NTS LogoSkeptical News for 10 January 2010

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Evolution education update: January 8, 2010

Creation will premiere in the United States on January 22, 2010. NCSE offers its advice to the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education regarding a proposed policy governing challenges to supplementary classroom material. And the Washington Monthly takes a hard look at the antics of the Texas state board of education.


Creation, the new film about Darwin featuring Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly, premieres in the United States on January 22, 2010, in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington DC, and Boston. In her review of Creation at The Panda's Thumb blog, NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott described it as "a thoughtful, well-made film that will change many views of Darwin held by the public -- for the good." Scott, the film's director Jon Amiel, and Kevin Padian, president of NCSE's board of directors, will participate in a discussion panel at the San Francisco premiere, and similar events are planned for the premieres elsewhere. A strong opening weekend improves the chances that the film will subsequently appear in further cities, so NCSE encourages its members and friends to show up in force. For updates, visit Creation's website.

For Scott's review, visit:

For Creation's website, visit:


In a letter to the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott explained the problems with a proposed policy governing supplementary materials in the state's classrooms and urged the board to adopt the original version of the policy as drafted by the state department of education. Her letter was submitted during the public comment period for a policy designated as Bulletin 741, sec. 2304 Science Education, Part E, which is intended to implement part of the controversial Louisiana Science Education Act, widely regarded as opening the door for creationism in the Pelican State.

Enacted in June 2008 over the protests of scientists and educators across the state and around the country, the LSEA (enacted as Louisiana Revised Statutes 17:285.1) provides that "[a] teacher shall teach the material presented in the standard textbook supplied by the school system and thereafter may use supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner, as permitted by the city, parish, or other local public school board unless otherwise prohibited by the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education."

At issue now is the question of how to handle complaints about inappropriate supplementary materials. In September 2009, the Baton Rouge Advocate (September 17, 2009) reported, "The department [of education] recommended that any complaints undergo an initial review by a three-member panel named by the agency, then go to the state board for a final decision." But a BESE committee revised the procedure so that "two reviewers will be named by the department to review the science materials in question as well as one reviewer each named by the challenger, the school and the publisher" of the challenged materials.

The review procedure proposed by the committee "is biased against the scientific and constitutional concerns of parents, and we ask that the policy be revised," Scott wrote in her letter. "The policy creates an onerous process for individual parents when simpler options are available. The policy allows inappropriate and constitutionally suspect material to remain in classrooms longer than necessary. It disregards the professional expertise of Department of Education staff in favor of an adversarial system in which defenders of suspect materials are given more of a voice than concerned parents and citizens."

Also critical of the proposed procedure were the Louisiana Coalition for Science, which complained, "In short, as BESE's complaint procedure is now drafted, DOE's expert reviewers will be in the minority, and DOE staff will not be allowed to independently assess the reviewers' reports but must instead transfer the reports directly to BESE for evaluation," and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which in a letter sent to BESE warned, "The proposed procedure for reviewing challenged supplemental material is unnecessarily complicated and appears designed to provide a forum for promoting creationism."

For the full text of Scott's letter, visit:

For the story in the Baton Rouge Advocate, visit:

For the Louisiana Coalition for Science's press release, visit:

For Americans United's press release, visit:

For NCSE's previous coverage of events in Louisiana, visit:


The antics of the Texas state board of education are the topic of a story in the January/February 2010 issue of the Washington Monthly -- and evolution, unsurprisingly, is exhibit A. "Evolution is hooey," the former chair of the board, avowed creationist Don McLeroy, told the Washington Monthly's Mariah Blake, who in the course of her article "Revisionaries" devotes a fair amount of space to a description of the recent tussle over the place of evolution in the place of Texas's science education standards.

As NCSE previously reported, although creationists on the board were unsuccessful in adding controversial "strengths and weaknesses" language to the standards, they proposed a flurry of synonyms -- such as "sufficiency or insufficiency" and "supportive and not supportive" -- and eventually prevailed with a requirement that students examine "all sides of scientific evidence." Additionally, the board voted to add or amend various standards in a way that encourages the presentation of creationist claims about the complexity of the cell, the completeness of the fossil record, and the age of the universe.

McLeroy was candid about the purpose of the amendments. "Whoo-eey!" he told Blake. "We won the Grand Slam, and the Super Bowl, and the World Cup! Our science standards are light years ahead of any other state when it comes to challenging evolution!" The distinguished biologist David Hillis was not so enthusiastic. "Clearly, some board members just wanted something they could point to so they could reject science books that don't give a nod to creationism ... If they are able to use those standards to reject science textbooks, they have won and science has lost."

For the story in the Washington Monthly, visit:

For NCSE's previous coverage of events in Texas, 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

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Friday, January 08, 2010

Tiktaalik Blown "Out of the Water" by Earlier Tetrapod Fossil Footprints


When Tiktaalik was reported in 2006, the media went Darwin-happy over the discovery of an alleged transitional fossil. BBC News announced, "Fossil animals found in Arctic Canada provide a snapshot of fish evolving into land animals." At MSNBC, Tiktaalik co-discoverer Ted Daeschler was quoted boasting that, "If one considers adaptation as a process of collecting tools to live in a new environment, the new finding offers 'a snapshot of the toolkit at this particular point in this evolutionary transition." The article even postured Tiktaalik as an actual ancestor of tetrapods, stating: "Scientists have caught a fossil fish in the act of adapting toward a life on land, a discovery that sheds new light on one of the greatest transformations in the history of animals." But this week Tiktaalik's status as an actual transitional fossil between fish and tetrapods has been called into question by the discovery of unambiguous footprints (with digits) of a full-tetrapod that were made about 20 million years before Tiktaalik. An article in Nature explains the havoc wreaked by these footprints:

The fish–tetrapod transition was thus seemingly quite well documented. There was a consensus that the divergence between some elpistostegalians (such as Tiktaalik or Panderichthys) and tetrapods might have occurred during the Givetian, 391–385 Myr ago. Coeval with the earliest fossil tetrapods, trackways dating to the Late Devonian were evidence for their ability to walk or crawl on shores.

Now, however, Niedzwiedzki et al. lob a grenade into that picture. They report the stunning discovery of tetrapod trackways with distinct digit imprints from Zachemie, Poland, that are unambiguously dated to the lowermost Eifelian (397 Myr ago). This site (an old quarry) has yielded a dozen trackways made by several individuals that ranged from about 0.5 to 2.5 metres in total length, and numerous isolated footprints found on fragments of scree. The tracks predate the oldest tetrapod skeletal remains by 18 Myr and, more surprisingly, the earliest elpistostegalian fishes by about 10 Myr.

(Philippe Janvier & Gaël Clément, "Muddy tetrapod origins," Nature Vol. 463:40-41 (January 7, 2010).)

The fossil tetrapod footprints indicate Tiktaalik came over 10 million years after the existence of the first known true tetrapod. Tiktaalik, of course, is not a tetrapod but a fish, and these footprints make it very difficult to presently argue that Tiktaalik is a transitional link between fish and tetrapods. It's not a "snapshot of fish evolving into land animals," because if this transition ever took place it seems to have occurred millions of years before Tiktaalik.

Tiktaalik's Place in the Fossil Record: A Confirmed Failed Prediction of Evolution

Some, such as Tiktaalik co-discoverer Neil Shubin, have turned Tiktaalik's place in the fossil record into an argument neo-Darwinism. As Shubin said in PBS's Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial:

What evolution enables us to do is to make specific predictions about what we should find in the fossil record. The prediction in this case is clear-cut. That is, if we go to rocks of the right age, and the rocks of the right type, we should find transitions between two great forms of life, between fish and amphibian. ...What we see when we look at the fossil record, at rocks of just the right age, is a creature like Tiktaalik.

The New York Times presaged Shubin's argument, first reporting on Tiktaalik that "the scientists concluded that Tiktaalik was an intermediate between the fishes Eusthenopteron and Panderichthys, which lived 385 million years ago, and early tetrapods. The known early tetrapods are Acanthostega and Ichthyostega, about 365 million years ago." But would neo-Darwinism have predicted true tetrapods from 397 million years ago? Definitely not: Janvier and Clément said it best: these tracks are "anachronistic." Tetrapod paleontologist Jenny Clack said the track discovery " blows the whole story out of the water." Or as a Nature news story put it, these tetrapod tracks are "more than 18 million years before tetrapods were thought to have evolved."

So where are the fish that turned into tetrapods? According to Nature, they must exist in the "'ghost range' — that is, a period of time during which members of the groups should have been present but for which no body fossils have yet been found." Shubin's arguments that these fossils confirm a "specific prediction" of evolution appear to have been wrong. (But don't expect a correction from PBS anytime soon.)

Lessons to be Learned

In 2007, Stan Guthrie discussed in Christianity Today about whether media hype on transitional forms should be believed. Saying he's always "secretly identified with the apostle Thomas," Guthrie wrote:

Last year, however, came word of Tiktaalik roseae, which looks discomfitingly like those offensive "Darwin fishes" on the cars of smug college professors. Giddy evolutionists immediately hailed the 375-million-year-old fossil as a "missing link" between fish and land animals. "It's a really amazing, remarkable intermediate fossil," scientist Neil H. Shubin told The New York Times. "It's like, holy cow."

So what's a Doubting Thomas to do? First, we need to remember that scientists have hailed "missing links" before, only to be embarrassed when further evidence came out. The Discovery Institute, which supports Intelligent Design, noted that enthusiasm over this latest find is a backhanded admission by paleontologists that the fossil record has not been kind to Darwin's theory.

