NTS LogoSkeptical News for 31 December 2009

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Evolution education update: December 25, 2009

The Philadelphia Inquirer publishes a column on science denial by NCSE's Steven Newton. A new NOVA documentary on evo-devo airs on December 29. Plus a chance to vote for NCSE -- if you're a Working Assets/Credo Mobile customer.


NCSE's Steven Newton's op-ed "Science denial is on the rise" appeared in the December 24, 2009, issue of the Philadelphia Inquirer. "From evolution to global warming to vaccines," he wrote, "science is under assault from denialists -- those who dismiss well-tested scientific knowledge as merely one of many competing ideologies." Ignoring the weight of overwhelming evidence and focusing their efforts on spreading misinformation to the public, denialists "hope to cloak themselves in the mantle of science without being restricted by its requirement." But, he concluded, "Understanding science has never been more important than it is today. ... As long scientists must squander their time defending their work from denialism, we will fall behind on our fundamental responsibilities."

For Newton's op-ed, visit:


"What Darwin Never Knew" -- a NOVA documentary on the burgeoning science of evolutionary developmental biology -- will air on December 29, 2009, on public broadcasting stations around the country. According to NOVA:


Earth teems with a staggering variety of animals, including 9,000 kinds of birds, 28,000 types of fish, and more than 350,000 species of beetles. What explains this explosion of living creatures -- 1.4 million different species discovered so far, with perhaps another 50 million to go? The source of life's endless forms was a profound mystery until Charles Darwin brought forth his revolutionary idea of natural selection. But Darwin's radical insights raised as many questions as they answered. What actually drives evolution and turns one species into another? To what degree do different animals rely on the same genetic toolkit? And how did we evolve?

"What Darwin Never Knew" offers answers to riddles that Darwin couldn't explain. Breakthroughs in a brand-new science -- nicknamed "evo devo" -- are linking the enigmas of evolution to another of nature's great mysteries, the development of the embryo. NOVA takes viewers on a journey from the Galapagos Islands to the Arctic, and from the explosion of animal forms half a billion years ago to the research labs of today. Scientists are finally beginning to crack nature's biggest secrets at the genetic level. The results are confirming the brilliance of Darwin's insights while revealing clues to life's breathtaking diversity in ways the great naturalist could scarcely have imagined.


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

For further information, visit:

For information on local stations, visit:


There's still time to vote for NCSE, if you're a Working Assets/Credo Mobile customer. NCSE is slated to be a beneficiary of Working Assets/Credo Mobile, the telephone company established "to help busy people make a difference in the world through everyday activities like talking on the phone. Every time a customer uses one of Working Assets' donation-linked services (Long Distance, Wireless and Credit Card), the company donates a portion of the charges to nonprofit groups working to build a world that is more just, humane, and environmentally sustainable." Every year, the donation pool is allocated among the groups supported by Working Assets in proportion to the customers' votes. The more votes NCSE gets, the more money we get! If you're already a Working Assets/Credo Mobile customer, you can still vote on-line in the 2009 distribution. And NCSE is going to be a beneficiary again in 2010, so you'll have a chance to vote for NCSE then, too!

For voting information for the 2009 distribution, visit:

For information about Working Assets/Credo Mobile, visit:

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

With best wishes for the holiday season,

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

Subscribe to NCSE's free weekly e-newsletter:

NCSE is on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter:

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

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Science denial is on the rise


Posted on Thu, Dec. 24, 2009

By Steven Newton

From evolution to global warming to vaccines, science is under assault from denialists - those who dismiss well-tested scientific knowledge as merely one of many competing ideologies. Science denial goes beyond skeptical questioning to attack the legitimacy of science itself.

Recent foment over stolen e-mails from a British research group inspired an American creationist organization to pronounce that "a cabal of leading scientists, politicians, and media" has sought to "professionally destroy scientists who express skepticism" about climate change. The Discovery Institute usually uses this kind of over-the-top language to attack evolution, so it was remarkable to see it branch out to climate-change denial.

Despite such misleading hyperbole, science is meritocratic. Once at a minimum level of education and competence, anyone can participate, ask a challenging question of even the most respected scientist, or submit papers to scientific journals, where research is judged by the data and methodology. Esteemed scientists face relentless criticism. This is how science works.

Even when a scientific consensus based on evidence emerges - as it has for evolution and climate change - there is opportunity for dissent. As the great physicist Richard Feynman noted, "Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts."

Science requires conclusions about how nature works to be rooted in evidence-based testing. Sometimes progress is slow. But through a difficult and often frustrating process, we learn more about the world.

Science denialism works differently. Creationists are unmoved by the wealth of fossil, molecular, and anatomical evidence for evolution. Global-warming denialists are unimpressed by climate data. Denialists ignore overwhelming evidence, focusing instead on a few hoaxes, such as Piltdown Man, or a few stolen e-mails. For denialists, opinion polls and talk radio count for more than thousands of peer-reviewed journal articles.

Denialists often appeal to the ideal of fairness, arguing schools should "teach the controversy" and address "evidence for and against" science, as in then-Sen. Rick Santorum's proposed amendment to the No Child Left Behind bill in 2001. But they apply the ideal selectively to science they dislike: evolution, climate change, vaccines. They hope to cloak themselves in the mantle of science without being restricted by its requirements.

If denialists had evidence disproving global warming or evolution, they could submit it to scientific conferences and journals, inviting analysis by scientists. But, knowing their arguments don't hold water, they spread misinformation in arenas not subject to expert scrutiny: mass-market books, newspapers, talk radio, and blogs.

Understanding science has never been more important than it is today. Critical issues such as climate change and the threat of newly evolved flu strains demand greater scientific literacy among the public and politicians. As long as scientists must squander their time defending their work from denialism, we will fall behind on our fundamental responsibilities.

Steven Newton is the public information project director for the National Center for Science Education. He can be reached at newton@ncse.com.

Bah Humbug! British Librarian Tries to Ban Explore Evolution in the Name of Darwin


It's the holiday season, which means that cheer and values like charity, academic freedom, tolerance, and diversity are abounding--but apparently not among Darwin's defenders in the United Kingdom. A recent angry editorial by the "Atheist Examiner" titled "Creationists try to sneak Intelligent Design into school libraries" tells the story -- except that it's not the actual story.

The correct story is that "Truth in Science," a British organization allied with a number of credible British scientists and academics, is offering Explore Evolution to school libraries. Contra the "Atheist Examiner" article, the textbook Explore Evolution does not argue for intelligent design, but rather presents students with the scientific evidence both for and against neo-Darwinian evolution. Intelligent design is not advocated in the book. What the book does contain are numerous references to mainstream scientific publications raising serious questions about core aspects of neo-Darwinian evolution. The textbook's authors include university faculty and Ph.D. scientists from top institutions. The real story here is that because the textbook challenges Darwinism, British evolutionists want it banned from public school libraries.

In that regard, the "Atheist Examiner" quotes a letter from a librarian in Wales who boasted about his efforts to ban Explore Evolution from his library and protect his students from its arguments. As the librarian writes in New Humanist:

The "textbook" is in essence a vehicle for smuggling in the idea of intelligent design by the back door. The claim that it 'increase[s] ... understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of modern evolutionary theory' is, to put it politely, verging on the disingenuous.

As both a school librarian entrusted with helping teachers shape the minds of young citizens and promote critical enquiry, and as a citizen concerned with the quality of public education in this county, I am worried that this book, which will have undoubtedly been sent to other schools, might be taken at face value and find its way into libraries and classrooms.

I'd therefore be grateful if you could help spread the truth about this book, both to illustrate one of the underhand ways in which proponents of intelligence design – who include, it appears from the publicity sheet, some scientists holding senior posts in respectable academic institutions – seek to propagate their beliefs, and to assist librarians, teachers and others interested in promoting a proper understanding of science and society.

Don't be fooled by the librarian's Newspeak about promoting "critical enquiry": in reality, he's promoting plain old-fashioned censorship of views he doesn't like. The type of "enquiry" sought by this librarian is the kind that supports Darwin, and Darwin only. Textbooks like that raise doubts about Darwin--even when authored by well-credentialed university faculty citing the mainstream scientific literature--must be banned by the thought police. Darwin-skeptics need not apply.

Is this what groups like the "Atheist Examiner" and "New Humanist" stand for--academic censorship of viewpoints that challenge Darwinism? Let's hope that this Christmas season true critical thinking is allowed in school libraries in the United Kingdom, and elsewhere, where students are given full access to the scientific data and are allowed to think for themselves--even if that leads to questioning Darwinism.

Posted by Casey Luskin on December 25, 2009 12:00 AM | Permalink

Head-to-head: God versus Darwin


Dec 26 2009

CHARLES Darwin's theory of evolution struck at the heart of the Christian belief that God – a supernatural being – created all life as we see it today. Here was a respected scientist offering a credible, and very different, explanation.

Darwin's theory that life evolved through time by natural selection and the survival of the fittest and most adaptable shook Victorian society to the core.

