriminated against because of their belief that God is the source of life and the universe. We commend the U.S. Space and Rocket Center for recognizing Vision Forum's constitutional right to rent the theater for this film's screening," said ADF Litigation Counsel Daniel Blomberg.

"USSRC promptly responded within a day to our letter, and we hope other government-run facilities will follow its fine example in respecting the First Amendment rights of Americans."

Vision Forum, in a website statement, said, "We want to commend the U.S. Space and Rocket Center ('USSRC') for opening its facilities to host a private screening of 'The Mysterious Islands' this week."

Doug Phillips, executive producer of the film, explained that prior to leaving on the HMS Beagle with Capt. Robert FitzRoy, Darwin had served as a student at seminary where he was studying to be a clergyman. Though he had no formal training in naturalism, Darwin took on the position of a naturalist on the five-year journey that would take him around the world and culminate in a visit to the Galapagos Archipelago.

The Galapagos Islands, located 600 miles off the coast of South America, contain some of the most exotic creatures and land formations found anywhere in the world.

"When he reached the Galapagos Islands, Darwin was already settled in his mind on a number of important issues," Phillips told WND. "He had become very much a cynic and a skeptic of Christianity and the Bible. In his autobiography he specifically said that he viewed the Bible as a book of mythology that was closer to the history that would come from 'barbarians' than actual truth."

"The Mysterious Islands" also revisits an 1860 debate between Darwin disciple Thomas Huxley and Samuel Wilberforce, the son of William Wilberforce, the man who led the fight to abolish slavery in Britain. The two fiercely debated Darwin's book.

"In the middle of the debate, Robert FitzRoy stood up, carried a Bible over his head and said, 'You must believe in God before man,'" Phillips explained. "He said, 'I saw what Darwin saw. I was there where Darwin went, and I reached completely different conclusions.'"

Friday, November 27, 2009

Evolution education update: November 27, 2009

Celebrations galore for the sesquicentennial anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species. Plus Kenneth R. Miller replies to Ray Comfort's "special introduction" to the Origin.


Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species was published on November 24, 1859, and the sesquicentennial festivities are everywhere! In addition to Steve Jones's summary of the Origin for New Scientist, the British Council and the Open University's webcast on "Darwin, the Origin, and the Future of Biology," and the National Science Foundation's new website on Evolution of Evolution: 150 Years of Darwin's On the Origin of Species (described below), here is a sampling of further articles and resources about the anniversary and its significance.

E. O. Wilson contributed a selection from his speech for the "Darwin, the Origin, and the Future of Biology" event to the Independent (November 24, 2009), writing, "Great scientific discoveries are like sunrises. ... In fact, nothing in science as a whole has been more firmly established by interwoven factual information, or more illuminating[,] than the universal occurrence of biological evolution. Further, few natural processes have been more convincingly explained than evolution by the theory of natural selection, or as it has been popularly called, Darwinism."

Lauri Lebo, the author of The Devil in Dover: An Insider's Story of Dogma v. Darwin in Small-Town America (New Press, 2008) contributed "Single Greatest Idea Ever: On the 150th Anniversary of Darwin's Origin of Species" to Religion Dispatches (November 24, 2009). "A century and a half after the publication of Darwin's foundational work, attacks on his ideas continue -- including evangelicals distributing a newly altered version. But it will take more than banana-wielding fundamentalism to undermine the validity of evolutionary theory."

Also at Religion Dispatches (November 24, 2009), Edward J. Larson, the Pulitzer-Prize-winning author of Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate over Science and Religion (Basic Books, 1997) contributed "'I Had No Intention to Write Atheistically': Darwin, God, and the 2500-Year History of the Debate." "The argument between science and theology is as old as ancient Greece, where scientific rationalism first flourished, but it was revived with the advent of Darwinism." Look for Larson's pastiche of Aristophanes' The Clouds toward the end!

In the Washington Post's On Faith column (November 24, 2009), Deborah Heiligman, the author of Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith (Henry Holt, 2008), a 2009 National Book Award finalist, offers "A dozen reasons to celebrate Darwin" -- noting both that "Charles Darwin was a genius. He had a great idea -- evolution by natural selection -- that has withstood the test of time" and also that "Charles Darwin was a hard worker... He took years and years to perfect his theory so that it would be as airtight as possible." She concludes, "We should teach our children about Charles Darwin."