These are good words; unfortunately, Guthrie then goes on to quote and endorse theistic evolutionists such as Francis Collins who basically fully capitulate to the claims of neo-Darwinists without much sign of a willingness to doubt. Guthrie quotes Collins saying, "The evidence mounts every day to support the concept that we and all other organisms on this planet are descended from a common ancestor," and that "the theory of evolution is really no longer a theory in the sense of being untested. It is a theory in the sense of gravity. It is a fact." But yet we see the "facts" of neo-Darwinism constantly being revised. Last year alone:

2010 is only a few days old and already one of the newest icons of neo-Darwinism — Tiktaalik — is coming under heavy fire. Perhaps when it comes to neo-Darwinism, Collins and those who follow him would do better to insist on taking the approach of Doubting Thomas after all.

Posted by Casey Luskin on January 7, 2010 2:50 PM | Permalink

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Creationism shouldn't get much classroom time


Re: Rob Weatherby's "The Darwin Delusion" -- Jan. 2.

In his article, "The Darwin Delusion," Pastor Rob Weatherby reiterated some common creationist babble concerning the theory of evolution. This religious propaganda is nothing more than a shameless pandering to the preconceived dogmatisms shared by his followers. An even slightly critical evaluation of his claims leaves them totally without merit.

On religion in the classroom, Weatherby notes that alternative explanations for the existence of life are not given any time in the classroom. This is incorrect, however we should still be thankful that they aren't given any more time than they already are. As a progressive society, we should strive to present our youth with the best available information -- and when it comes to the explanation for the current state of life on Earth, evolution is the only game in town; 2,500 year old mythology simply won't do.

Creationists like Weatherby will often claim that a variety of theories should be presented, and the students encouraged to discern the truth for themselves. Perhaps we should teach the stork-delivery theory of human reproduction alongside that of sexual reproduction and let our children figure it out for themselves? What an appalling waste of time and resources. The relative difference in the strengths of creationism and evolutionary theory is at least as great as the stork vs. sex example. Would you want your tax dollars supporting an education system like this? Perhaps we should teach alchemy in the chemistry classroom? How about astrology being taught alongside planetary physics?

Regarding the "Gaping Holes" in the fossil record which Weatherby speaks of, I need say only this: the theory of evolution has only ever been strengthened by fossil evidence. The fossil record displays evidence representing exactly what would be expected if evolution were true.

When the so-called "missing links" between two species are found by scientists, creationists rejoice in the fact there are now more "holes" in the fossil record (the original gap is bisected) for them to gape at.

Concerning ethics, even if evolution implied immorality and the devaluing of human life (it doesn't), this would have absolutely no bearing on the truth of evolution. I do not have the space to address his alarmist moral concerns, but I would remind Weatherby that these arguments have no place in a discussion about whether something is true. Remember: whether evolution is good or bad for humanity does not bear on the truth or falsity of it as a theory.

For those interested in this important topic, I don't suggest visiting a creationist website, as Weatherby does, but rather educating oneself in history, biology, philosophy and basic logic.

Cody Walter Lively

Origin of a Translation


January 2010

An Arabic version of Darwin's Origin of Species has gotten lost in a debate about the theory of evolution and Egypt's science curriculum

By Sarah Mishkin

About a decade ago, a friend approached Dr. Magdi Meligui to ask for a favor: Translate into Arabic the writings of Charles Darwin, the father of evolutionary theory.

This friend worked for one of the government cultural authorities, which had been unable to find a translator willing to take on the nineteenth-century British naturalist's complex English and often controversial ideas of how life on earth evolved. Although 2009 marked the 150th anniversary of Darwin's seminal On the Origin of Species, Meligui's is the first complete Arabic translation of the work.

"No one would dare to touch it, it was too difficult," Meligui says. "I said 'fine.'"

A professor of dermatology at Ain Shams University and one-time coroner in the United Arab Emirates, Meligui has devoted the last nine years to his translation project. Darwin was a prolific author with nearly 30 books to his name and even more articles and letters. In addition to Origin of Species, the 70-year-old Meligui has translated four other books and plans to complete two more.

The desk at his Heliopolis home is strewn with yellowed biology reference books and the marked-up pages of his translations, which he spends hours revising each day.

"I've started living with the guy," Meligui says, pointing to a stately black-and-white photo of Darwin that hangs on the book-lined wall of his parlor.

But few, he says, know of his translations. While the original Origin of Species averages about 550 pages, the Arabic version looks intimidating at nearly 1,000 pages, including detailed footnotes and appendices. Selling for LE 50, it is available in very few bookstores around Cairo. The translation's publisher, Meligui says, is a government body that is not interested in the challenges of distribution.

Nor is it clear if Meligui's translations, pioneering as they are, would find much of an audience even if they were readily available at a lower price. Few in the Arab or Muslim worlds accept Darwin's idea of evolution and natural selection, least of all in Egypt — a 2007 study published in Science magazine on Muslim views of evolution found that fewer than 10 percent of Egyptians thought the theory was "true or probably true," the lowest rate of acceptance in any Muslim nation in the study.

Divining the Debate

The theory of evolution, as framed by contemporary biology, says that plant and animal species change over time in response to pressures from their environment. Crucial to the theory is the concept of natural selection. When organisms reproduce, their offspring's genetic profile differ from the parents' in small and random ways. Darwin's theory says that offspring with useful genetic mutations will be more likely to reproduce — that is, nature has 'selected' them — and those useful mutations will become more prevalent. Eventually, so many new traits develop that a distinct species emerges.

Many people of different faiths have objected to aspects of evolutionary theory because it suggests that humans physically developed gradually in response to environmental pressures rather than by divine guidance, as their holy books describe.

While some Jews and Christians reject evolution because it seems to contradict the creation story set forth explicitly in the Bible's Old Testament, the Qur'an does not contain a specific chronology of the earth's creation. Islamic objections tend more to question whether evolution's account of man's development through natural selection contradicts the Qur'anic teaching that God created man.

Much of the discussion of anti-evolution ideas in the Middle East focuses on the anti-evolution stances of Islamic scholars, most notably Zaghloul El-Naggar, an Egyptian geology professor and member of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs noted for analyzing the Qur'an for prophesies of scientific discoveries, and Turkish writer Harun Yahya, whose work has gained a popular following due to its easy availability online in multiple languages and his substantial funding.

Scholars who gathered at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in November, however, spurn the interpretation that the controversy over Darwin in Egypt is simply a brawl between religion and science over the natural history of man. Scientists and thinkers from around the world convened for Darwin's Living Legacy: An International Conference on Evolution and Society, sponsored by the British Council to mark the bicentennial of Darwin's birth.

Some of the conference speakers suggested that tracts of the Qur'an and the Bible are not the only causes of local opposition to evolution. While the debate over Darwin is intertwined with the growing influence of conservative Islam and the wider debate of Western influence in the Arab world, some argued that the more important discussions are the less flashy ones about the quality of local science education and regional investment in putting basic scientific knowledge within reach of the Arabic-speaking public.


In October, a bizarre report appeared in Al-Jazeera, claiming that research on a 4.4 million-year-old hominid skeleton, referred to by its English nickname 'Ardi,' disproved Darwin's theory of evolution. Because Ardi's anatomy does not resemble contemporary chimpanzees or apes, the article reported, it proves that man did not descend from monkeys and therefore Darwin was wrong.

The fossilized remains, the oldest known skeleton of a human ancestor, prove no such thing, its investigators say. Darwin never wrote that men evolved from monkeys; he merely posited that they share a common ancestor.

Those who noticed Al-Jazeera's inaccurate coverage were hardly surprised. Although Darwin's theory of evolution is widely accepted by scientists, his theory is often misunderstood by non-scientists in both the Western and Arab worlds.

Islam and modern science are certainly not incompatible. During his conference presentation, Dr. Salman Hameed, an assistant professor of integrated science and humanities at Hampshire College in the United States, noted that the Muslim world has a long tradition of scientific research and acceptance of scientific concepts that originated in the West. To illustrate this, Hameed used images of Pakistani science textbooks that use Qur'anic verses to introduce scientific concepts.

Evolution, however, is an exception: its common association with Western atheism and secularism hampers its popularity. "What can we do?" Hameed said. "Charles Darwin happened to be British."

That association accounts for only part of the problem. Comparative research conducted in Egypt, Lebanon, Pakistan and Indonesia points to the difficulties in teaching not just evolution, but science itself.

"Egyptian and Lebanese students seem to have inadequate understandings of the nature of theories and the role of evidence in theory development," said Dr. Saouma BouJaoude, an American University in Beirut professor of science education, presenting the results of surveys of teachers and students about science education in Muslim countries. "[There are] similar misunderstandings of the scientific basis of evolutionary theory []. We cannot focus on evolution without looking at the bigger picture."

Egypt, he noted, should be leading the region in education on evolution. Unlike most of its regional counterparts, Egypt's curriculum for secondary schools has a well-defined unit on evolution. During his research interviews, however, local biology teachers told BouJaoude, "We teach what is in the book, but we tell students not to believe it."

EGYPTIAN Evolution

Clarifying the nature of Darwin's work requires more than just subjecting students to another lecture on man's origins. Dinosaur toys, suggests conference presenter Dr. Amir Yassin, could be surprisingly important.

Yassin, a University of Alexandria genetics professor who spoke with Egypt Today after his presentation, is referring specifically to the colorful plastic dinosaur toys widely sold in museums like New York's American Museum of Natural History, where he also works as a post-doctoral research fellow. Across Europe and the US, families can take their children to these museums to see for themselves fossils of extinct animals, evidence for evolution.