And many found it unpalatable and un-Christian that Darwin should claim that man was just another animal who had evolved from primitive, ape-like ancestors.

This year, the 200th anniversary of his death, the debate between evolutionary theorists and creationists has raged with renewed intensity. But Charles Darwin's explanations have long been accepted by scientists. So where does that leave mainstream Christianity today?

The Bishop of St Asaph, Gregory Cameron, believes the debate has become polarised between two extremes.

"The reality is much more complex and it doesn't become quite so headline grabbing or so stark when you try to give a balanced view," says the Bishop, at his official residence at St Asaph.

"The book of Genesis, a book which is at least 2,500 years old – and will probably call on traditions that are much older – gave us the best science of the day, to incorporate some fundamental truths.

"And the truth that it sought to bear witness to was that creation isn't an accident or coincidence but there is a personality, a God who shapes creation and gives it force.

"It wasn't science as we understand it today but one of the best definitions of science as we understand it today that I have heard is man trying to think God's thoughts after him.

"In other words, scientists are uncovering the way in which God fashioned creation and the laws of creation, and the very term suggests a law giver. So I see no conflict at all between the truths that I understand the book of Genesis to be asserting – the sovereignty of God, the purposefulness of Creation and a sense of building out of Creation something greater, something which can last for an eternity – and science which just tells me the best available understanding of how that was done."

"So I think there has been a polarisation, a simplification of the debate which I am very uncomfortable about," adds the Bishop, "because I think the truth is that a thinking Christian doesn't collapse into either of those extremes but can hold both ends together."

Rev Dr Watcyn James, Welsh Development Officer of the Bible Society based in Bala, is also not fazed by Darwin's theory of evolution. "As a sound bite I'd be tempted to say that Genesis 1-3 simply describes things as they are," says Dr James. "Whereas an evolutionary world view might be primarily concerned with 'how' things came to being, Genesis is primarily concerned with 'why' things came in to being. My contention is that just as the ancient creation texts offered an alternative view to the accounts of creation, popular at the time of writing, the Genesis account continues to offer an alternative world view to contemporary secular understanding of humanity.

"The universe did not exist, does not exist, could not exist without the creative mandate and will of God.

"Genesis 1-3 celebrates that creation in some glorious way has a purpose and a direction."God is portrayed as active, though distinct from creation, within the sustenance of the Universe. Creation is part of the revelation of God in himself." – through it he shows his majesty, ability and glory. Creation is not the outworking of some impersonal "mother nature" life force, but the ongoing manifestation of the glory of God.

e) That humankind is both part of the order of creation- taken from the dust, just like the rest of the material world- and at the same time is different to creation in that we have been created, both male and female, as the unique image bearers of God. That means that we possess similar characteristics to God himself- personality, creativity, understanding, community, authority and responsibility.

f) The declarations in Genesis that God saw creation as something good means that we cannot separate the material from the spiritual. It also means that we have a responsibility towards creation- towards its environment, towards its upkeep.

g) Humankind exists through the will and bounteous provision of God. We did not create God- rather God was our maker. Our unique position as image bearers of God means our highest goal is to be in relationship with Him.

h) Creation is flawed & deliberate human rebellion marred and continues to spoil the relationship with God; the joy and glory which was ours has been forfeited and suffering and death has become part of our universal experience. However, even towards the end of those chapters in Genesis which speak of creation and honour, rebellion and death, God does not abandon us to our ways. He promises that a Saviour will restore us to God and points to a coming day ( a theme developed in the rest of the Bible) when there will be a new Heaven and a new restored Earth where righteousness reigns.

And for me at least, even if our minds struggle with individual details, or fail to grasp the majesty of what is portrayed, there is something within the account that makes instinctive sense, and resonates with our heartfelt yearning and longing as a race."

Taking a different view is Alan Rogers, of Lampeter, a retired computer scientist, confirmed atheist and member of the National Secular Society.

He says: "As an atheist I do not believe that there are supernatural forces in the universe. This belief was difficult to sustain before an explanation was provided for the existence of life, without involving an intelligent creator. The Origin of Species provided such an explanation and subsequent scientific discoveries have confirmed, beyond doubt, its veracity.

"As a secularist I wish to see a democratic society in which the dogma of revealed religion does not determine the laws of my nation or define the public education of children. Creationism is not a suitable topic for the education of children in publicly-funded schools.

"It is in total conflict with the results of more than a century of scientific endeavour. One might as well teach astrology as a science.

"Intelligent Christians do attempt to reconcile evolution with their faith in the existence of a supernatural creator. They do this by assigning the initiation of the so-called "big bang" or the task of setting of certain physical universal constants to this entity. They say that this creator then left evolution to work itself out without further intervention. Hidden in this view is the quite implausible idea of a teleology – a purpose – leading to humanity. Evolution contains no such teleology."

A further problem exists. Belief in god is a necessary but not sufficient requirement for being a Christian. The Christian needs also to believe in miracles. At the very least in two miracles. The Resurrection and the Virgin Birth. The second of these has a major problem resulting from of our understanding of genetics.

Christ was male - from whence cometh the Y chromosome?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Evolution education update: December 18, 2009

A free preview of Carl Zimmer's The Tangled Bank is available on NCSE's website, evolution appears in a new Harris poll, and selected content from RNCSE 29:4 is now available on NCSE's website. And NCSE is seeking help in translating selected resources from its website into Spanish.


NCSE is pleased to offer a free preview of a chapter from Carl Zimmer's latest book, The Tangled Bank (Roberts and Company, 2009). The chapter, "Radiations and Extinctions," addresses biodiversity; Zimmer writes, "In this chapter we'll examine how scientists study biodiversity, analyzing patterns over space and time and then creating hypotheses they can test. We'll explore how lineages of species grow, and then how they become extinct. We may, biologists fear, be in the early stages of a catastrophic bout of extinctions on a scale not seen for millions of years. By understanding the past of biodiversity, scientists can make some predictions about the future we are creating."

The Tangled Bank was described by E. O. Wilson as "the best written and best illustrated introduction to evolution of the Darwin centennial decade, and also the most conversant with ongoing research. It is excellent for students, the general public, and even other biologists." And NCSE Supporter Kenneth R. Miller praised it as "an extraordinary introduction to the depth and richness of evolutionary science." Zimmer is the author of a number of popular books about biology, including Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea (Harper Perennial, 2006), the companion volume to PBS's Evolution series; he also received NCSE's Friend of Darwin award for 2005.

For the preview, visit:

For information about http://ncse.com/files/pub/evolution/Zimmer--Tangled%20Bank--chapter%2010--with%20notice.pdf, visit:


A recent Harris poll included questions on evolution and creationism, with unsurprising results. According to Harris's report, those surveyed were given a list of topics -- including God, miracles, heaven, Jesus as God or the son of God, angels, survival of the soul after death, the resurrection of Jesus, Hell, the virgin birth, the Devil, "Darwin's theory of evolution," ghosts, creationism, UFOs, astrology, witches, and reincarnation -- and asked, "Please indicate for each one if you believe in it, or not." For evolution, 45% of respondents indicated that they believed in it, 32% indicated that they don't believe in it, and 22% indicated that they were not sure. For creationism, 40% of respondents indicated that they believed in it, 30% indicated that they don't believe in it, and 30% indicated that they were not sure.

The results varied by religion: 51% of Catholics, 32% of Protestants, 80% of Jews, and 16% of born-again Christians believed in Darwin's theory of evolution, while 37% of Catholics, 56% of Protestants, 20% of Jews, and 68% of born-again Christians believed in creationism. Overall, the results were basically unchanged from 2007, when 42% of respondents believed in evolution and 39% of respondents believed in creationism. The poll was conducted on-line on November 2 and 11, 2009, among 2303 adults in the United States; figures were weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. "Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in the Harris Interactive panel," the report explains, "no estimates of theorical sampling error can be calculated."

Previous reports and analyses of polls on NCSE's website and in Reports of the NCSE include a report on a 2002 poll of the views of Ohio scientists with regard to "intelligent design," Otis Dudley Duncan and Claudia Geist's "The Creationists: How Many, Who, and Where?", Glenn Branch's "The Latest Polls on Creationism and Evolution" (summarizing the polls of 2004), George Bishop's "Polls Apart on Human Origins" (reprinted from Public Opinion Pros), a report on a 2008 poll on public opinion in Canada, and a report on the British Council's 2009 poll of public opinion in ten countries. NCSE plans in 2010 to add a special section of its website to summarize and collect such reports and analyses, so stay tuned!

For Harris's report (PDF), visit:

For the cited reports and analyses, visit:


Selected content from volume 29, number 4, of Reports of the National Center for Science Education is now available on NCSE's website. Featured are NCSE's Glenn Branch's interview with Mark Perakh on the fifth anniversary of the publication of his Unintelligent Design (Prometheus, 2004) and Lawrence S. Lerner's reflections on the future of "intelligent design" creationism. And Arthur McCalla reviews John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark, and Richard York's Critique of Intelligent Design, Frank Steiner reviews Fazale Rana's The Cell's Design, and Burt Humburg reviews Lauri Lebo's The Devil in Dover.