In Newsweek (November 23, 2009), Mary Carmichael argues in "Nature's Little Scientists" for teaching evolution to young children, writing, "Without evolution, biology isn't really science -- it's just memorization -- and our kids, even the littlest ones, deserve a more interesting introduction to the natural world than that. It's time we gave it to them." Among the innovative resources mentioned are the Charlie's Playhouse line of evolution-focused educational toys and the Concord Consortium's interactive, technology-driven fourth-grade curriculum called Evolution Readiness.

NCSE Supporter Sean B. Carroll inaugurated his new Remarkable Creatures column in The New York Times with "In snails and snakes, features to delight Darwin" (November 24, 2009). "Darwin's genius was in finding great general truths among the details of humble, often obscure creatures," he observed. Be sure also to visit the Times's interactive version of the Origin: "As with many original sources, it is known mostly by reputation but Darwin's writing can still offer surprises, insights and pleasures. It can be sampled here, with selections by prominent scientists of their favorite passages."

And the Darwin Manuscripts Project at the American Museum of National History is celebrating the anniversary by uploading thousands high quality images of Darwin's scientific manuscripts and notes to its website. David Kohn, director and general editor of the Darwin Manuscripts Project, told Live Science (November 23, 2009), "These rare manuscript leaves from Origin are the crown jewels of our project and show Darwin in the process of writing. ... I've sat in the Cambridge University Library since 1974, touching these documents, but this is the first time that anyone can do this -- online in this quantity and with this quality."

For E. O. Wilson's reflections on the Origin, visit:

For Lauri Lebo's essay, visit:

For Edward J. Larson's essay, visit:

For Deborah Heiligman's essay, visit:

For Mary Carmichael's story, visit:

For Charlie's Playhouse, visit:

For the Concord Consortium's Evolution Readiness, visit:

For Sean B. Carroll's column, visit:

For the Times's interactive Origin, visit:

For the AMNH's Darwin Manuscripts Project, visit:

For the Live Science story, visit:


Evolution of Evolution: 150 Years of Darwin's On the Origin of Species -- a new on-line resource from the National Science Foundation -- debuts in celebration of the sesquicentennial anniversary of the publication of Darwin's seminal work. According to a November 23, 2009, press release from the NSF, the website explains how the Origin "cut an intellectual swath through anthropology, biology, the geosciences, polar sciences and even astronomy, and why it likely will continue to serve as the organizing framework for the sciences into perpetuity."

The website offers "a multi-disciplinary one-stop-shop of resources on evolution and Darwin himself that are available nowhere else -- including eye-catching graphics; captivating interviews and essays by a team of international evolutionary experts [including NCSE Supporter Tim White of the University of California, Berkeley, discussing "Human Evolution's Winding Path" and concluding that "Darwin got it mostly right"]; fast-read texts; a timeline that neatly summarizes major intellectual and technological achievements that advanced our understanding of evolution; and downloadable documents."

For the Evolution of Evolution website, visit:

For the NSF's press release, visit:


"Darwin, the Origin, and the Future of Biology" was a celebration, sponsored by the British Council and the Open University, of the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species — and it is available to watch on-line! In his keynote address -- recorded beforehand, due to illness -- E. O. Wilson offered his assessment of the achievement of Darwin as a naturalist and the importance of his big idea as well as his own vision for a new system of biology equipped to tackle the threats to our natural world; a panel discussion featuring Peter Bowler, Randal Keynes, Sandy Knapp, Armand Leroi, and Ian McEwan followed.

For "Darwin, the Origin, and the Future of Biology," visit:


Kenneth R. Miller appeared on a news segment on CNN (November 20, 2009), challenging the misleading claims about Darwin offered in Ray Comfort's "special introduction" to the Origin of Species. "It's something I would ... want my students to get hold off and tear apart," he told CNN -- not literally, as the CNN reporter observed, but intellectually. "One of the most scurrilous things about this introduction is to imply that Darwin was a racist and a sexist, that he was responsible ... for the Nazi ideology that led to the Holocaust -- this is absolute nonsense," he added.