No such educational museum of this type exists here, he notes, and that absence reflects a lost opportunity for Egyptians to learn about natural history from the Egyptian perspective.

Inspired by his own interactions with students in his classes at Alexandria, Yassin studied the Egyptian curriculum on evolution. He concluded that the biology curriculum segregates evolution into a separate unit and overemphasizes science technology in general. As a result, he says, students do not understand the importance of basic biological research and the applicability of evolutionary theory to all aspects of biology.

Not to mention, he says, that in teaching evolution, examples from Egypt's own rich history, such as Wadi Hitan, a desert spot outside Fayoum Oasis that is home to important fossils of extinct whales, are overlooked. Yassin hopes the Bibliotheca will open an exhibit focused on the natural history of Egypt's environment.

"People don't know about the Galapagos [Islands]," he pointed out in his presentation, referring to the Pacific Ocean archipelago whose biodiversity Darwin studied while formulating his theory of natural selection. "It's as if evolution only happens abroad."

Yassin's first encounter with Darwin's theory came from a book about Islam, Mustapha Mahmoud's Understanding the Qur'an. The book's openness to evolution helped him, as it reconciled the often-controversial theory with the tenets of religion.

Here too, the design of the curriculum bears some blame for heightening the perception of a divide between religion and evolution. Yassin says that the currently selected readings emphasize Islamic opposition to evolution. When his students ask about Qur'anic teachings on evolution, which he says they inevitably do every semester, he encourages them to pick up Mahmoud's book. It is not on the required reading list, Yassin notes, adding that it should be.

He emphasizes that although Al-Azhar's fatwa on evolution rules against the theory, it also calls Darwin's theory a probability, seemingly leaving the door open for future acceptance of evolution. "There is a plasticity within even the fatwa of Al-Azhar, so this is very promising."

Evolving Translations

However, before people can agree or disagree on evolution, they need to decide on the terms of the debate.

Jason Wiles, a Syracuse University professor working on the comparative survey of evolution education in Muslim-majority nations, noted at the Alexandria conference that the Arabic word commonly used for evolution can also mean development. So how, he asked, can one design a survey that asks a student whether they support the idea of development?

Not to mention that the Arabic word for ancestor, he added, can have religious connotations, so talking about apes' and humans' common ancestors can seem far more provocative than the same question in English.

On the Origin of Species translator Meligui has been wrestling with these questions of word choice for nearly a decade now. He has finally settled on a style of translation that strives to use Arabic terms that are as visually descriptive as possible. For example, Darwin's "great ape" is translated into Arabic as 'monkeys without tails.'

Meligui also notes that partial translations that appeared in the early twentieth century were often eloquent in Arabic but scientifically inexact. In his own work, he changed the Arabic phrase used to describe "natural selection" away from the phrase used in a partial 1918 edition that could also be understood to mean "natural election."

The challenge is not limited to Darwin's theory. Meligui estimates there are only about a dozen scientific translators in Egypt, and they are struggling to standardize their terms for biological phenomena. His books are laden with footnotes and appendices offering readers the English originals of the Arabic neologisms, part of his attempt to standardize future works.

Of course, he says, some people object to his word choices, and he spends many days poring over and cutting up old translations to improve his own work. Meligui recently found yet another alternative translation for natural selection in some Syrian writings. "I may be wrong," he says of his strategy for translating Darwin's tricky English, "but at least we're breaking the ice." et

Academic Battleground

A lthough Darwin's theories are often seen as a Western import, they are far from universally accepted in the most populous Western nation, the United States. A 2009 British Council survey found that although 84 percent of American adults have a high awareness and understanding of Darwin's theories, only 42 percent believed enough scientific evidence exists to support his theories — the lowest percentage of any developed nation surveyed.

The American fight against Darwin is vocally led by Christian organizations that object on religious grounds to the teaching of evolution in public schools. Organizations such as the Seattle-based Discovery Institute encourage schools to tell students that a belief known as intelligent design could explain the development of modern species. Intelligent design posits that species develop according to the dictates of an intelligent creator rather than through random genetic mutations and natural selection.

Although American acceptance of evolution remains tepid, promotion of intelligent design has seen pushback from parents and legislatures. After a school district in Pennsylvania required that intelligent design be added to the science curriculum, the US Supreme Court ruled that intelligent design represented a religious viewpoint and that a mandate to teach it in public school violated the US Constitution's separation of church and state.

Evolution skeptics are attempting to make anti-evolution the next Western theory to be exported. According to a 2009 Washington Post report, the Discovery Institute sent speakers to Istanbul in 2007 to discuss intelligent design, and members of the anti-evolution Institute for Creation Research in Dallas have spoken before numerous Turkish conferences on evolution.

Egypt Today is the leading current affairs magazine in Egypt and the Middle East and the oldest English-language publication of its kind in the nation
Egypt Today "The Magazine Of Egypt" ©2004-2007 IBA-media

The Dawkins Evolution


David B. Hart
The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution
by Richard Dawkins
Free Press, 480 pages, $30

The first lesson to be learned from Richard Dawkins' new book is a purely practical maxim: One should always do what one does best, while scrupulously avoiding those tasks for which neither nature nor tuition has equipped one. This is not, obviously, what one could call a moral counsel; it is merely a counsel of prudence. Another way of saying it would be, try not to make a fool of yourself. Of course, folly is something of a relative judgment. It is often the case, especially in the world of publishing, that the most lucrative course is to do things very, very badly. The richest novelists tend to be those who cannot write; and the more poorly they write, the richer they are likely to become. The most successful purveyors of popular history, popular political polemic, popular religion, popular philosophy, popular atheism—and so on—are those who know only as much about their subjects as is necessary to make a stir and absolutely nothing more. And one has to concede that no other book by Richard Dawkins has sold nearly as well as The God Delusion, his majestically maladroit adventure in the realm of abstract ideas. So, weighing things solely in the balances of financial gain, one should perhaps not be too captious regarding his recent publications on the God question.

Still, there was a time when Dawkins enjoyed a deserved reputation for his contributions to the popular exposition of evolutionary science and theory without yet having acquired his entirely undeserved reputation as a powerful advocate for atheism.

The Selfish Gene, despite occasional propositions of an almost metaphysical variety, is, for the most part, an excellent introduction to one of the more fascinating areas of modern biological science and speculation. And, generally, whenever Dawkins has confined himself to topics within his field of expertise, he has produced well-organized, lucidly written guidebooks to the current scene in the life sciences.

With The Greatest Show on Earth, Dawkins has returned to what he does best. He makes occasional mention of subjects he ought not to touch on—Plato, for instance, or the "great chain of being," or God—with predictable imprecision; but these are only momentary deviations. The purpose of the book is simply to lay out, as clearly as possible, the evidence for the truth of special evolution. It recently occurred to him, he says, that over the years he has written about evolutionary theory but never taken the time to provide his reasons for believing in it for those who have not had the benefit of his training. And this is what he does here, very well, proceeding by discrete steps: the observable plasticity of plant and animal species, the verifiability of macro-evolution, the geological record of the earth's age, the fossil evidence (including the wealth of fossil remains of intermediate special forms), observable and experimental mutation, morphology, genetics, and so forth. In short, The Greatest Show on Earth is an ideal précis of the evolutionary sciences and the current state of evolutionary theory that can be recommended for the convinced and the unconvinced alike.

Dawkins' special reason for having written this book, as perhaps need not be said, is his own frustration over the sheer number of persons in the world today who continue to refuse to believe either in special evolution or in its entirely immanent causal mechanisms. Although the book is, for the most part, wholly "positive" in its argument, it is nonetheless explicitly directed toward two targets: young-earth creationists and the intelligent design movement. In regard to the former, of course, he does not really need to expend much energy. After all, ranged against their beliefs is nothing less than the entire universe and every physical datum it comprises. In regard to the latter, however, he does feel the need to exert himself; and, while some of his arguments are solvent enough, others are no more sophisticated than the positions they are meant to refute.

The best argument against ID theory, when all is said and done, is that it rests on a premise—"irreducible complexity"—that may seem compelling at the purely intuitive level but that can never logically be demonstrated. At the end of the day, it is—as Francis Collins rightly remarks—an argument from personal incredulity. While it is true that very suggestive metaphysical arguments can be drawn from the reality of form, the intelligibility of the universe, consciousness, the laws of physics, or (most importantly) ontological contingency, the mere biological complexity of this or that organism can never amount to an irrefutable proof of anything other than the incalculable complexity of that organism's phylogenic antecedents.

Dawkins does not really make the logical argument, though. Instead, he makes something much more like a deistic argument, although in reverse. He merely inverts the ID equation and confesses his own personal incredulity at the idea that nature—containing so much that is inefficient, ungainly, brutal, wasteful, abortive, and ill-formed—could be the product of a designing intelligence. But this is silly. He starts from an entirely anthropomorphic concept of a designer, presumes the set of values pertinent to such a concept, and then fails to find those values reflected in nature as he perceives it. But that, of course, is not the issue. In any event, I suppose, this is a small complaint.

I should confess, although quite gratuitously, that I derive a certain malicious delight from Dawkins' consternation at the persistence of young-earth fundamentalism in even the most educated of societies. At one point in The Greatest Show on Earth, he records—at somewhat tedious length—the transcript of an interview he gave to a not very well-informed antievolutionist by the name of Wendy Wright.