If you like what you see, why not subscribe to RNCSE today? The next issue (volume 29, number 6) focuses on issues in the teaching and learning of evolution, with contributions discussing changing student attitudes through engaged teaching techniques, using the documentary Judgment Day to assess attitude change in students, and the importance of public discourse by scientists in shaping attitudes about science and evolution. Randy Moore, in his regular column on the people and places of the creationism/evolution controversy, revisits Carl Baugh's Creation Evidence Museum. And there are reviews, too. Don't miss out -- subscribe now!

For the selected content from RNCSE 29:4, visit:

For subscription information, visit:


NCSE is seeking volunteers to assist in translating selected resources from its website into Spanish. If you read and write both languages fluently, are interested in helping NCSE's outreach to the Spanish-speaking community, and are able to make a serious commitment to the project, you are cordially invited to get in touch with NCSE's Peter M. J. Hess at espanol@ncse.com.

For the same appeal on NCSE's website, visit:

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

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

Subscribe to NCSE's free weekly e-newsletter:

NCSE is on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter:

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

Why Are Darwinists Scared to Read Signature in the Cell?


It's somehow cheering to know that while the pompous know-nothingism of Darwinian atheists in the U.S. is matched by those in England, so too not only in our country but in theirs the screechy ignorance receives its appropriate reply from people with good sense and an open mind. Some of the latter include atheists who, however, arrived at their unbelief through honest reflection rather than through the mind-numbing route of fealty to Darwinist orthodoxy. Such a person is Thomas Nagel, the distinguished NYU philosopher. He praised Stephen Meyer's Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design in the Times Literary Supplement as a "book of the year," concluding with this enviable endorsement:

[A] detailed account of the problem of how life came into existence from lifeless matter -- something that had to happen before the process of biological evolution could begin….Meyer is a Christian, but atheists, and theists who believe God never intervenes in the natural world, will be instructed by his careful presentation of this fiendishly difficult problem.

Nagel's review elicited howls from Darwinists who made no effort to pretend they had even weighed the 611-page volume in their hand, much less read a page of it. On his blog, Why Evolution Is True, University of Chicago biologist Jerry Coyne complained that they hadn't ought to let such an opinion even appear in the august columns of the TLS:

"Detailed account"?? How about "religious speculation"?

Nagel is a respected philosopher who's made big contributions to several areas of philosophy, and this is inexplicable, at least to me. I have already called this to the attention of the TLS, just so they know.

No doubt the editors appreciated his letting them know they had erred by printing a view not in line with the official catechism. Coyne then appealed for help. Not having read the book himself, while nevertheless feeling comfortable dismissing it as "religious speculation," he pleaded:

Do any of you know of critiques of Meyer's book written by scientists? I haven't been able to find any on the internet, and would appreciate links.

Coyne was later relieved when a British chemist, Stephen Fletcher, published a critical letter to the editor in the TLS associating Meyer's argument with a belief in "gods, devils, pixies, fairies" and recommending that readers learn about chemical evolution by, instead, reading up on it elsewhere from an unimpeachable source of scientific knowledge:

Readers who wish to know more about this topic are strongly advised to keep their hard-earned cash in their pockets, forgo Meyer's book, and simply read "RNA world" on Wikipedia.

Responding in turn with his own letter to the editor, Nagel seemed to express doubt whether the chemist had actually read Signature in the Cell before writing to object to Nagel's praise:

Fletcher's statement that "It is hard to imagine a worse book" suggests that he has read it. If he has, he knows that it includes a chapter on "The RNA World" which describes that hypothesis for the origin of DNA at least as fully as the Wikipedia article that Fletcher recommends. Meyer discusses this and other proposals about the chemical precursors of DNA, and argues that they all pose similar problems about how the process could have got started.

Nagel's letter appeared beside another from a different British chemist, John C. Walton at the University of St. Andrews, who presumably did read the book since he blurbs it on the back cover as a "delightful read." In his letter, Walton reflects:

It is an amusing irony that while castigating students of religion for believing in the supernatural, [Fletcher] offers in its place an entirely imaginary "RNA world" the only support for which is speculation!

Are you noticing a pattern here at all? All the people who hate Meyer's book appear not to have read it. So too we have the complaint of Darwinian-atheist agitator P.Z. Myers, a popular blogger and biologist. Myers explains that he was unable to read the book, which he slimes as a "stinker" and as "drivel," due to his not having received a promised free review copy! But rest assured. The check is in the mail: "I suppose I'll have to read that 600 page pile of slop sometime…maybe in January."

Dr. Myers teaches at the Morris, Minnesota, satellite campus of the University of Minnesota, a college well known as the Harvard of Morris, Minnesota. So you know when he evaluates a book and calls it "slop," a book on which he has not laid on eye, that's a view that carries weight.

In all seriousness, what is this with people having any opinion at all of a book that, allow me to repeat, they haven't read and of which, as with Jerry Coyne, they admit they haven't so much as read a review? Even a far more measured writer like Jonathan Derbybshire, reporting for the New Statesman on the Nagel-TLS dustup, concedes, "I haven't read Myer's book, nor am I competent to assess Fletcher's contention that Nagel had simply got the science wrong." Honesty counts for something, though Derbyshire (not to be confused with National Review's John Derbyshire) might have at least taken the trouble to spell Steve Meyer's name correctly.

Alas, carelessness and dishonesty are hallmarks of the Darwinian propagandists. Hordes of whom, by the way, have been trying to overwhelm Signature's Amazon page. They post abusive "reviews" making, again, little pretense of having turned a single page even as they then try to boost their own phony evaluations by gathering in mobs generated by email lists and clicking on the Yes button at the question, "Was this review helpful to you?" Per Amazon's easily exploited house rules, this has the effect of boosting the "review" to enhanced prominence. It's a fraudulent tactic, and sadly typical.

Posted by David Klinghoffer on December 16, 2009 2:05 PM | Permalink

Darwinists' Continued Yelping About Signature In The Cell Reveals Their Desperation

[Editor's note: We recommend reading SITC, because it exposes the philosophical weakness of the author and his lack of academic integrity.]


December 18, 2009

Robert Crowther

The continued success of Signature In The Cell has driven Darwinists crazy. They're desperately making louder and ever more ridiculous denunciations of the book and anyone who might have the temerity to suggest people read it for themselves.

An interesting and informative back and forth has been taking place on the pages of the Times Literary Supplement, where last month noted atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel recommended SITC as one of the best books of the year. Not surprisingly, he was attacked (he responded, and he was attacked again) by a Darwinist who told people forgo reading SITC and instead just read Wikipedia. Is this what passes for civil discourse on important topics now? Just ignore the arguments you don't like? A pretty pathetic state of affairs if true.

Nagel wasn't just attacked in the TLS, but also by Darwin activist Brian Leiter, who as far as I can tell is grossly ignorant or a liar when it comes to the issue of intelligent design. (He writes as if he knows something about what we do at Discovery Institute, attributing to us things which we in fact do not do, so he is either ignorant or a liar.)

Today, Leiter was taken to task for challenging someone obviously his superior when it comes to philosophical arguments. Over at the Libertarian-leaning Lewrockwell.com, David Gordon has a very good essay on the whole frakas where he explains:

Nagel's remarks on Intelligent Design are of great philosophical significance. He is an atheist and does not accept the view that a designing mind directed the evolutionary process. But he opposes what he deems a contemporary prejudice in favor of reductionist naturalism. He doubts that Darwinism can adequately explain the existence of objective value ...

Gordon goes to call Leiter's temper tantrums unedifying and points out that Nagel is "one of the foremost philosophers of the past half-century".

He concludes by defending civil debate and discourse and denouncing the attempts to suppress such debate as deplorable.

I have gone on at some length about this, because the attempt by Leiter and others to block inquiry that challenges naturalism seems to me altogether deplorable. To some people, evidently, the first line of the False Priestess in In Memoriam is Holy Writ, not to be questioned: "The stars, she whispers, blindly run." But even if these avid naturalists are correct in their metaphysics, debate needs to be encouraged rather than suppressed. Perhaps Leiter should reread On Liberty. Pending that happy event, one can only say of his abuse that the barking of Bill Sikes's dog just tells us that Bill Sikes is in the neighborhood.

Posted by Robert Crowther at 3:44 PM | Permalink

Interesting dialogue on Galileo, Darwin and God


Fri Dec 18, 2009, 10:35 AM EST

WESTON - The year 2009 is marked by two anniversaries of great scientific and theological significance. It is the 400th anniversary of Galileo's first telescopic study of the heavens, and the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth.

The discoveries of Galileo and Darwin each had the effect of undermining the literal interpretation of scripture, and of displacing human beings from their assumed position of centrality in creation. The dialogue between religion and science has undergone many phases, but the issues have never been fully resolved.