Miller also prepared his own flyer debunking Comfort's introduction, available on NCSE's Don't Diss Darwin website. A Supporter of NCSE, Miller is Professor of Biology at Brown University, coauthor (with Joseph Levine) of one of the most widely used high school biology textbooks in the country, and author of Finding Darwin's God (Cliff Street Books, 1999) and Only a Theory (Viking, 2009). He testified for the plaintiffs in Kitzmiller v. Dover, the 2005 case establishing the unconstitutionality of teaching "intelligent design" creationism.

For the segment on CNN, visit:

For Miller's flyer (PDF), visit:

For the Don't Diss Darwin website, 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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Amen for Darwin and his famous book


A Clear View
Posted By Glen Hallick
Posted 14 hours ago

This past Tuesday marked a milestone in science - the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origins of the Species by Charles Darwin.

After about 20 years of study, Darwin formulated his theory of evolution based on natural selection. His 1859 book caused a huge uproar among the religious community and still does today.

Many religious leaders at the time utterly refused to comprehend the idea we humans evolved and did so from a lower species. To them the Holy Bible was all they needed and to them scripture was infallible. Darwin's book was part of a process demonstrating otherwise.

Other more enlightened religious leaders saw the book a logical explanation of how life on this planet came about.

Now Darwin's book wasn't the be-all-end-all of evolution. During the last 150 years we made a great deal of progress. We know more of our origins on Earth, with scientists finding skeletal remains of early humans and other forms of life, including dinosaurs that long preceded humankind.

Some Four Billion-Years-Old

Given the ages of some of these bones are estimated to be at least tens or even hundreds of millions-years-old, it's hard to believe there are some people who still think our world is a miniscule fraction of that age. Yet scientists have estimated our planet to be approximately four billion years old, perhaps more.

And there are Creationism and its highly politically correct brethren known as Intelligent Design. In short, the idea being God or a god concocted everything on the Earth.

My take on this? There is a deep seeded opinion among some Creationists that in no way whatsoever could we superior humans have ever evolved from something lower.

In other words, that feeling of superiority leads people to be repulsed at the fact we evolved from ape-like creatures, the same as monkeys.

Such arrogance towards Evolution is quite similar to the arrogance towards our environment.

Advertisement The belief is, we humans being so superior can do anything we want to this world. And should good science get in the way then good science be damned.

The debate between Evolution and Creation won't be settled any time soon.

Stubbornness will keep that debate going, thanks to a steadfast unwillingness to evolve.

But least Darwin and his fellow evolutionists can be thanked for showing us a path toward enlightenment. Amen for that.

Lastly, kudos to Vision TV for airing a couple of versions of Inherit the Wind this week. I'm especially fond of the Spencer Tracy version.

Darwin Debate Rages 150 Years Later


Updated: Friday, 27 Nov 2009, 8:05 AM EST
Published : Friday, 27 Nov 2009, 8:05 AM EST


(MYFOX NATIONAL) - This month marks the 150th anniversary of one of the most important and controversial books in science -- Charles Darwin's "On the Origin of Species."

When Darwin originally published the book, most scientists accepted his theories on evolution. The general public wasn't as easy to convince, however, mainly due to the fact that Darwin's theories challenged established religious beliefs. Not much has changed in 150 years.

Darwin's ideas continue to fuel debate about the relationship between faith and science.

"There is a real disconnect between what science says and what the public believes, at least in the United States," Ben Pierce, holder of the Lillian Nelson Pratt Chair in Biology at Southwestern University, told ScientificBlogging.com.

The Theory of Evolution contends that all life is related and descended from a common ancestor, with changes occurring in a population over time. Creationism says God created all life, and that the earth is much younger than modern science suggests.

According to a Gallup poll conducted in February , only 39 percent of Americans believe in Darwin's Theory of Evolution.

Many American schools were teaching both evolution and creation science in the mid 1990s, but in recent years, the emphasis has been on encouraging teachers and students to be skeptical of the theory of evolution.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that public school teaching of intelligent design, a form of creationism, violates the constitutional separation of church and state.