Again and again, Wright asserts that there is no fossil evidence of intermediate forms between earlier primates and human beings; and, again and again, Dawkins attempts to disabuse her of this vacuous "mantra" (as he calls it) by pointing out that there certainly is such evidence and by directing her to it, but all to no avail. His answers fly past her without any discernible effect, and she simply repeats her question, over and over. The reason this amuses me, to be honest, is that, whenever he himself turns to philosophical issues, Richard Dawkins is Wendy Wright—or, at least, her temperamental twin.

After all, what makes The God Delusion so frustrating to any reader who has a shred of decent philosophical training and who knows the history of ideas is its special combination of encyclopedic ignorance and thuggish bluster. Repeatedly, Dawkins discusses such issues as Thomas' "five ways" (which he, as many do, mistakes for Thomas' chief "proofs" for the "existence" of God); but he never bothers to consult anyone who could explain these issues to him. And he is desperately in need of such explanations, given how utterly bewildered he is on every significant point. He cannot distinguish questions regarding the existence of the universe from questions regarding its physical origin; he does not grasp how assertions regarding the absolute must logically differ from assertions regarding contingent beings; he does not know the differences between truths of reason and empirical facts; he has no concept of ontology, in contradistinction to, say, physics or evolutionary biology; he does not understand how assertions regarding transcendental perfections differ from assertions regarding maximum magnitude; he clumsily imagines that the idea of God is susceptible to the same argument from infinite regress traditionally advanced against materialism; he does not understand what the metaphysical concept of simplicity entails; and on and on. His own pet proof of "why there almost certainly is no God" (a proof in which he takes much evident pride) is one that a usually mild-spoken friend of mine (a friend who has devoted too much of his life to teaching undergraduates the basic rules of logic and the elementary language of philosophy) has described as "possibly the single most incompetent logical argument ever made for or against anything in the whole history of the human race."

That may be an exaggeration. My friend has spent little time among theologians. But that is neither here nor there. All of these failings would be pardonable if Dawkins were capable of correction. But his habitual response to any concept whose meaning he has not taken the time to learn is to dismiss it as meaningless, with the sort of truculent affectation of contempt that suggests he really knows, at some level, that he is out of his depth.

Anecdotally, I know for a fact that numerous attempts have been made, not to convince him that there is a God, but merely to apprise him of the elementary errors that throng his arguments. Like poor Wendy, he simply does not grasp what he is being told, so engaged is he in repeating over and over the little "mantras" he has devised for himself.

Which only brings me back to where I began. For the most part, The Greatest Show on Earth is an admirable piece of work, one that provides a necessary service as well as—and perhaps better than—any rival text. It is precisely the sort of thing Dawkins does best, and so the sort of thing that is—when he does it—a pleasure to read.

David B. Hart's most recent book is Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies.



Category: Creationism

Posted on: January 6, 2010 9:22 AM, by PZ Myers

Carl Wieland, the creationist clown from Australia, wrote a bitter article denouncing atheists and scientists for refusing to give him a platform to yodel nonsense on, and one of the things he did was link to my my public refusal to debate him. Unfortunately, what that meant is that all of his Too-Stupid-To-Know-They're-Stupid acolytes came charging over to declare that creationism was too scientific, evolutionism is a religion, scientists are afraid to debate their pet idiots, you're all mean poopyheads who call us names, yadda yadda yadda. It's turned into a regular storm of argument that has filled up the thread with over 1100 comments.

I've closed the thread and added an invitation to resume in this one, if they must.

One thing I'd like to see the creationists consider is a simple fact. When scientists make interpreting the totality of the evidence their priority, with even the believers among scientists regarding the natural world around them as part of their god's message to human beings, they come to the conclusion that the book of Genesis is a myth or a non-literal parable of some sorts, because it does not line up at all with the physical evidence. The rocks speak out against the earth being less than ten thousand years old, and the molecules in our bodies all speak for billions of years of descent from a common ancestor. The only 'evidence' for a young earth is a very specific, and rather skewed, interpretation of one book written by a scattered conglomeration of non-scientific priests, accompanied by a lot of unfounded 'revelations' by seers, mystics, and obsessed numerologists (oh, and a related question to you creationists: how many of you are aware that many of the details of the creation myth that you regard as gospel truth have their source in the visions of the Seventh Day Adventist prophetess Ellen White and her agent, George MacReady Price?).

Now be honest. If you peel the Bible away from the argument, just pretend for a moment that it doesn't exist, do you appreciate the fact that there is no independent evidence to support the story you draw from it? Think like a heathenish pagan who has no respect for biblical authority, and you'll realize why your claims have no weight. What creationists are always trying to do is to cobble up some of that evidentiary support for their beliefs, while refusing to acknowledge that their entire claim rests on a presupposition that the bible is a valid source of prehistoric information.

If you did honestly try to separate your beliefs from your religion, you're probably a bit dizzy and nauseous right now. Go ahead, go back to embracing your clumsy old book…but realize this. Here, you're arguing with a group of people who not only disbelieve your crutch, but actively despise it as a source of lies. You can try to pretend that the source of your doubts about science are polonium halos and the Grand Canyon and missing transitional fossils, but we see right through you: we know the only thing propping up your absurd beliefs is the Bible.

And guess what? It's just another cranky old book written by cranky old men who tried to replace their ignorance with a foolish certainty.

4 Questions for Deepak Chopra, who appears in Syracuse Friday, Jan. 22


By Amber Smith/The Post-Standard
January 06, 2010, 11:21AM

Dr. Deepak Chopra, author, lecturer and longtime proponent of alternative medicine and the mind-body connection, speaks Friday, Jan. 22 at The Landmark Theatre in Syracuse. He recently spoke to contributing writer, Gemma Wilson about his work and his latest book, "Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul."

Q: You've written some 50 books in your career. Where does this newest book fit in the scope of your work — Is it building on the ideas of all your previous books, is it the same ideas reframed for a new generation?

A: "It is building on the previous ideas, but it's also based on some recent findings about how the brain can be changed through training your mind. Genes control every cell in your body, and if you can regulate them you can literally reinvent your body. It's based on telomeres, which are like little buttons on the end of chromosomes. They decrease in size, and once they reach a certain threshold, that is physical death. You can lengthen your telomeres through changes in lifestyle, attitude, and consciousness.

Barnes & Noble"Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul" has a list price of $25. "So, it's an extension of how consciousness influences biology. If I tell you that the stock market has crashed, that information immediately translates into biological information. Your blood pressure goes up, your heart rate goes up, your immune system gets compromised. So just like that information can hurt your biology, information that takes you to a higher level of consciousness can repair your biology.

"Yes, the book is an extension of my work but it's also based on the many breakthroughs that you cannot see your body as a physical structure."

Q: Have you been operating on these ideas for some time, and now there is research to back them up?

A: "I have been, yes, and then I saw it being published in magazines like the National Academy of Sciences, etc., and I even spoke to one of the investigators. I asked them 'You make neurotransmitters every time you think, so every time you think you affect your genes. Do you have a problem with that?' and they said no. But they themselves never thought of it until these studies."

Q: When readers look at your book and see claims of extending life by 30 to 50 years how do they react? With delight or skepticism?

A: "The readers who have followed me over 30 years are on board because before the book even came out they had been twittering the information. They totally get it. They are delighted to see that it's getting more and more mainstream. Like people who have been going to Beach Boys concerts for 30 years, some of my readers have been reading me for 30 years, and they don't tire of it.

"There are skeptics, but they're losing steam because they are frozen in an obsolete world view."

Q: You've been writing about the mind/body connection for many years now. How has public attitude toward alternative medicine shifted over the course of your career?

A: "For one thing, almost every hospital has an alternative medicine department, at least almost all university hospitals. They're offering it because they were losing clients to alternative doctors, and also there was no standardization in alternative medicine.

"There were studies that showed that most people were doing this anyway, even though insurance wasn't covering it, and they were not telling their doctors about it. That's a pretty good measure of how mainstream it's going."

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Evidence lacking for special diets in autism


An expert panel says there's no rigorous evidence that digestive problems are more common in children with autism compared with other children, or that special diets work, contrary to claims by celebrities and vaccine naysayers.


The Associated Press

CHICAGO — An expert panel says there's no rigorous evidence that digestive problems are more common in children with autism compared to other children, or that special diets work, contrary to claims by celebrities and vaccine naysayers.

The report's lead author, Dr. Timothy Buie of Harvard Medical School, said pain or discomfort because of bloating or stomach cramps can set off problem behavior, further complicating diagnosis, especially if the child has trouble communicating — as is the case for children with autism.

Autism is a spectrum of disorders affecting a person's ability to communicate and interact with others. Children with autism may make poor eye contact or exhibit repetitive movements such as rocking or hand-flapping.

About 1 in 110 U.S. children has autism, according to a recent government estimate.

More than 25 experts met in Boston in 2008 to write the consensus report after reviewing medical research. The Autism Society and other autism groups funded the effort but gave no input.

The report refutes the idea there's a digestive problem specific to autism called "leaky gut" or "autistic enterocolitis." The hypothesis was first mentioned in 1998 in a now-discredited study by Great Britain's Dr. Andrew Wakefield. His paper tied a particular type of autism and bowel disease to the measles vaccine.

The new report says the existence of autistic enterocolitis "has not been established."

It calls for more rigorous research into the prevalence of digestive problems and whether special diets might help some children.

For now, the report states, available information doesn't support special diets for autism.

Diets have been promoted by actress Jenny McCarthy, whose best-seller "Louder Than Words" detailed her search for treatments for her autistic son.