On Dec. 6, the First Parish Church in Weston celebrated Galileo and Darwin with four scientific and theological presentations, followed by discussion among the speakers and the audience.

The speakers were Charles Whitney, professor of astronomy emeritus at Harvard University, who was also a scientist at the Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge; Nancy Lewis, former science teacher in the Curtis Middle School, who has been a student of Darwin and archaeology, and leader of trips to the Galapagos Islands; Harry Hoehler, minister emeritus of the First Parish Church in Weston, who also served as presiding officer of the Massachusetts Council of Churches and the Massachusetts Bible Society; and Steven Matthysse, emeritus professor at Harvard Medical School, who has taught courses in the psychology and philosophy of religion.

Whitney explained that in Galileo's time, the church fathers interpreted scriptural references to the heavens quite literally, such as a phrase like, "And the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, until the nation took vengeance on their enemies" (Joshua 10:12-13). The church fathers interpreted this passage as implying that the sun is in motion about the earth, and they saw this as a direct contradiction of the sun-centered hypothesis of Copernicus, published in 1543, in which the sun was stationary.

The preface to Copernicus's book contains a disclaimer that the model was merely meant as a description and was not to be taken literally. But Galileo insisted on taking it literally, and much of his life was devoted to the task of proving that Copernicus was right. He wrote as a devout believer, but he insisted that astronomy must be based on observations, measurements and reasoning, rather than scripture. The book of nature, he said, is written in the language of mathematics. He insisted there could be no disagreement between science and interpretation of scripture.

Since then, scientists have ranged across the spectrum of beliefs in the matter of God but, once we have gone back to the Big Bang, we are stuck. Science is stumped when it comes to the question, "Why is there something instead of nothing?"

Lewis summarized the essential points of Darwin's theory of evolution. Any species has the power to recreate infinitely. Nevertheless, the numbers within a species remain fairly constant. Therefore there is a struggle for existence. There is variation within a species. Therefore those best able to adapt will live longer and produce more of their kind – "survival of the fittest."

Darwin's theory, which he published only reluctantly, caused a maelstrom of controversy.

Darwin himself did not appear publicly but was represented by his friends Joseph Hooker and Thomas Huxley. Huxley once quipped that he would rather be descended from an ape than a man who misused his gifts. Darwin was even shown in political cartoons looking like an ape with a tail.

Today, even with better understanding and more research, evolution remains a controversial subject. Creationism, also known as "intelligent design," is favored by many, especially in conservative religions. Evolution is not a required subject in many states, and others insist that creationism be also mentioned. Will there be a time when the theory comes to be universally accepted? After 150 years, evolution is still evolving.

Hoehler discussed errors in interpretation which some evolutionary biologists make when they claim that nothing is known beyond what science delivers. Those who make this claim commit two basic fallacies. First, they beg the question by positing as a self-evident truth the unproven assumption that "science is the arbiter of all knowledge." Second, they fall into the trap of reductionism. They focus on a single description – the naturalistic account of evolution – and treat it as if it were the total explanation of the evolutionary process.

On the contrary, modern studies suggest there is an overall direction embedded within evolution. From single-celled protozoa to humans, cooperation, both within species and with other species, appears to be necessary for species survival. Cooperation, alongside mutation and natural selection, may be thought of as one of the principles of evolution.

Evolution suggests that God is voluntarily self-limiting, but still omnipresent. It implies a continually creating God, who nevertheless does not determine every single happening, but allows self-adaptation and self-organization to exist in the created order.

Matthysse raised the question of how can God be good, in a world with so much suffering? The Darwinian struggle for existence makes suffering seem not to be an accident of evolution, but a principle central to the process. The claim of faith, on the other hand, is that God is so caring that "He shall give His angels charge over thee … they shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone" (Psalm 91).

The problem of suffering is a barrier to faith for many people. Reflecting on the question Whitney raised, "Why is there something instead of nothing?" we might think of God, not as eternally perfect, but as struggling to come to be. The language of risk, danger and heroic battle is needed to describe the process of creation. Words like pathlessness, loneliness, frustration and sorrow can be applied to God, alongside the traditional terms of glory, power and compassion. If the destiny of creatures is to participate in God's own life, all must recapitulate the path traced as God comes to be.

The evening ended appropriately with animal crackers and a cake with dinosaur icing.

Jerry Moore: A topic to avoid at the holiday table


Posted Dec 18, 2009 @ 02:28 PM

My recent column on the debate over creationism versus evolution drew many responses, and I appreciate everyone's input.

I do wish, though, that some of my opponents had limited their criticism to points I actually made in my column. I never claimed that God doesn't exist, that morals and rules have no place in society, that Christianity is primitive, and that atheism trumps religion.

Many readers also questioned why I put such stock in evolution when it's simply a theory. Doesn't it take just as much faith — if not more — to believe in an unproven theory like evolution than in creationism?

Yes, evolution remains a theory. But the word "theory" is used differently in a scientific context than in common usage.

Scientific theories make assertions about phenomena based on empirical observations. After careful investigation, a hypothesis may become a theory if the evidence holds up.

Albert Einstein's works on relativity are still considered theories, in scientific parlance. But who would argue that these theories shouldn't be accepted as truth?

When it comes to treating evolution as a theory, there are plenty of scientific Web sites that address the questions people have posed in their comments to my column. This doesn't mean researchers don't have differences over some features of evolution or that scientists know everything about it. But there are reasonable answers to objections posed by creationists.

Some of my critics also asked why creationism shouldn't be taught alongside evolution. Why stop at the Judeo/Christian notion of the origin of the universe?

If we're going to teach competing ideas, why not teach how pagans believe the universe began? And what about Hindus? They must have some thoughts on how it all started.

It's because a science classroom is no place for metaphysical discussions about how various religions claim the universe was formed. A science classroom should be used for science, and that's what evolution is.

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.

Sumerians Look On In Confusion As God Creates World


December 15, 2009 | Issue 45•51

Members of the earth's earliest known civilization, the Sumerians, looked on in shock and confusion some 6,000 years ago as God, the Lord Almighty, created Heaven and Earth.

According to recently excavated clay tablets inscribed with cuneiform script, thousands of Sumerians—the first humans to establish systems of writing, agriculture, and government—were working on their sophisticated irrigation systems when the Father of All Creation reached down from the ether and blew the divine spirit of life into their thriving civilization.

"I do not understand," reads an ancient line of pictographs depicting the sun, the moon, water, and a Sumerian who appears to be scratching his head. "A booming voice is saying, 'Let there be light,' but there is already light. It is saying, 'Let the earth bring forth grass,' but I am already standing on grass."

"Everything is here already," the pictograph continues. "We do not need more stars."

Historians believe that, immediately following the biblical event, Sumerian witnesses returned to the city of Eridu, a bustling metropolis built 1,500 years before God called for the appearance of dry land, to discuss the new development. According to records, Sumerian farmers, priests, and civic administrators were not only befuddled, but also took issue with the face of God moving across the water, saying that He scared away those who were traveling to Mesopotamia to participate in their vast and intricate trade system.

Moreover, the Sumerians were taken aback by the creation of the same animals and herb-yielding seeds that they had been domesticating and cultivating for hundreds of generations.

"The Sumerian people must have found God's making of heaven and earth in the middle of their well-established society to be more of an annoyance than anything else," said Paul Helund, ancient history professor at Cornell University. "If what the pictographs indicate are true, His loud voice interrupted their ancient prayer rituals for an entire week."

According to the cuneiform tablets, Sumerians found God's most puzzling act to be the creation from dust of the first two human beings.

"These two people made in his image do not know how to communicate, lack skills in both mathematics and farming, and have the intellectual capacity of an infant," one Sumerian philosopher wrote. "They must be the creation of a complete idiot."

This piece is part of The Onion's Our Annual Year: The Top 10 Stories Of The Last 4.5 Billion Years

Thursday, December 17, 2009

High school teacher's anti-Creationism comment violated law


May 01, 2009 3:00 AM

Videos SANTA ANA - A Mission Viejo high school history teacher violated the First Amendment by disparaging Christians during a classroom lecture, a federal judge ruled today.

James Corbett, a 20-year teacher at Capistrano Valley High School, referred to Creationism as "religious, superstitious nonsense" during a 2007 classroom lecture, denigrating his former Advanced Placement European history student, Chad Farnan.

"Corbett states an unequivocal belief that Creationism is 'superstitious nonsense,'" U.S. District Court Judge James Selna said in a 37-page ruling released from his Santa Ana courtroom. "The court cannot discern a legitimate secular purpose in this statement, even when considered in context."

Click here to read a follow-up story that analyzes the judge's decision from a constitutional law perspective.

In a December 2007 lawsuit, Farnan, then a sophomore, accused Corbett of repeatedly promoting hostility toward Christians in class and advocating "irreligion over religion" in violation of the First Amendment's establishment clause.