In 1999 Kansas officially rejected Darwin's Theory of Evolution and eliminated it from teaching curriculums. The state's board of education reaffirmed the decision in 2005.

Events are planned around the world commemorating the 150th anniversary of the publication of "On the Origin of Species" and the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth (Feb. 12, 1809). A Facebook group has also been created with the goal of getting 1 million members to celebrate Darwin's work.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

California Science Center Sued for Cancelling Screening of Intelligent Design Video


A lawsuit has been filed against the California Science Center by the American Freedom Alliance (AFA) for cancelling the AFA's contract to screen the Darwin's Dilemma documentary on October 25th. According to AFA's press release:

American Freedom Alliance (AFA), a non-profit group, has filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles against a popular science museum for cancelling an event exploring the topic of intelligent design. The group says its free speech rights were violated when the California Science Center (CSC) abruptly reversed a decision to allow the showing of a pro-intelligent design documentary at the museum's IMAX Theater. The program was also scheduled to screen a pro-evolution film, but, the lawsuit alleges, museum officials were fearful of having intelligent design discussed in any context.

The lawsuit is believed to be the first since the 2005 case of Kitzmiller v. Dover to consider the public's right to learn about intelligent design. While that case focused on whether a public school violated the First Amendment "No Establishment Clause" by instructing students about the theory, AFA's lawsuit alleges that the museum violated its First Amendment rights by caving in to demands within the scientific and academic communities to deny intelligent design a public forum for discussion.

Discovery Institute is not a party to AFA's lawsuit, nor was it a party to AFA's original contract with the California Science Center. AFA's statement explains that:

The lawsuit alleges that CSC officials conspired to drop the event because they did not want the museum to be viewed as legitimizing intelligent design as a scientific theory. It alleges that the museum's CEO/President, Jeffrey Rudolph, was pressured to cancel the event by colleagues at the Smithsonian Institution, the University of Southern California, the Huntington Library and elsewhere. The complaint further alleges that because the CSC is a state agency, it violated AFA's First Amendment right of free speech by attempting to suppress legitimate discussion of the controversial topic.

AFA's attorney William J. Becker was quoted in the statement saying:

"Certain museum officials and their cronies in academia and throughout the scientific community are part of a subtle but effective movement to marginalize a scientific theory that challenges their world view," said AFA's attorney, William J. Becker, Jr., of The Becker Law Firm in Los Angeles. "The public should be allowed to make up its own mind whether intelligent design has any merit. Any time public officials stand in the way of legitimate debate, they reveal their hostility toward intellectual freedom, which the Constitution is designed to safeguard."

Stay tuned for more details on this case from ENV.

Posted by Casey Luskin on November 24, 2009 12:25 PM | Permalink

Atheists Aren't the Only Readers


Those Intelligent Design folks are having a banner year.
By Mark D. Fefer
Published on November 25, 2009 at 12:36am

Seattle's Discovery Institute, the nonprofit think tank that's become infamous locally and in national media for fomenting the anti-Darwin "intelligent design" movement, is crowing about a successful year in selling (literally) its ideas.

Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design, published in June by Discovery Fellow Stephen Meyer, has cracked Amazon's list of top-10 science books of 2009. The list is ranked by customer orders through October.

But the news isn't all good for Discovery. Jerry A. Coyne's Why Evolution Is True is holding down the #5 spot. Robert Wright's The Evolution of God (which argues that a divine being is basically a notion we've evolved to believe in) is at #4. And Richard Dawkins' The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution is a strong #2. Darwin himself, with countless editions available of his 150-year-old On the Origin of Species, is outselling them all (though the Amazon best-seller list is limited to books published in '09).

Still, holding the #10 slot is not half-bad. Especially for a book that, according to Amazon reviewers, can be enjoyed even by readers with a "relatively weak background" in biochemistry and statistics. (For the record, no biochemistry is required to appreciate science book #9—The Philosophical Baby: What Children's Minds Tell Us About Truth, Love, and the Meaning of Life by Alison Gopnik.)