Nearly 1 in 5 of children with autism is on a special diet, according to a project that tracks what treatments parents are trying. Most of them were on diets that eliminate gluten, found in many grains, or casein, a protein in milk, or both, according to the Interactive Autism Network at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, Md.

The new report advises doctors to watch for nutritional deficiencies in patients with autism. It recommends a nutritionist get involved if a patient is on a special diet or eats only certain foods.

Lee Grossman, president of the Autism Society, a funder, said many doctors have written off autistic children's digestive problems as untreatable.

"I think we still have a lot to learn about the gut and how it contributes to behavioral symptoms," Grossman said. "We have a lot to learn about how to treat this."

Buie said his clinic has various techniques for treating children with problem behavior. They schedule early-morning appointments so children aren't delayed in the waiting room or blow bubbles during a blood draw as a distraction. As a last resort, they use anesthesia.

"If a child is going to be asleep because of a dental evaluation or an MRI study, we will do our endoscopy, our blood work, spinal tap, haircuts or teeth cleaning at the same time," Buie said. "Our nurses do beautiful haircuts."

Fraud, Disgrace & Swindle: A Few Thoughts on Richard Dawkins's "Greatest Show"


Tuesday January 5, 2010

A variety of consumer fraud depends on an advertiser using undefined or vaguely defined terms to mislead the buyer. A food item, for example, might be offered as "organic," "light," "natural," or "Animal Care Certified," according to a definition known to the seller but never clarified for the purchaser. In his bestselling recent defense of "evolution," The Greatest Show on Earth, atheist biologist Richard Dawkins can be charged with engaging in just that sort of deception. Dawkins continues to win plaudits even from surprising venues like the conservative interfaith journal First Things. Allow me to contribute a few thoughts.

Why did I put "evolution" in quote marks just now? Because the word is used to mean many different things. If it simply refers to the fact that life has taken varying forms, with species coming and going from the fossil record over the course of hundreds of millions of years, then the case for "evolution" seems undeniable. If it means that all life is joined by a continuum of descent, then there is evidence to support the idea and Dawkins presents it -- though other, contradictory evidence exists as well, unacknowledged by Dawkins, pointing in other directions.

If it means that species themselves take varying forms over time depending on environmental factors or human manipulation -- with modern dogs, for instance, emerging from wolf ancestors through the intervention of breeders -- then again the case for evolution seems airtight if trivial. Not even the Biblical creationists that Dawkins rejoices in abusing as "history-deniers" (on the model of "Holocaust deniers") deny the fact of microevolution. Dawkins, like Darwin before him, makes much of artificial selection. It's quite a trick, however, for an artificially derived animal breed to survive in that form in the wild. Darwinian evolution is about nature's selecting genes for enhanced survival. If you release your poodle in the forest and leave him there, be prepared for tragedy.

Against literalists who read the Bible as if it were a newspaper retelling of past events, Dawkins argues strongly for an "old" earth. Against, well, nobody, he argues at great length for microevolution. Yet with his undoubted gift for lucid expression as a scientific popularizer and cheerleader for other people's research, he raises no serious objections to the case for intelligent design made by any of its foremost champions.

Intelligent design is the scientific theory that finds positive evidence of a guiding, designing purpose at work in life's history. It stands in contrast with Darwinian evolution, which finds blindly, purposelessly churning natural selection operating on random variation to be adequate in explaining the forms that organisms have taken.

In the contemporary debate about life's origins and history, the two main opponents locked in combat are Darwinian evolution and intelligent design. The really meaningful definition of evolution, the one that's actually up for discussion between the majority of orthodox biologists and a dissenting, frequently suppressed yet growing minority of Darwin doubters, is the definition that has to do with the evolutionary mechanism. If that mechanism, natural selection, explains everything, then that leaves no role or purpose for a designer like the God in whom Jews, Christians, and other theists believe.

Whether intelligent design advocates are right or wrong on the scientific merits, this is why Darwinism remains controversial with many millions of thoughtful people -- with, in fact, most Americans. A Zogby poll commissioned by the Discovery Institute in 2009 showed that 52 percent of Americans agree "the development of life was guided by intelligent design."

Dawkins keeps these facts veiled from his reader, whom he must picture as the sort of faux sophisticate who likes to believe that sophisticated types are all Darwinians while it's only rubes from the Bible Belt who would deny "evolution," whatever that word even means.

As for intelligent design, Dawkins alludes to it by name in one chapter. He mocks the "unintelligent design" evident, he thinks, in the recurrent laryngeal nerve's detour from the brain to the chest and then back up to the larynx. In a giraffe, he points out, the detour is extremely long. Furthermore, look at what a seemingly disordered jumble a creature is once you cut it open:

The overwhelming impression you get from surveying any part of the innards of a large animal is that it is a mess! Not only would a designer never have made a mistake like nervous detour; a decent designer would never have perpetrated anything of the shambles that is the criss-crossing maze of arteries, veins, nerves, intestines, wads of fat and muscle, mesenteries and more.

This is not science. It's embarrassingly naïve theology. How exactly does Dr. Dawkins know what a designer that he doesn't believe in would do? It is also an example of the famous "argument from incredulity" with which design theorists are always tagged. Repeatedly, Dawkins discovers that he can't understand why a designer would make this or that design choice as we find it in certain organisms. Therefore, a designer didn't do it.

Dawkins compares the "haphazard mess" inside a person or animal unfavorably with an automobile's orderly manifold with its "neat line of pipes." Are we humans poorly designed compared to our cars? Rare indeed is the car that can reason, dream, love, create exquisite art, or engage in a conversation. The origins of fully modern human beings capable of all those things, the Cromagnon man whose sudden burst into creative life about 35,000 BCE the British physician and writer James Le Fanu powerfully describes in his recent book Why Us? (Pantheon), is another subject that Dawkins ignores.

Writers in the intelligent design community have offered cogent responses to the challenge of seemingly flawed design -- not that Dawkins gives any evidence of being aware of those responses. But this is all a distraction. The major arguments for design go unremarked upon or unanswered. Nowhere mentioned in the book are the names and thoughts of the leading ID proponents: Stephen Meyer, William Dembski, Philip Johnson, Jonathan Wells, Doug Axe, Robert Marks, just for a few examples. Dr. Dawkins, famous for his evangelizing atheism, stays very far away from Meyer's topic in particular -- the origin of the first life -- than which nothing could be more fundamental.

Dawkins alludes to ID proponent Michael Behe not by naming him or quoting from his work but by dismissing the argument for design, articulated by Behe, from "irreducible complexity." The illustration Dawkins offers that's supposed to refute the implied Dr. Behe is one that Behe has written about extensively. It has to do with the evolutionarily acquired ability of E. coli bacteria to digest citrate. Behe has demonstrated that nothing in the enthusiastically trumpeted experiment by Richard Lenski, fawningly praised by Dawkins, falls outside what Behe calls the "edge" of Darwinian natural selection, its modest capacity to effect change at a microevolutionary level.

Dawkins seems unaware of Behe's published response to Lenski, just as he appears not to know that Behe's analysis of how extraordinarily difficult it would be for a human population to develop evolutionarily just two linked mutations has been confirmed in the page of the journal Genetics. Writers there, who started out seeking to refute Behe, estimated that it indeed would take more than 100 million years just for that couple of measly mutations to pop up, making even such a minor genetic event "very unlikely to occur on a reasonable timescale."

Dawkins said recently that intelligent design proponents do not deserve to be debated by him because they haven't "earned it." The putdown would presumably apply to the more than eight hundred scientists who have signed a statement declaring their doubts on the ability of natural selection to produce macroevolutionary changes in life's shapes and forms. The signers include professors at institutions including MIT, Yale, and Rice universities.

In Dawkins's view, who does deserve to be debated? Who has "earned it"? The opponents cited and attacked in the pages of The Greatest Show on Earth include Answers in Genesis, a website associated with the young-Earth creationist ministry of Ken Ham; Andrew Schlafly, a lawyer and proprietor of the website Conservapedia; and Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America. At one point Dr. Dawkins reproduces the text of a television exchange he had with Mrs. Wright, apparently thinking that he, the retired Charles Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University, came out pretty well in the encounter.

This is a disgrace. Many a father has warned his young, rambunctious son that if he's going to bother or fight with other kids at school, at least let it be a boy who's older and bigger. Richard Dawkins is the cowardly school boy who elects to harass girls and littler kids exclusively, while steering a safe course well away from boys his own size or bigger.

With a tin ear for Americanisms, Dawkins doesn't know what an ironic title he has chosen for his book. The phrase "Greatest Show on Earth" was first applied to the circus run by Dan Rice, the 19th-century clown and showman, decades before P.T. Barnum scooped up the slogan for his own. Rice prided himself on his honesty. He strove to keep his circus free of the fraudulent entertainments he disdained in other circuses -- men dressed up as bears performing stunts, fake pythons stuffed with sawdust, "strong men" lifting phony weights, and the like.

This book's defense of Darwin, which ignores the weightiest critics that evolution has and deflects the reader's attention from the main problems that Darwinism faces, is a swindle. Its hucksterism would not be allowed under Dan Rice's circus tent.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

California Science Center Sued: Rejects Anti-Evolution Film 'Darwin's Dilemma'


By Beth

The California Science Center sued, rejects anti-evolution film 'Darwin's Dilemma'. Read about it below.