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

"We are thrilled with the judge's ruling and feel it sets great precedent," said Farnan's attorney, Jennifer Monk, who works for the Christian legal group Advocates for Faith &Freedom in Murrieta. "Hopefully, teachers in the future, including Dr. Corbett, will think about what they're saying and attempt to ensure they're not violating the establishment clause as Dr. Corbett has done."

Chad Farnan and his parents did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment, but released a prepared statement through their attorney: "We are proud of Chad's courageous stand and thrilled with the judge's ruling. It is a vindication of his constitutional rights."

Fees, injunction to be determined

Farnan's original lawsuit asked for damages and attorney's fees. These issues - plus a possible court injunction prohibiting Corbett from making hostile remarks about religion - will be considered in court at a future, undetermined date, Monk said.

Advocates for Faith & Freedom does not have an estimate yet of the legal fees the group incurred, she added.

Selna said that although Corbett was only found to have violated the establishment clause in a single instance, he could not excuse or overlook the behavior.

"To entertain an exception for conduct that might be characterized as isolated or de minimis undermines the basic right in issue: to be free of a government that directly expresses disapproval of religion," Selna said.

Farnan's lawsuit had cited more than 20 inflammatory statements attributed to Corbett, including "Conservatives don't want women to avoid pregnancies - that's interfering with God's work" and "When you pray for divine intervention, you're hoping that the spaghetti monster will help you get what you want."

In an April 3 tentative ruling, however, Selna dismissed all but two of the statements as either not directly referring to religion or as being appropriate in the context of a class lecture, including the headline-grabbing "When you put on your Jesus glasses, you can't see the truth."

"We're happy that the court saw 99.9 percent of the case our way, but we're disappointed obviously with regard to finding against Dr. Corbett on that one statement," said Corbett's attorney, Dan Spradlin.

Corbett, who has declined all requests to be interviewed about the lawsuit, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

Lemon test applied to statements

Selna applied a three-pronged legal analysis known as the Lemon test to determine whether the establishment clause had been violated.

The Lemon test, developed during a 1971 federal court case, asks whether a statement has a secular purpose, whether it advances or inhibits religion as its principal or primary effect, and whether it fosters an "excessive government entanglement" with religion.

Corbett made his "superstitious nonsense" remark during a class discussion about a 1993 court case in which former Capistrano Valley High science teacher John Peloza sued the Capistrano Unified School District, challenging its requirement that Peloza teach evolution.

Corbett's attorney said Corbett simply expressing his personal opinion that Peloza shouldn't have presented religious views to students. Selna, after reviewing an audio-taped recording of the discussion, decided that wasn't the case and that Corbett crossed a legal line.

For the other disputed statement - in which Corbett was accused of saying religion was "invented when the first con man met the first fool" - the judge ruled in Corbett's favor, arguing Corbett may have been simply attempting to quote American author Mark Twain.

Corbett's full statement was, "What was it Mark Twain said? 'Religion was invented when the first con man met the first fool.'"

The Capistrano Unified School District, which paid for Corbett's attorney, was found not liable for Corbett's classroom conduct.

Corbett remains in his teaching position at Capistrano Valley High. Farnan, who dropped out of Corbett's class after filing the lawsuit, is now a junior at the school.

"The court's ruling today reflects the constitutionally permissible need for expansive discussion even if a given topic may be offensive to a particular religion or if a particular religion takes one side of a historical debate," Selna said in his written decision.

"The decision also reflects that there are boundaries. ? The ruling today protects Farnan, but also protects teachers like Corbett in carrying out their teaching duties."

Read the judge's ruling here.
Read the trial ruling here.

Teacher not financially liable for disparaging Christians in class


September 16, 2009 6:55 AM

SANTA ANA – A federal judge has ruled that high school history teacher James Corbett is not financially liable for disparaging Christians in class, in violation of a former student's First Amendment rights.

U.S. District Judge James Selna had issued a tentative ruling last month indicating he would effectively bar 17-year-old Chad Farnan of Mission Viejo from recovering any monetary damages or legal fees in the nearly 2-year-old case, but did not make that ruling final until Tuesday.

"Corbett is shielded from liability – not because he did not violate the Constitution, but because of the balance which must be struck to allow public officials to perform their duties," Selna said in a 33-page decision issued from his Santa Ana courtroom.

In May, Selna determined that Corbett, 62, violated the First Amendment's establishment clause when he referred to Creationism as "religious, superstitious nonsense" during a fall 2007 lecture at Mission Viejo's Capistrano Valley High School.

But the judge on Tuesday shielded Corbett from financial liability under a "qualified immunity" defense, a form of federal protection available to government employees who have violated an individual's constitutional rights.

"Given that qualified immunity protects all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law, and given the lack of parallel case law, the court finds that the right at issue was not clearly established when Corbett made the (Creationism) statement," Selna said in his ruling.

In a statement released Tuesday, Corbett said Farnan's lawsuit was "needless and pointless" and that it had "sewn discord" in his life and ruined his reputation.

"In my opinion, Chad Farnan has been ill-served in this case," Corbett said in the statement.

"He may find admission to a quality non-Christian school challenging, because such institutions may try to avoid a student who has sued his teacher and his school without making any pre-lawsuit effort to discuss, much less resolve, his claims outside of court," Corbett continued. "The school district has been ill-served because they have been forced to pay for a defense attorney in a case that, in my opinion, never should have been filed in the first place."

Farnan's attorneys, who were working on the case on a pro-bono basis through a nonprofit Christian legal group, vowed to appeal the judge's decision.

"We feel the judge erred in his ruling," said attorney Jennifer Monk of Murrietta-based Advocates for Faith & Freedom. "At the same time, we are happy with the May 1 ruling and it doesn't not take away from the fact that Dr. Corbett violated the establishment clause."

In his lawsuit, Farnan did not seek monetary damages, but he asked that his former Advanced Placement European history teacher be fired or that the court issue an injunction barring Corbett from disparaging religion in class.

Selna ruled against issuing such an injunction; Corbett remains in his teaching position at Capistrano Valley High.

At a hearing two weeks ago, Monk argued that if the judge granted qualified immunity to Corbett, he would be effectively barring her client from appealing the case because Farnan would have to appeal the immunity defense for an appeals court to even consider the merits of the case itself – a scenario she characterized as insurmountable and prejudicial to her client.

But Monk said Tuesday that she would file an appeal with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals within 30 days.

"No battle on the Ninth Circuit is easy," she said.

Corbett made his "superstitious nonsense" remark about Creationism during a class discussion about a 1993 court case in which former Capistrano Valley High science teacher John Peloza sued the Capistrano Unified School District, challenging its requirement that Peloza teach evolution.

Corbett's attorney said the teacher was simply expressing his personal opinion that Peloza shouldn't have presented religious views to students. But Selna, after reviewing an audiotape of the discussion made by Farnan, decided Corbett crossed a legal line.

The legal battle began in December 2007, when Farnan, then a sophomore, sued Corbett and the school district, accusing his former teacher of repeatedly promoting hostility toward Christians in class and advocating "irreligion over religion" in violation of the First Amendment's establishment clause.

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

Selna threw out all of the quotes attributed to Corbett except the Creationism comment, and that became the basis of the judge's high-profile May 1 decision against Corbett.

"When Judge Selna last ruled, he found me not liable on 21 of 22 counts," Corbett said in an e-mail Tuesday. "At that time, Robert Tyler, general counsel of the Advocates for Faith & Freedom, said he viewed the decision as a complete victory.? Today I'm happy to correct Mr. Tyler – a 'complete' victory is winning on 22 of 22 counts."

Student who sued teacher ordered to pay more money


November 04, 2009 6:27 AM

SANTA ANA – A federal court clerk on Tuesday awarded $8,483 in court-related fees to attorneys for high school teacher James Corbett, more than tripling the amount of money that the student who sued over Corbett's anti-Christian rhetoric has been ordered to pay.

Milli Borgarding, the deputy in charge of the Santa Ana division of the U.S. District Court clerk's office, determined that although Corbett violated the First Amendment rights of former student Chad Farnan, Corbett's legal team is entitled to recover a total of $12,631 in court costs.

The fees are to be paid by Murrietta-based Advocates for Faith & Freedom, the Christian legal group that represented Farnan on a pro-bono basis.

"It remains to be seen whether they are entitled to these costs," said Farnan's attorney, Jennifer Monk. "On many cases, it's very clear who won and what the costs are. In this case, nothing is that simple. It will go to the judge to make a final decision."

Capistrano Unified had asked for $15,316 in court-related fees, but the court clerk awarded just over half that amount. Borgarding struck several reimbursement requests – including eliminating or lowering transcript fees and photocopying fees – after determining the school district was not entitled to those costs, Monk said.

Mounting fees awarded

The $8,483 awarded Tuesday comes on top of $4,148 in court fees awarded Oct. 23 to attorneys for the California Teachers Association union, which also represented Corbett and the school district.