A graduate of Whitworth College in Spokane, Meyer is perhaps best known for having managed to place a pro-ID article in a peer-reviewed biological journal several years ago—an event that resulted in many calls for the sacking of the peer who did the reviewing. Scientists seem equally unimpressed with Meyer's latest work, which argues that the complex coding in our DNA "points powerfully to a designing intelligence." Following a recent appearance by Meyer at the University of Oklahoma, his views were summed up by one commentator as follows:

1) This shit [i.e., biology] is confusing

2) ???


Meanwhile, Meyer has become a favorite guest on Dennis Miller's radio show; on Dec. 2, he'll be in the studio with the neocon comedian for a full hour. Meyer has not had equal luck getting Richard Dawkins to engage in a debate.

Discrimination Against Intelligent Design Film Cited in California Science Center Lawsuit


More details are now coming out from the lawsuit filed against the California Science Center by the American Freedom Alliance (AFA), filed in the Superior Court for the State of California for the County of Los Angeles (Central District). AFA's lawsuit contends that the California Science Center engaged in viewpoint discrimination when cancelling AFA's contract to screen the pro-intelligent design (ID) documentary Darwin's Dilemma at the Center's IMAX Theatre on October 25th. As discussed below, AFA's complaint contains e-mails from California Science Center staff revealing that the Center cared more about how it would be perceived by ID-critics in the scientific community for renting its facilities to screen a pro-ID video than it did about AFA's constitutional rights.

The abrupt cancellation of AFA's event was first reported by the Los Angeles Daily News, and has previously been covered by Discovery Institute here, here, here, and here.

The complaint corrects a common misstatement about this case, accurately noting, "Discovery Institute was not a party to the contract between the Plaintiff [California Science Center] and Defendants [American Freedom Alliance] for the screening of 'Darwin's Dilemma.'"

E-mails Show Viewpoint Discrimination

Most importantly, as noted the complaint contains e-mail documentation exposing the actual reason that the California Science Center cancelled AFA's contract to screen Darwin's Dilemma. As the complaint shows, the California Science Center's e-mail officially cancelling AFA's contract unashamedly reveals that the Center was most concerned about its "reputation" in the scientific community and its "relationship" to other scientific groups after having rented its facilities to a pro-ID group, throwing AFA's constitutional rights under the bus. The complaint states:

On October 6, 2009, Christina M. Sion, Vice President of Food & Event Services at CENTER, (hereinafter "SION") wrote an e-mail to DAVIS [President of the AFA] stating that "we are cancelling your event at the California Science Center." SION's e-mail stated:

"It has come to our attention that in a press release issued October 5, 2009 by the American Freedom Alliance, it is inferred that the California Science Center as [sic] a Smithsonian Institute affiliate is co-sponsoring the Darwin Debates. Your event is a private event held on the California Science Center property but is not affiliated in any way with the California Science Center or the Smithsonian. This press release has damaged our relationship with the Smithsonian and the reputation of the California Science Center. According to the Event Policies and Procedures that you signed to reserve the date for the event, you agreed to submit all promotional materials to the California Science Center for review and approval prior to printing or broadcast. Because you did not obtain this approval and the press release has had significant negative ramifications, we are canceling your event at the California Science Center." (emphases added)

Before going further we must clear away some errors in Sion's e-mail. First, the October 5th press release referenced by Sion wasn't issued by the AFA, it was issued by Discovery Institute, and AFA had no control over that press release. Second, Discovery Institute's October 5th press release didn't claim that the California Science Center was "co-sponsoring the Darwin Debates" but quite plainly stated, "The screening is sponsored and hosted by the American Freedom Alliance." Third, Discovery Institute's press release was hardly inaccurate to observe that the California Science Center is affiliated with the Smithsonian. The California Science Center has a conspicuous page on its website, "Smithsonian Affiliate Designation," touting at great length the Center's status as "a Smithsonian Affiliate" that enjoys the "benefits of becoming a Smithsonian Affiliate," even boasting that, for certain exhibits, the Center "is now authorized to use the tag line 'in association with the Smithsonian Institution'."

Thus, the October 5th Discovery Institute press release which Sion complains about not only wasn't issued (or controlled) by the AFA, but it also wasn't inaccurate. Thus, AFA's lawsuit correctly notes that "The contract states nothing concerning promotions of the event by third parties nor requiring the monitoring, oversight, management, or control of third-party promotions."