The Los Angeles California Science Center has been sued for canceling a film that attacks the Charles Darwin theory of evolution. the lawsuit alleges that the that the state-owned center, Los Angeles Science Center, caved into pressure from the the Smithsonian Institution, email complaints from the University of Southern California (USC) and others. The lawsuit contends that the center violated both the First Amendment and a contract to rent the museum's Imax Theater by canceling a screening of 'Darwin's' Dilemma: The Mystery of the Cambrian Fossil Record.'

The lawsuit was filed in the Los Angeles Superior Court by the American Freedom Alliance (AFA). The AFA is a Los Angeles based groud that is described by senior fellow Avi David as an non-profit non-partisan think tank and activist network promoting Western values and ideals.

Punitive damages are sought by the AFA as well as compensation for their financial loses. They are also seeking a declaration from the court that the center violated the Constitution and cannot refuse the group the right to rent the facilities for future events.

On October 25 there were two films planned. one was at the Exposition Park Museum that was a short Imax movie called, 'We are Born of Stars'. That film was sympathetic to the Darwin theory. The other film was 'Darwin's Dilemma: The Mystery of the Cambrian Fossil Record'. That film is a feature-length documentary that is critical of Darwin's theories and supportive of intelligent design.

Darwin's Design is the new-age theory that life as we know it today evolved from natural selection, from the smallest of evolutionary cells that shaped life on Earth. Intelligent design, on the other hand, has to do with the theory that there is an intelligent being that created human beings on a more personal level rather than the impersonal theories propagated by Darwin.

Scientists have overwhelmingly supported the natural selection supported by Charles Darwin. That is the theory of evolution as opposed to intelligent design. That is the theory that has been popular since the Darwin Trials that took place in Tennessee, U.S.A. in the early 1900s in Tennessee, USA. They were known as the Scopes Monkey Trial. The basics were that an overwhelming majority of scientists had proved beyond a shadow of doubt that genetic and fossil evidence proved that man-kind had evolved form primates rather than through 'intelligent design' by higher power. This is the basic contention between evolution and Creationism as is taught as part of the Christian religion. That Creationism is a basis of the literal translation of the Biblical book of Genesis. Because of the religious connotations of the belief system. This theory inspires a great deal of emotional reactions.

The AFA doesn't take a position as far as Creationism and Evolution is concerned. They do express concern that the debate has been stifled by the scientific establishment that favors the theories of Darwinsim.

Ohio teacher John Feshwater allegedly used Legos to teach creationism, burned cross on student's arm


January 1, 7:35 PM
Columbus Dispatch

Mount Vernon, Ohio teacher John Freshwater is a walking talking example of how the religious right is trying to inject religion into every aspect of education they can.

From thinly veiled attempts at introducing creationism to full-on attempts to force bible education, fundamentalists in America have been charging hard to force religion into public schools. And while John Freshwater's actions might be extreme, they are hardly stand-alone events in American education.

The latest news to come out about Freshwater, reported in the Columbus Dispatch, is how he allegedly used Legos to demonstrate how creationism could be the only explanation for life.

Freshwater said he "can't recall" the lesson. Then tapes of a radio show surfaced.

"If you mixed up the blocks for years, the likelihood that they would become something tangible is improbable, Freshwater told a radio show host, Dr. Patrick Johnson of Rightremedy.org. He compared the blocks to human cells and said that the chances that a random combination of cells could become an eyeball are "slim to none."

This is the same teacher who reportedly burned crosses onto student's arms with lab equipment.

And passed out question sheets asking students about their faith.

He also posted the Ten Commandments and other biblical passages in his classroom, kept a bible on his desk, and referenced the absolutely bunk science of Answers in Genesis.

Freshwater is on unpaid leave pending the outcome of a now 14 month hearing that has cost the school district an estimated half a million dollars.

That is a travesty almost as wrong as that which allowed him to keep teaching in the first place. Not only should he be fired, he should have his teacher's credentials revoked and the administration which allowed him to teach needs investigated.

Perhaps some time in jail with some Legos would allow Freshwater to conduct experiments, but not a science classroom!

Cell phone safety studied


RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK -- John Bucher, a reserved scientist who will play a key role in the public debate over the health risks posed by cell phones, doesn't like to discuss his own calling habits.

His reticence is understandable: The 5-year, $25 million health study is meant to settle the question of whether long-term exposure to radiation from cell phones can cause cancers.

The study overseen by Bucher, associate director of the National Toxicology Program in Research Triangle Park, is the U.S. government's response to rising concerns about the ubiquitous phones.

Some scientists and public health advocates are calling for restrictions on cell phone use. Bucher won't say whether he takes any precautions with his own cell phone.

More than 100 studies have been devoted to the subject of cell phone safety worldwide, but the results have been "all over the map," Bucher said. Nonetheless, he would like to believe the comprehensive U.S. study will carry sufficient authority to settle the long-simmering dispute.

"We have the world's experts working on this project," Bucher said. "If the question can be answered using animal experiments, this study is as good a shot as we have to answer that question."

The study will expose nearly 1,000 rodents for two years to electromagnetic radiation comparable to the intensity of cell phones. It's being carried out by an independent laboratory in Illinois.

Recent studies in Israel and Scandinavia suggest a link between tumors and heavy cell phone use. The issue is heating up as a majority of households and more than 270 million people in this country use cell phones. A growing number have cut their landlines and depend exclusively on wireless communications.

Bucher, a 26-year veteran of the National Toxicology Program, testified in September on the study before a U.S. Senate committee in Washington. He'll likely be the public face of the agency as the study proceeds. The results are expected to be released in 2014.

Communicating the agency's work is part of his job description, a duty for which he has little natural affinity. The lifelong research scientist feels miscast in his role of the public speaker who reduces complex and nuanced issues into digestible nuggets for the layperson. His agency has provided him with media training and public speaker workouts to ease him into the role.

Fight brewing

Whatever the outcome, the debate is likely to rise in volume. The cell phone trade group, the Wireless Association, staunchly defends the safety of cell phones. And the Food and Drug Administration, Federal Communications Commission and the World Health Organization have all said not enough evidence exists to doubt cell phone safety.

But skeptics say that even if cell phones pose a small risk, it's a risk not worth taking. They say that adverse effects could take decades to develop. Just recently, the mayor of San Francisco and a state lawmaker in Maine have called for safety warning labels on cell phones.

This summer, Ronald Herberman, Director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, issued his own cell phone safety advisory to about 3,000 faculty and staff. Citing a "growing body of literature linking long-term cell phone use to possible adverse health effects including cancer," the institute director urged texting and headsets, and limiting children's cell phone use to emergencies.

Will link show up?

Martin Blank, a professor of physiology and cellular biophysics at Columbia University, compares the brewing battle of studies over cell phone safety to the bitter fight over tainted tobacco research. Blank, who says he doesn't use a cell phone, is a member of a working group of scientists that issued a safety warning in 2007, the BioInitiative Report.

"If there's a 5 percent chance of getting cancer, I don't think you want to take that chance," he said. "The greater the exposure, the more risk associated with it."

Bucher said he will make up his mind based on the science, but he's willing to share this much: He doubts scientific research can demonstrate a link between cell phones and cancer.

"I anticipate either no correlation or, if anything is seen at all, it won't be a strong signal," he said. "There's no biological basis explaining why someone would expect to see adverse effects from cell phone radiation."

What will set this study apart is its size and length. The rats and mice will be bombarded with low-level radiation in utero and then throughout their lives. They will be exposed to 20 hours a day in specially designed chambers that will distribute the frequencies uniformly.

The study will assess the animals' blood, bone marrow, sperm and brain cell DNA, among other physiological measures.

The National Toxicology Program research is funded by federal money, not by contributions from the cell phone industry, Bucher said.

john.murawski@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8932

California Science Center Engaged in Illegal Cover-Up to Hide the Truth About Its Censorship of Pro-Intelligent Design Film

There are two big stories arising from the California Science Center's censorship last October of the pro-intelligent design film Darwin's Dilemma. The first big story, which was the primary focus of a Los Angeles Times article last week, is the act of censorship itself. As an agency of state government in California, the Science Center is required to abide by the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech. The Science Center didn't have to rent its facilities to the public, but once it did so, as a government agency, it was legally obliged by the First Amendment to treat all citizens equally.

But there is another big story tied to the Science Center that hasn't received sufficient attention yet: The Center's illegal cover-up.

The California Science Center has flagrantly violated California's open records law in an apparent effort to hide the real story behind its censorship of Darwin's Dilemma. The Center's evasion of the law is the reason for the open records lawsuit recently brought by Discovery Institute against the Center. In October, the Institute filed a comprehensive open records request demanding that the Science Center turn over all documents relating to its abrupt decision to cancel the privately-sponsored screening of Darwin's Dilemma. In early November, the Science Center released 44-pages of documents in response to the records request. At that time, the Center assured Discovery Institute that it had turned over "all documents" and that "no documents have been withheld," apart from a few e-mail addresses that were redacted. The Science Center did not tell the truth. Discovery Institute independently obtained incriminating emails involving Center officials that should have been turned over by the Center but weren't.

Most importantly, the Institute obtained a smoking-gun e-mail confirming that the censorship of Darwin's Dilemma was connected to the Science Center's relationship with the Smithsonian Institution. In an Oct. 6 email to the American Freedom Alliance, Science Center Vice President Christine Sion specifically cited alleged damage to the Center's "relationship with the Smithsonian" as the reason for canceling the Darwin's Dilemma screening. In its open records request, Discovery Institute had asked for all documents relating to the screening cancellation that referenced the Smithsonian. The Christine Sion e-mail was clearly covered by that request and therefore should have been produced. It wasn't. Another email from a Smithsonian official to the Science Center complaining about the screening was likewise suppressed.