The hearing was held by teleconference from the U.S. District Court clerk's office in Santa Ana and was not open to the public. Borgarding did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

"It's rare that you as a prevailing party, as a public agency, apply for an award of fees, but this is one of those occasions when I think it was warranted," said Capistrano Unified attorney Daniel Spradlin. "There were other ways to have resolved this without the lawsuit. The school district had to spend money that could have been allocated to other educational purposes."

Corbett, an Advanced Placement European history teacher at Capistrano Valley High School in Mission Viejo, was found to have violated the First Amendment's establishment clause? when he referred to Creationism as "religious, superstitious nonsense" during a fall 2007 classroom lecture.

While U.S. District Court Judge James Selna sided with Farnan in a May 2009 ruling, he found Capistrano not liable at the same time and, four months later, found Corbett not financially liable for his actions under a qualified immunity defense.

In addition to seeking court-related fees, the school district and union also have filed motions requesting a combined $378,519 in attorneys' fees. A hearing to determine whether Advocates for Faith & Freedom must also pay these fees is scheduled for Monday.

Disparity applying for reimbursements

Even as Corbett's defense team is able to file motions seeking reimbursement from Farnan, Farnan's attorneys cannot file any of their own motions seeking reimbursement from Corbett.

The disparity stems from the September court ruling that granted Corbett qualified immunity, effectively prohibiting Farnan from collecting any legal fees from the defense.

Monk said that because Farnan could not file any reimbursement requests, he effectively gave the court clerk no choice but to process the requests before her, even though they all were from the defense.

Farnan already has filed an appeal to the judge. Unlike the court clerk, the judge will be able to consider the reimbursement requests in the proper context, Monk said. A hearing has been scheduled for Nov. 30.

"I don't think there's a story here yet," she said. "No final decision has been made on costs until the judge makes a decision."

Separately, both sides appealed the entire case last week to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Corbett is seeking to be exonerated; Farnan is seeking a stronger, broader judgment against Corbett.

Judge denies awarding $391,150 to teacher's defense team


December 14, 2009 5:25 PM

Today marks the end of teacher James Corbett's case in trial court; an appeal to the 9th Circuit is already underway.

SANTA ANA – A federal judge today denied awarding $391,150 in attorneys' fees and court-related costs to the defense team for high school teacher James Corbett, sued by a student two years ago for his anti-Christian classroom rhetoric.

U.S. District Court Judge James Selna said in an eight-page ruling that although the Capistrano Unified School District was not liable for Corbett's actions, Capistrano was not eligible to recover any attorneys' fees because student Chad Farnan's lawsuit against the school district was not simply "a baseless, vexatious claim," as Corbett's attorneys had argued.

Capistrano Valley High School history teacher James Corbett, a 20-year educator, was found to have violated a student's First Amendment rights in May. A judge said today his legal defense team is not entitled to recover attorneys' fees or court costs.

(Click here to read the judge's ruling.)

Today's ruling affirms a tentative decision by Selna more than a month ago against awarding attorneys' fees to Corbett's attorneys, and overturns an October decision by a federal court clerk to award $12,631 in court-related fees.

It also marks the end of the case at the trial court level, although both sides already have appealed Selna's ruling to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

"We agree with the judge's tentative (ruling) and are happy with this ruling, as we do not believe we should be paying costs for either the defendant, school district or the union interveners," said Farnan's attorney, Jennifer Monk. "In light of the fact that Dr. Corbett was found to have violated the constitution, the cost of attorneys' fees should not be awarded to the defense."

Corbett, an Advanced Placement European history teacher at Capistrano Valley High School in Mission Viejo, was found to have violated the First Amendment's establishment clause when he referred to Creationism as "religious, superstitious nonsense" during a fall 2007 classroom lecture.

While Selna sided with Farnan in the May 2009 ruling, he found Capistrano not liable at the same time and, four months later, found Corbett not financially liable for his actions under a qualified immunity defense. It was qualified immunity that barred Farnan from seeking attorneys' fees or court costs from Corbett, although Corbett's attorneys attempted to get costs from Farnan.

"In the end, we didn't get involved in this case to get attorneys' fees or court costs," said Michael Hersh, an attorney for the California Teachers Association union and a member of Corbett's defense team.

Corbett's defense team comprises attorneys for Capistrano Unified and the teachers union. Capistrano Unified had asked for $154,781.50 in attorneys' fees and $8,483 in court costs, and the union had asked for $223,737.50 in attorneys' fees and $4,148 in court costs – for a total of $391,150.

To determine whether attorneys' fees should be awarded, the judge applied a legal test that essentially evaluated whether Farnan's claim was "unreasonable, frivolous, meritless or vexatious."

"The court finds it somewhat disturbing that the school defendants label C.F.'s position frivolous given that it was only application of the doctrine of qualified immunity that spared Corbett from liability," Selna said in his ruling. "The premise of that defense – which the court accepted – was that there was no clearly established constitutional right on the facts of this case."

A hearing to discuss the awarding of costs had been scheduled for today, but was canceled at the last minute after both parties agreed to accept the judge's tentative ruling, which was released last week.

Today's decision combined two issues that previously had been separate.

The judge originally planned to discuss the awarding of attorneys' fees at a hearing last month, but canceled it at the last minute and rescheduled it for today.

The awarding of court costs originated with a federal court clerk, Milli Borgarding, the deputy in charge of the Santa Ana division of the U.S. District Court clerk's office, who awarded the court fees to Corbett's defense team as part of what is typically a routine procedural matter. But Farnan immediately appealed to the judge.

In the 9th Circuit, Corbett will seek to be exonerated; Farnan is seeking a stronger, broader judgment against Corbett.

"We feel strongly about the case and are looking forward to presenting our arguments to the 9th Circuit and getting a broader ruling than we were able to get in district court," Monk said.

As Darwin Year ends, some seek to go "beyond Darwin"


Dec 14, 2009 10:54 EST

As this Darwin Year 2009 draws to a close, I have to say a lot of the public debate it prompted came down to the sterile old clash between evolution and creationism. The issue of religion always hung in the air, with the loudest arguments coming from the creationist side defending it or the neo-atheists like the Darwinian biologist Richard Dawkins denouncing it. In the end, the squabbling seemed to be more about ideology than science and told us little we didn't already know.

So I was intrigued by a conference held at UNESCO here in Paris recently about scientists who believe in evolution but want to go "beyond Darwin." Organised by French philosopher of science Jean Staune, its speakers argued that Darwin could not explain underlying order and patterns found in nature. "We have to differentiate between evolution and Darwinism," said Jean Staune, author of the new book "Au-dela de Darwin" (Beyond Darwin). "Of course there is adaptation. But like physics and chemistry, biology is also subject to its own laws."

Michael Denton, a geneticist with New Zealand's University of Otago, said Darwinian "functionalists" believed life forms simply adapted to the outside world while his "structuralist" view also saw an internal logic driving this evolution down certain paths. His view, which he called "extraordinarily foreign to modern biology," explained why many animals developed "camera eyes" like human ones and why proteins, one of the building blocks of life, fold into structures unchanged for three billion years.

The speakers here — all academics from fields such as genetics, neurobiology, psychology and paleontology — are of course neither the first nor the only scientists to argue that life must have evolved by more than just natural selection. Several mentioned the British paleontologist Simon Conway Morris, who argues that the evolutionary convergence of life forms "throws severe doubt on a number of fashionable presuppositions in evolution." But it was interesting to see how many different arguments the scientists brought to supplement the basic evolution thesis they supported.

Denton is an interesting case because he is a scientist with publications in peer-reviewed journals who was originally close to the intelligent design movement. His 1985 book " Evolution: A Theory in Crisis" helped launch the "ID" movement and he was linked to the Discovery Institute, a leading advocate of the controversial idea. But he later changed his mind and argued in the 1998 book "Nature's Destiny: How the Law of Biology Reveal Purpose in the Universe" argued that evolution occurred but was channeled down certain paths by inherent structures in nature.

A few days after the conference, I sat down with Staune and Denton to find out more about their ideas and what they might mean for religion. Excerpts from these interviews are on the following page.

Q: Why do you want to go "beyond Darwin"?

If you find camera eyes in five or six different animals, you can begin to question the fact that evolution is unpredictable … Chance can be channeled. Today we have some evidence of channeled evolution through different structures. These structures could be built into the laws of nature. That's a fascinating idea confirmed by modern genetic discoveries.

I think we are in a situation like in the Copernicus period. You have a growing number of people who are questioning the classical paradigm. There is a lot of fact that you cannot fully explain by Darwinian ways. The problem is the pollution introduced by the creationists….when you criticise Darwinism and look for a new way, people say "Oh, you criticise Darwin, so you are a creationist."

Q: So do you believe in evolution?

I'm sure evolution is a fact, but it can't be fully explained by Darwinism. For me, it's a shame to see people who are misinformed, who cheat with the facts and say wrong things in the name of their faith. I'm a believer and I don't want to see people in the name of faith ridicule it by making false assumptions… If we are trapped in a choice between Darwinism and creationism, it's a very bad situation…This view is much more compatible than Darwin with the view that the universe is purposeful and that evolution is not by chance only, but exists to reach a goal.