That being the case, what was the real reason the California Science Center cancelled AFA's contract?

Sion's e-mail unwittingly also exposes the real reason AFA's contract was apparently cancelled: The California Science Center was worried that publicity about its rental of facilities to screen a pro-ID video had "damaged our relationship with the Smithsonian and the reputation of the California Science Center." And consider Sion's closing statement: "Because you did not obtain this approval and the press release has had significant negative ramifications, we are canceling your event at the California Science Center."

Just what are those "negative ramifications"? And do they offer just cause to breach a contract? We've already established that the AFA didn't need approval for a third party publicity statement it didn't control. All that's left is the California Science Center's concern that public knowledge that a pro-ID event was going forward was perceived to have "significant negative ramifications."

Is that a valid reason to cancel a contract? The California Science Center is a department of the State of California that rents its facilities for use by private groups. As a government facility, the First Amendment prohibits it from refusing to rent to private groups based upon a distaste for the viewpoint of the speech expressed by the group. That's called viewpoint discrimination. Yet the California Science Center seems more concerned about purported "damage" to its "reputation" and perceived "negative ramifications" stemming from AFA's pro-ID viewpoint than it does with AFA's constitutional rights to express that viewpoint at a government-owned forum. AFA appears to have a strong case that the Center engaged in viewpoint discrimination.

(It goes without saying that the California Science Center has long-hosted exhibits promoting evolution. I personally remember visiting the Center in the elementary school when it was known as the "California Museum of Science and Industry." My public elementary school took a trip to the museum and we were taught about the evolution of dinosaurs.)

Local Academics Complained about the AFA's Pro-ID Event

AFA's complaint further elaborates on the "negative ramifications" felt by the California Science Center. It turns out that various Los Angeles area academics had expressed strong opposition to the California Science Center renting its facilities for a pro-ID event. As Hilary Schor, USC professor of English, Comparative Literature, Gender Studies and Law stated in an e-mail that was forwarded to a curator at the California Science Center, "I'm less troubled by the freedom of speech issues than why my tax dollars which support the California 'Science' Center are being spent on hosting religious propaganda".

AFA's lawsuit complaint aptly observes that "[t]his sentiment, written by a law professor, sadly demonstrates a purposeful indifference to constitutional protections enshrined and safeguarded in the Bill of Rights."

The complaint also shows that a curator at another Los Angeles area museum expressed angst that the California Science Center was renting its facilities for a pro-ID event.

There is also evidence that the Smithsonian Institution itself intervened in the situation and may have pressured AFA to cancel the event. After detailing the Smithsonian's long history of opposing academic freedom for intelligent design, the complaint quotes a Los Angeles Daily News article where Smithsonian spokesman Randall Kremer acknowledges that he "spoke" with the California Science Center after becoming "concerned by the inference … there was a showing of the [Darwin's Dilemma] film at a Smithsonian branch." Kremer's statements directly suggest that the Smithsonian opposed any "inference" that it was connecting to the showing of Darwin's Dilemma.

AFA's lawsuit complaint sheds more light on what occurred. The day before Chris Sion cancelled AFA's event, Smithsonian Affiliates Director Harold Closter wrote to a California Science Center staff member that expressing concern that a "press release" (the one issued by Discovery Institute) made it appear as if the Smithsonian was linked to AFA's event. He wrote, "We are concerned that [the EVENT] not be represented as a Smithsonian event or program or anything with which we have any involvement."

Feeling pressured by the Smithsonian, it seems that the California Science Center decided that the easiest way to solve the problem was simply to breach contract and cancel AFA's event.

Based upon this and other evidence, the lawsuit argues that the California Science Center's complaint about press releases "was contrived as a pretext by Defendants for cancelling the event when the real reason for cancelling it derived from hostility to the viewpoints expressed in 'Darwin's Dilemma' … By asserting a breach of contract argument, Defendants sought to shroud themselves within a cloak of plausible deniability for violating Plaintiff's constitutional rights."

And all AFA wanted to do was rent a facility to show a pro-ID video. Imagine that.

Posted by Casey Luskin on November 25, 2009 8:00 AM | Permalink