These missing emails may be the tip of the proverbial iceberg. There is a huge unexplained gap in the documents produced by the Center thus far, raising suspicions that the Center may have suppressed many more incriminating documents. Notably, the Science Center failed to disclose even a single email or document relating to the Darwin's Dilemma screening written by any decisionmaker at the Center who actually made the determination to cancel the screening. In other words, the Science Center would have the public believe that although there was lively email traffic about the screening by others at the Center, no one involved in making the cancellation decision composed even one email or other document mentioning the screening.

It is certainly beginning to look like someone at the Science Center scrubbed the record in order to hide any incriminating documents from the public in violation of the law. And that's outrageous.

Even those who don't care one whit about the debate over Darwinism and intelligent design ought to be concerned when a state agency flagrantly violates an open records law and then lies about it. Let's hope that the judicial system in California is prepared to defend the public interest and to force the Science Center to comply with the law.

Posted by John West on January 4, 2010 12:30 AM | Permalink

Ginkgo biloba has no effect on mental abilities


BMJ Group, Monday 4 January 2010 00.00 GMT Article history

Ginkgo biloba, the herb taken by many people to improve memory and ward off dementia, has no effect on the mental abilities of ageing people, a new study shows.

What do we know already?

Thousands of people take the herb Ginkgo biloba, which has been used for many years in traditional herbal medicine to improve or preserve memory and reduce the chances or the effects of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. It's one of the most commonly taken herbal supplements in the UK.

But, until now, there have been few good-quality studies to find out whether it works. Most studies of this herb have involved too few people, have not been done over a sufficiently long timescale, or have not used proper scientific methods.

This latest study followed more than 3,000 people aged over 72 years, for an average of 6 years. The people in the study were randomly assigned to take either 120 mg of Ginkgo biloba twice a day, or dummy (placebo) tablets. The overall findings, published in 2008, showed that Ginkgo biloba didn't prevent Alzheimer's disease or dementia.

But, the researchers also looked at whether it slowed down the speed at which people's memories or mental abilities declined, or whether it had any effect on particular types of mental abilities. Those are the results now being published.

What does the new study say?

The researchers found that taking Ginkgo biloba had no effect on the mental abilities of older people in the study. They looked at memory, how well people could use language, their awareness of space, how well they could concentrate, and how well they could carry out simple tasks. These abilities were checked using standard tests every 6 months.

The study also looked at the overall speed at which people's mental abilities declined as they got older. Here, too, they found that Ginkgo biloba made no difference. The only thing that affected how quickly people's mental abilities declined was whether they were already showing signs of decline at the start of the study.

How reliable are the findings?

These findings should be very reliable. The study was a large, well-run, double-blinded randomised control trial. This is the best type of study to find out whether a treatment works. Also, the people in the study were all older (average age 79 years at the start of the study) and were followed for a sufficient time to pick up any effects that Ginko biloba might be having.

Where does the study come from?

The researchers were from several universities in the USA. The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). It was paid for by grants from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, part of the US National Institutes of Health.

What does this mean for me?

Avoiding dementia is a big concern for many people. You may be especially concerned if you've seen older relatives suffer from this illness. But this study suggests that taking Ginkgo biloba is very unlikely to help you avoid dementia, or improve your memory and thinking as you get older.

There are a few things we know can help reduce the chances of getting dementia. One is taking regular exercise. This seems to work by keeping your circulation healthy, preventing strokes (which damage the brain), and ensuring your brain has a good supply of oxygen.

What should I do now?

If you (or someone you care for) seem to be having memory problems, make an appointment to see your doctor. He or she can do some tests to see whether dementia is a possibility, and then look at treatments and help you plan for the future.


Snitz BE, O'Meara ES, Carlson MC, et al. Ginkgo biloba for preventing cognitive decline in older adults: a randomized trial. Journal of the American Medical Association. 2009; 302: 2663-2670.

© BMJ Publishing Group Limited ("BMJ Group") 2010

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Evolution education update: January 1, 2010

A lawsuit against a science center for canceling the screening of a creationist film is in the headlines. Plus NCSE's list of the top ten stories in the creationism/evolution controversy for 2009, and previews of two reviews forthcoming in Reports of the NCSE in 2010.


A lawsuit charges that the California Science Center violated both the First Amendment and a contract to rent its Imax Theater when it canceled a screening of Darwin's Dilemma, the Los Angeles Times (December 29, 2009) reports. The lawsuit was filed by the American Freedom Alliance, a Los Angeles-based organization that describes itself as "a movement of concerned Americans advancing the values and ideals of Western civilization," in Los Angeles Superior Court on October 14, 2009. The Times added, "The AFA seeks punitive damages and compensation for financial losses, as well as a declaration from the court that the center violated the Constitution and cannot refuse the group the right to rent its facilities for future events."

The AFA had arranged to screen Darwin's Dilemma -- "a feature-length documentary that criticizes Darwin and promotes intelligent design" according to the Times -- along with the 11-minute film We Are Born of Stars at the CSC on October 25, 2009, as part of a series of events "offering compelling arguments and insights from both sides of the divide between evolutionary theory and intelligent design." The AFA's president Ari Davis told the Times that "his group has no position on Darwinism and intelligent design but is concerned that debate is being stifled by the scientific establishment," although on the AFA's website evolution is described as teeming with "gaps" and holes" and acceptance of evolution is accused of undermining civilization.

Helping to promote the event was the Discovery Institute, which issued a press release touting the premiere of Darwin's Dilemma at the CSC, which it described as "the Smithsonian Institution's west coast affiliate." (It is one of twenty.) The director of the Smithsonian Institution's affiliate program asked the CSC to correct the error, perhaps mindful of the 2005 incident in which the Discovery Institute arranged for a screening of The Privileged Planet at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. After the screening was touted as evidence that the NMNH was "warming" to "intelligent design," the museum withdrew its nominal cosponsorship of the screening, and refunded the Discovery Institute's $16,000 fee, although the film was nonetheless screened there.

Shortly after the complaint from the Smithsonian Institution, the CSC canceled the AFA's screening on the grounds that the Discovery Institute's press release violated the terms of the rental contract, which provides that all promotional materials for events must be submitted to the CSC before they are disseminated. In its lawsuit, the AFA argues that it is unfair to hold it responsible for the actions of a third party, contends that the contract issue was a "false pretext" for cancellation of the screening of Darwin's Dilemma, and claims that "a broad network of Darwin advocates," including the Smithsonian Institution (which is not a defendant in the case and which declined to comment to the Times), "jointly conspired" with the CSC to cancel the screening.

"The first ruling in the case came Oct. 14, when Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant denied the AFA's initial request that he order the science center to permit the Oct. 25 screening," the Times reports. "But the suit for damages is moving forward, with a pretrial hearing scheduled Jan. 26." NCSE is providing important documents in the case, AFA v. CSC et al., on its website. In a separate lawsuit against the CSC, the Discovery Institute is complaining that the CSC failed to comply fully with its request under the California Public Records Act for documents and e-mails about the decision to cancel the screening. The complaint in the case, Discovery Institute v. CSC, is also available on the NCSE website.

For the story in the Los Angeles Times, visit:

For NCSE's coverage of the NMNH incident in 2005, visit:

For NCSE's collection of documents in AFA v. CSC et al., visit:

For NCSE's collection of documents in Discovery Institute v. CSC, visit:


In a press release issued on December 31, 2009, NCSE listed its picks for the top ten stories in the creationism/evolution controversy for 2009. The 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of the Origin of Species led the list, followed by Ray Comfort's distribution of copies of the Origin with his misleading "special introduction," the debacle of the flawed state science standards adopted in Texas, and the continuing fallout from the passage of the so-called Louisiana Science Education Act.

For the press release containing the full top ten list, visit:


As 2009 and its celebrations of the bicentennial of Darwin's birth and the sesquicentennial of the publication of the Origin near their end, NCSE is pleased to bid them farewell by offering a peek at two reviews forthcoming in 2010 in Reports of the NCSE.

First, David B. Richman reviews Michael Keller's Charles Darwin's On The Origin of Species: A Graphic Adaptation (Rodale, 2009), writing, "The idea of a graphic version of the Origin of Species is a good one, since many casual readers will never get through the original. ... Keller has produced a mostly accurate and reasonably complete book that introduces the intelligent layperson to the principles of and evidences for evolution by natural selection." A sample chapter is available on NCSE's website. Richman is College Professor and Curator of the Arthropod Museum at New Mexico State University.

Second, Timothy H. Goldsmith reviews Richard Dawkins's The Genius of Charles Darwin (Athena, 2009), which originally aired on Channel 4 in the United Kingdom and which was released, with over five hours of bonus material, for the home market on DVD. "This is an excellent program," Goldsmith writes, "both for Dawkins's clear presentation of evolutionary principles and the informative display of vacuous arguments by evolution's critics. ... The Genius of Charles Darwin shows wonderfully the science that Darwin set in motion ..." Goldsmith is Professor Emeritus of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology at Yale University.

If you like what you see, why not subscribe to Reports of the NCSE today? The next issue (volume 29, number 6) contains articles focusing on the teaching and learning of evolution, as well as the latest dispatches from the front lines of the evolution wars. Don't miss out -- subscribe now!