The tree of life is essentially a natural form and evolution has followed paths which are largely preordained in the nature of things from the very beginning. Obviously, this is a throwback to pre-Darwinian conceptions of evolution.

The universe exhibits a very strange fitness for organisms like ourselves — not exactly like us, but warm-blooded air-breathing organisms. Microbial carbon-based life can get by in a vast variety of different environments, but big warm-blooded organisms like us need rather special conditions, such as low viscosity of water for a circulatory system. These sorts of things seem to be pointing to a universe fit for organisms like us. If you tried to change the properties of any of these things slightly, it wouldn't work.

The next step I take is to say it's worth examining the possibility that it's not just for our being, but also for our becoming. That leads me to the idea the world is ordained through evolution for our becoming. It's ordered for beings like humans and the evolutionary path from chemistry to mankind is built into nature.

This view was widely held before Darwin. Everybody believed in evolution according to natural law, which is very similar to my view. Of course, my view is very much refined after 150 years of biological discoveries, but there's a definite similarity there.

I don't discount contingency in nature. I think a lot of the adaptation of living things has probably come about through natural selection. Once you say the universe is fit for our existence, some basic ground plans must be part of nature. They're the core nodes on the evolutionary picture. The adaptations might be variable. If the vertebrates did occur on another planet, for example, there might be no whales or no horses. But the predestination for higher forms of life is all built into the natural system.

Q: How does this fit with a religious view of life?

This is consistent with the Christian world view. I'm not very religious myself. I came from a Christan family but I consider myself somewhat agnostic about any specific religious claims. Certainly this is essentially a way of defending the anthropocentric view. It certainly does suggest we have some special place in nature, that our ontology is part of the ontology of the world itself. That would also suggest we must, in our being, reflect something of ultimate reality, whether it's the Christian version of that or whatever it is.

The universe could have been created by a divine mind or being to bring into existence beings that reflect itself. That's a very conventional theological view. On the other hand, you could take Plato's view in Timaeus that the actual world is a self-created living entity in which all parts of being reflect the ultimate being of the living eternal cosmos itself. That's a pantheistic view. In terms of the scientific evidence and the predeterminism I'm talking about, I don't think that you can really distinguish between these two possibilities.

There are two problems with this argument for different parts of Christianity. Creationists don't like this view because it erases the need for divine intervention. You've got the laws of nature forcing evolution along certain channels and you've got selection doing the adaption of these forms, so you can get to mankind without any intervention whatever. Liberal theologians don't like it because it's far too Aristotelian, far too conventional in its implications. You'd think it would be taken up more to justify the Christian faith and reconcie it with the evolutionary world view. But maybe it is more along the lines of Plato's Timeaus, because it has no interventions at all.

Q: Why is self-organisation important?

You cannot account for biological systems without assuming there's a lot of self-organisation in them. For example, cells have a self-organising boundary. If you put a hole in a cell, it seals up. It doesn't need a complex system telling it that it's got a hole, it just automatically seals it. All the cell has to do is make the amino acid chain. Then nature takes it into the form of the fold and natural selection adapts it for a function. I think all life in the cosmos, whether carbon-based or any other form of life, would have to exploit self-organising systems. It would have to get some of its order for free. This puts Darwinism in a very difficult position. Those self-organising properties of different bits of biomatter can't have been given by Darwinian evolution because that just builds contingent systems.

Q: Why couldn't self-organisation have evolved?

I cant say it couldn't, you can never say that. But I feel very strongly the evidence is overwhelmingly in favour of the idea that all self-organisation of matter is inherent from the beginning. We haven't found any way to make contingent systems self-organising.

Q: So how did life come about?

In the Darwinian idea, you'd first have chemistry and then a bit-by-bit accumulation of fortuitous changes. But before you get to a system that can replicate securely and yet accommodate a bit of change, you can't really have Darwinian evolution. So how do you get to the first cell? My hunch is that there is probably a unique path to the cell that exploits some unknown self-organising properties of matter. If there were many routes and they were easy to take, we would have found some by now. I think we have to postulate that the origin of life involves some as yet unknown self-organising properties of matter. That's my hunch, and if that's not true, then I think you're going to have special creation. You can quote me on that. It's either some unknown special self-organising process or it's creation.

Q: What do you think of "intelligent design" now?

I have some sympathy with the intelligent design movement. I can see their point. But in the end, I think natural self-organising matter plus natural selection can probably explain it. I don't like the attitude of the Darwinian establishment towards intelligent designers because one thing the Darwinist establishment certainly can't explain is the origin of life. That's for sure. Probably special creation is better than what they've got. That's almost like confessing a murder, I know, but I don't mind being quoted on that. Because I personally see so much fitness in the cosmos for the ends of life, then that it is at least compatible with a design hypothesis like Aristotle or Aquinas. I'm quite irritated by the way the Darwinists claim they have all the answers. I don't think they can explain the fitness of the universe for life. They can't explain the origin of life. So I think they should be a little bit more humble.

Both sides are ignoring the whole structural tradition. Neither side can explain the persistent non-adaptive patterns in nature. Richard Owen said if God had made every species, he wouldn't have made all these patterns. Darwin said it was hopeless trying to explain this. If it's hopeless explaining it in terms of selection, it's hopeless explaining it in terms of creation. Organisms have all this baggage in them.

Creationists will often tell you that, before Darwin, nobody believed in evolution. This is nonsense. What was different between pre-Darwin and Darwinian biology was the causal basis of the order of life. Before Darwin, there were two causes, natural law and adaptation, and after Darwin there was only adaptation.

The Darwinists seem to be claiming that because there is evidence for evolution, that means Darwinian causation has been secured. This is nonsense — just because you see a pattern of evolution in the tree of life doesn't mean to say it was caused by natural selection. Young earth creation is beyond comprehension. Natural selection was a brilliant idea. I have enormous respect for Darwin. But the Darwinian synthesis is not a complete picture. You have to bring in other factors to account for the evolution of life.

Q: So you think there are biological laws that Darwinist evolution ignores?

Structuralists before Darwin believed biology was lawful, like chemistry and physics. My hope would be that eventually biology will be shown to have laws that derive in some way from the laws of chemistry and physics. At the level of proteins, you can see there are laws of form emerging. My academic dream would be to show that one particular microcosm within the biological world was deducible completely from physics. I'd love to show that with protein folds, if you have the 100 folds given by physics law you can reach all by selection. That means that, from knowledge of amino acid chains, you can predict the protein universe from first principles and all its adaptive functions. That would be crossing a huge Rubicon. What is probably true of the proteins will probably be true of the rest of biology in the end.

What do you think? Does this take the debate further? Does it sound like a credible way to accept evolution but still see some purpose in nature?

Adnan Oktar has achieved cult status with his views on Islamic creationism


By John Dyer

ISTANBUL, Turkey — Islam's answer to a TV evangelist, Adnan Oktar, is at it again.

A few years ago, the controversial sect leader mailed thousands of copies of the "Atlas of Creation" — a lavish, 800-page book that attempts to disprove evolution — to doctors and educators around the world. Now, in addition to his local-access TV talk show in Turkey, he's launched a media blitz to counter the buzz surrounding the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin's "On the Origin of Species."

Oktar in recent months has been inviting journalists to interview him in his living room-cum-television studio in a gated community in Istanbul's northern suburbs. There the 53-year-old, who uses the pen name Harun Yahya, discusses Islamic creationism while blasting Freemasonry.

"It's a Masonic religion," Oktar said, referring to Darwinism during a recent interview with GlobalPost. "It goes back to the time of the Sumerians and the time of the Pharaohs and ancient Greece, this old religion that claims creation by chance. It is actually a Satanic belief."

But while Oktar has garnered attention from media around the world, it's unclear if he represents anyone besides himself and his small group of followers, though he reflects trends in Islam and creationism in general, experts said. Like provocative American broadcasters who seek attention, whether good or bad, to boost their notoriety, it's hard to tell if Oktar's message occurs in an echo chamber or if it has a real impact.

"Either way, the word gets out," said Emre Calikoglu, an assistant who drives journalists to Oktar's villa. "He's sincere. You can tell."

Oktar's critics are less generous. "He has no grass roots appeal besides his own group of followers, which is probably 200 or 300 people," said Mustafa Akyol, a Turkish newspaper columnist. "These are the people whom he turned into devotees when they were 15. Now they are in their mid-30s and 40s."

Claiming he owns a construction firm — others suggest he receives backing from wealthy but secretive radical Muslims — Oktar has spent money liberally to advertise Islamic creationism, which holds that God created the Earth's species out of whole cloth, rather than via natural selection, the theory that animals slowly mutate into new forms over millennia.

Resembling its American counterparts, Islamic creationism has become more popular in recent years as conservative Muslims have raised their voices to counter the proliferation of Western ideologies, like evolution, in the Islamic world.