For Richman's review, visit:

For the sample from the book (PDF), visit:

For Goldsmith's review, visit:

For subscription information for RNCSE, 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 new year,

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

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Friday, January 01, 2010

Top Ten Evolution Creationism Stories of the Year


Friday, January 01, 2010 :: Staff infoZine

Evolution fared well in 2009.

Oakland CA - infoZine - Newswise - The world celebrated the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth and the 150th of the publication of his On the Origin of Species. Thousands of events, conferences, speeches, parties, magazine stories, blog postings, and other commemorations were held in his honor. Darwin even got the Hollywood treatment, with the premiere of "Creation," a moving (yet accurate) film portrayal of Darwin's married life, starring Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly.

One creationist's wobbly campaign to distribute free copies of a "special" edition of the Origin on college campuses was successfully counteracted by the NCSE and by local science groups, educators, students, and journalists across the U.S. and Canada. (The "special" part was a laughably misleading 54-page introduction by creationist Ray Comfort, who claimed, among other things, that Darwin was responsible for Hitler.)

On the legislative front, antievolution "academic freedom" bills were proposed and shot down in half a dozen states.

But it wasn't all good news. The Louisiana Science Education Act, which opens the door to creationism in the science classroom, was signed into law in late 2008--and in 2009, the state board of education adopted policies implementing the law that propped the door open. In March, the Texas Board of Education riddled the Biology and Earth and Space state science standards with loopholes that make it even easier for creationists to attack science textbooks. And the public's understanding and acceptance of evolution continues to be discouraging. Local, national, and even international polls show that many people--often the majority of people surveyed--believe in creationism or believe that evolution is not well supported by evidence.

Our top ten evolution/creationism stories for 2009:

1. 200th Anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth

It was the Year of Darwin, the biggest evolution birthday bash since 1909. There were dozens of Darwin/evolution conferences around the globe, festivals, museum exhibitions, special magazine issues devoted to Darwin and evolution (such as Scientific American's "The Evolution of Evolution"), studies and special reports (such as Pew's "The Conflict Between Religion and Evolution"), a clutch of documentaries (including PBS's "Becoming Man" series, "What Darwin Didn't Know"), movies (notably, "Creation" and "Darwin's Darkest Hour"), revivals of "Inherit the Wind", scores of books about Darwin, and more. A good time was had by all.

"Evolution in Scientific American"

2. 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species

After a year of celebrating Darwin, his seminal work was almost overlooked. But fans rallied, holding parties, public readings, and conferences (thank you, Reading Odyssey). Publishers responded with brand-new editions of the book (notably Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species: A Graphic Adaptation, The Annotated Origin: A Facsimile of the First Edition of On the Origin of Species, and On the Origin of Species: The Illustrated Edition), while one creationist (see below) published his own version of the Origin, with comic results.

"The Origin sesquicentennial approaches"

3. Ray Comfort is Bananas!

Evangelist and banana fan Ray Comfort decided to celebrate Darwin's birthday in his own unique way: by handing out free copies of a "special" edition of On the Origin of Species. Comfort's 54-page introduction abounded in bizarre claims, linking Hitler to Darwin (!) and contending that there are no transitional fossils. NCSE, scientists, educators, students, journalists, and others quickly responded on the ground and online to the Comfort campaign. NCSE debated Comfort on the U.S. News & World Report web site, provided assistance to local science and student groups, and launched a dedicated web site packed with science backgrounders, handouts, posters, our special "NCSE Safety Bookmark," and a tongue-in-cheek instructional video on how to read the Comfort edition.

Don't Diss Darwin

4. Texas Board Caves to Creationists

After months of debate, the Texas Board of Education voted in March on state science standards--and the results weren't pretty. The board amended the Biology and Earth and Space Sciences standards with loopholes and language that make it easy for creationists to attack science textbooks. "The final vote was a triumph of ideology and politics over science," said Dr. Eugenie C. Scott, NCSE executive director. The only upside: two months later, Board chair Don McLeroy was not reconfirmed by the Texas state senate.

"Science setback for Texas schools"

5. Louisiana Faces "Academic Freedom"

In 2008, the Louisiana Science Education Act was signed into law, which opened the door to teaching creationism in public school science classes. Since then, the state board of education has ignored the recommendations of its own science education professionals, turning instead to the Louisiana Family Forum for guidance. Under the board's guidelines, supplementary classroom materials can't be rejected just because they include creationism. And challenging the materials triggers a convoluted hearing process that the Louisiana Coalition for Science calls "seriously flawed."

"A mixed result in Louisiana"

6. Antievolution bills go down in flames

Although Louisiana passed an antievolution "academic freedom" act in 2008, antievolution bills introduced elsewhere in 2009 quickly died in committee. One Florida bill would have required a "thorough presentation and critical analysis of the scientific theory of evolution." A Mississippi bill would have mandated warning stickers on biology textbooks. A Texas bill would have exempted creationist institutions, such as the Institute for Creation Research's graduate school, from meeting Texas's regulations governing degree-granting institutions. All told, bills were introduced in eight states. None survived.

Chronology of "Academic Freedom" Bills

7. How is evolution treated in your state's science standards?

The NCSE decided to find out. Education Project Director Dr. Louise Mead and Project Director Anton Mates pored over standards in all 50 states to evaluate their treatment of evolution and related scientific topics. There was a lot of good news and some not-so-good news (5 states flunked).

"Evolving standards"

8. The Evolution of Evolution (and Creationism)

Just weeks before Darwin's birthday, Scientific American published its January 2009 issue dedicated to Darwin and evolution. One of the key articles: "The Latest Face of Creationism", by the NCSE's Eugenie C. Scott and Glenn Branch. Say the authors: "Telling students that evolution is a theory in crisis is--to be blunt--a lie." The online version of the piece attracted hundreds of heated comments on both sides of the issue.

At the same time, Dr. Scott's revised Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction, Second Edition was released. The definitive guide to the relevant scientific, religious, educational, and legal issues, the revamped book adds 70 pages, including new chapters on testing intelligent design in the courts and evolution and creationism in the media and public opinion.

"Evolution in Scientific American"

9. A KiloSteve and Beyond!

Is evolution in crisis? Do reputable scientists disown it? No way, Chuck. Proof positive? The continued growth of Project Steve, the booming list of scientists named Steve (or Stephen, Steven, Stephanie, Stefan, Etienne, Esteban...) who support evolution and reject creationism. The initial list of 220 signatories included two Nobel prize winners and eight members of the National Academy of Sciences. In 2009, the NCSE Steveometer hit the kiloSteve mark with Steve #1000. (Who just happened to be Dr. Steve Darwin of Tulane University in Louisiana.)

The Project Steve list continues to grow. For the latest count and more, see our FAQ page.

"Project Steve: n > 1000"

10. The envelope, please

A bit of horn tooting. Among all the ups and downs in the creationism/evolution controversy during the year, one bright spot (at least for us) was the recognition received by Dr. Eugenie C. Scott, NCSE's executive director for the last 25 years. Some of the more notable 2009 awards include: the Fellows Medal (California Academy of Sciences), the Stephen Jay Gould Prize (Society for the Study of Evolution), Scientific American 10 Honor Roll (which she shares with Barack Obama and Bill Gates), and a seat on Scientific American's revamped and expanded Board of Advisers.

Fellows Medal

Gould Prize

Scientific American 10

Scientific American board

Source: National Center for Science Education

William Dembski and Robert Marks Publish Mainstream Scientific Paper on Conservation of Information


Is there a "magic bullet" mechanism by which blind and unguided search engines can find rare, isolated targets? This question may seem esoteric, but it's the precise problem facing Darwinian evolution. In a new scientific paper published in Proceedings of the 2009 IEEE International Conference on Systems, Man, and Cybernetics, Discovery Institute senior fellow William Dembski and Robert J. Marks explain why Bernoulli's Principle of Insufficient Reason dictates that without prior knowledge about the search target or the search space, no search algorithm will ever increase the probability of finding the target. Any search that increases the probability of finding the target smuggles in "active information" about the target's location or the search space. In other words, when it comes to finding rare targets in search space, there's no such thing as a "free lunch." The implications for Darwinism are potent: the "limited number of endpoints on which evolution converges constitute intrinsic targets," and thus "in biology, as in computing, there is no free lunch." According to this paper, the Darwinian mechanism is thus not the efficient search engine many claim it is. The abstract reads:

Conservation of information (COI) popularized by the no free lunch theorem is a great leveler of search algorithms, showing that on average no search outperforms any other. Yet in practice some searches appear to outperform others. In consequence, some have questioned the significance of COI to the performance of search algorithms. An underlying foundation of COI is Bernoulli's Principle of Insufficient Reason (PrOIR) which imposes of a uniform distribution on a search space in the absence of all prior knowledge about the search target or the search space structure. The assumption is conserved under mapping. If the probability of finding a target in a search space is p, then the problem of finding the target in any subset of the search space is p. More generally, all some-to-many mappings of a uniform search space result in a new search space where the chance of doing better than p is 50-50. Consequently the chance of doing worse is 50-50. This result can be viewed as a confirming property of COI. To properly assess the significance of the COI for search, one must completely identify the precise sources of information that affect search performance. This discussion leads to resolution of the seeming conflict between COI and the observation that some search algorithms perform well on a large class of problems.

(William A. Dembski, and Robert J. Marks II, "Bernoulli's Principle of Insufficient Reason and Conservation of Information in Computer Search," Proceedings of the 2009 IEEE International Conference on Systems, Man, and Cybernetics San Antonio, TX, USA, 2647-2652 (October 2009).)

Posted by Casey Luskin on December 30, 2009 9:56 AM | Permalink