Islamic creationists don't believe the world is around 6,000 years old, based on the genealogies of the Old Testament, for example. "American creationism is actually kind of a loser thought," Oktar said. "They lose at the very beginning because of the age of the Earth issue. It is not a scientific explanation."

Instead, the Quran acknowledges the Earth is far older but rejects evolution, he said, meaning species were created in their present form when life first appeared on the planet. "There are 200 million-year-old fossils that falsify Darwinism," Oktar continued, admitting he had no training in paleontology but arguing that fossils of, say, crocodiles, depicted creatures identical to those living today.

"There's no intellectual merit," said Jason Wiles, a biology professor at Syracuse University and associate director of the Evolution Education Research Center at McGill University in Canada. "He's just drumming up attention. It's a publicity stunt."

Even Oktar admits he can be a shameless self-promoter. Atheist biologist Richard Dawkins discovered the Atlas uses a fishing lure photograph instead of a real insect, for example, in one of its glossy pages.

Oktar admitted the deception. "Dawkins was caught by this," he said. "I did it on purpose to get attention. Dawkins made advertisements for the book all around the world."

In Turkey, Oktar has little influence beyond his coterie, Akyol said. In 1986, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and committed to a psychiatric hospital for 10 months.

The confinement was politically motivated, Oktar claimed. But it undermined his legitimacy.

He's also been in and out of Turkish courts for years, fighting charges that include operating an illegal organization. Currently he's appealing a conviction that could send him to jail for three years.

But Oktar wielded enough influence last year to convince a judge to ban Dawkins' website in Turkey because, he argued, Dawkins was defaming his name. Oktar also tried to ban Dawkins' book, "The God Delusion," in Turkey, but failed.

In other parts of the Muslim world, Oktar has been more successful. Schools in Indonesia, Pakistan and elsewhere often use his materials. "People in other countries in the Muslim world don't know about these scandals," Akyol said. "If you are a high school kid in Malaysia, and you are Muslim, and you want to learn about God and science, these books appeal to you."

Others questioned, however, whether teachers use Oktar's books because they are yearning for creationist literature, or if they are simply using free materials that have been dumped on their doorsteps, with Harun Yahya's reputation expanding in the process.

"There are a lot of media relations that go on in the Harun Yahya operation," said Taner Edis, a Turkish-American physics professor at Truman State University in Missouri, who has written on Islamic creationism. "You really shouldn't think of Harun Yahya as a pseudonym of Adnan Oktar. You should think of it as a brand name. They treat it like a brand. It's like marketing."

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

What People Do and Do Not Believe in


Benzinga Staff

Posted on 12/15/09 at 5:01am by Benzinga Staff

A new Harris Poll finds that the great majority (82%) of American adults believe in God, exactly the same number as in two earlier Harris Polls in 2005 and 2007. Large majorities also believe in miracles (76%), heaven (75%), that Jesus is God or the Son of God (73%), in angels (72%), the survival of the soul after death (71%), and in the resurrection of Jesus (70%).

Less than half (45%) of adults believe in Darwin's theory of evolution but this is more than the 40% who believe in creationism.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,303 adults surveyed online between November 2 and 11, 2009 by Harris Interactive®.

The survey also finds that:

•61% of adults believe in hell;
•61% believe in the virgin birth (Jesus born of Mary);
•60% believe in the devil;
•42% believe in ghosts;
•32% believe in UFOs;
•26% believe in astrology;
•23% believe in witches
•20% believe in reincarnation – that they were once another person.

None of these numbers have changed much since previous surveys in 2005 and 2007.

Religious Differences

There are very big differences between the beliefs of Catholics, Protestants, born-again Christians and Jews.

Catholics are more likely than all adults to believe in: God (94% compared to 82%); heaven (86% vs. 75%); that Jesus is God or the Son of God (90% vs. 73%); angels (83% vs. 72%); the survival of the soul after death (82% vs. 71%); the resurrection of Jesus Christ (87% vs. 70%); hell (70% vs. 61%); and the virgin birth (by 74% vs. 61%).

Catholics are also somewhat more likely than all adults to believe in Darwin's theory of evolution (51% vs. 45%).

Protestants are also more likely to believe in God (92%), %); that Jesus is God or the Son of God (91%); heaven (90%); angels (88%); the resurrection of Jesus (88%); miracles (87%); the survival of the soul (85%); the virgin birth (79%); the devil (77%) and hell (73%).

But Protestants are much less likely than all adults to believe in Darwin's theory of evolution (32%), ghosts (33%); astrology (20%); and reincarnation (13%). They are more likely than all adults to believe in creationism (56% vs. 40%).

Born-again Christians are much more likely than Catholics or all Protestants to believe in God (97%); heaven (97%); the Resurrection (97%); miracles (95%); angels (95%); the virgin birth (92%); the survival of the soul (91%); hell (89%); and the devil (89%).

Born-again Christians are also much more likely to believe in creationism (68%), and much less likely to believe in Darwin's theory of evolution (16%).

Jews are, of course, very unlikely to believe in the basic elements of Christianity. They are also less likely than all adults to believe in miracles (63%); heaven (48%); the survival of the soul (37%); angels (36%); hell (21%); and the devil (7%).

Jews are by far the most likely to believe in Darwin's theory of evolution (80%) and the least likely to believe in creationism (20%). They are also less likely than all adults to believe in ghosts (10% vs. 42%), UFOs (20% vs. 32%), astrology (19% vs. 26%); and witches (8% vs. 23%).

So what?

Two "big picture" findings are worth noting:

•Many people consider themselves Christians without necessarily believing in some of the key beliefs of Christianity. However, this is not true of born-again Christians.
•In addition to their religious beliefs, large minorities of adults, including many Christians, have "pagan" or pre-Christian beliefs such as a belief in ghosts, astrology, witches and reincarnation.


"Please indicate for each one if you believe in it, or not"

Base: All Adults

                    Believe In   Don't Believe In   Not Sure   Believe In   Change
                                                               2005 2007    2005-2009
God               % 82           9                  9          82   82      -
Miracles          % 76           13                 12         73   79      +3
Heaven            % 75           13                 12         70   75      +5
Jesus is God or   % 73           16                 11         70   72      +3
 the Son of God
Angels            % 72           15                 12         68   74      +4
Survival of the   % 71           10                 19         70   69      +1
 soul after death
The resurrection  % 70           17                 13         66   70      +4
 of Jesus Christ
Hell              % 61           24                 16         59   62      +2
The Virgin birth  % 61           22                 17         58   60      +3
 (Jesus born
 of Mary)
The Devil         % 60           27                 13         61   62      -1
Darwin's theory   % 45           32                 22         N/A  42      N/A
 of evolution
Ghosts            % 42           38                 20         40   41      +2
Creationism       % 40           30                 30         N/A  39      N/A
UFOs              % 32           39                 29         34   35      -2
Astrology         % 26           52                 22         25   29      +1
Witches           % 23           59                 17         28   31      -5
Reincarnation     % 20           53                 28         21   21      -1
 – that you
 were once
 another person

Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% because of rounding Note: N/A indicates this was not asked in 2005



"Please indicate for each one if you believe in it, or not"

Base: All Adults

                      Total                        Religion
                             Catholic  Protestant   Jewish   Born-Again

                        %       %          %           %         %
God                    82      94         92          79        97
Miracles               76      81         87          63        95
Heaven                 75      86         90          48        97
Jesus is God or the    73      90         91           6        97
 Son of God
Angels                 72      83         88          36        95
Survival of the soul   71      82         85          37        91
 after death
The resurrection of    70      87         88           5        97
 Jesus Christ
Hell                   61      70         73          21        89
The Virgin birth       61      74         79           5        92
 (Jesus born of Mary)
The Devil              60      69         77           7        89
Darwin's theory of     45      51         32          80        16
Ghosts                 42      44         33          10        37
Creationism            40      37         56          20        68
UFOs                   32      32         26          20        25
Astrology              26      26         20          19        21
Witches                23      22         23           8        27
Reincarnation – that   20      19         13          18        14
 you were once another person


This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States November 2 and 11, 2009 among 2,303 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents' propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, Harris Interactive avoids the words "margin of error" as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Interactive surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in the Harris Interactive panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of Harris Interactive.

Q705, 708, 715, 720

The Harris Poll® #140, December 15, 2009
By Humphrey Taylor, Chairman, The Harris Poll

About Harris Interactive

Harris Interactive is one of the world's leading custom market research firms, leveraging research, technology, and business acumen to transform relevant insight into actionable foresight. Known widely for the Harris Poll and for pioneering innovative research methodologies, Harris offers expertise in a wide range of industries including healthcare, technology, public affairs, energy, telecommunications, financial services, insurance, media, retail, restaurant, and consumer package goods. Serving clients in over 215 countries through our North American, European, and Asian offices and a network of independent market research firms, Harris specializes in delivering research solutions that help us – and our clients – stay ahead of what's next. For more information, please visit www.harrisinteractive.com.

©2009 Harris Interactive Inc.