NTS LogoSkeptical News for 16 March 2010

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings


Monday, March 15, 2010

Haddam School Board Member Rejects Evolution

http://www.courant.com/news/education/hc-evolution-haddam-school-boar.artmar15,0,4249837.story

March 15, 2010

HADDAM — Chester Harris, newly elected to the Region 17 school board, is a Republican with a standard conservative outlook: He distrusts government bureaucracy, believes in fiscal restraint and thinks kids today have too many advantages and too few responsibilities.

But it is his answer to fundamental questions about the origins of life that sets him apart.

Harris, 53, rejects evolution. To him, the idea that humans and apes share a common ancestor takes "a whole lot more faith than believing there was a creator who set all these things in motion and allows us to operate under free will."

About three weeks ago he met with several high school science teachers and school administrators in the district, which serves the woodsy, Connecticut Valley towns of Haddam and Killingworth.

"I sort of got stuck on one thing with them, which was basically the teaching of evolution in the schools and how it tends to ride roughshod over the fact that various religions — Christian, Hebrew, Muslim — hold a theistic world view," Harris said one morning during a break from his job driving a school van. "Evolution is basically an assumption that there is no God."

U.S. courts have held that efforts to teach religious-based alternatives to evolution in public schools are unconstitutional. Harris isn't advocating a unit on creationism, but rather respect for those students who hold dissenting views.

Still, Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, which promotes the teaching of evolution in schools, said that Harris' meeting with teachers raises concerns. "In general, when school board members seek to meet with teachers, it tends to be very intimidating," she said.

Charles J. Macunas, principal of Haddam-Killingworth High School, attended the meeting and characterized it as "very pleasant, not the least bit adversarial."

"As a new board member, he was just trying to get a handle on content that's taught in an area he's very passionate about," Macunas said.

The school district follows state and national standards when teaching evolution: It is presented as the dominant theory of human origin, although students are also told that it is "one of many theories and they should keep their minds open," Macunas said. "Students are encouraged to think critically and draw their own conclusions."

The district has no plans to alter its science curriculum. But, Macunas added, Harris is entitled to meet with anyone he chooses, as is any other parent or community member.

A Matter Of Faith

Harris is an unexpected avatar of a way of thinking that hasn't exactly dominated public discourse in Connecticut. An official with the state Department of Education said he cannot recall an instance of a school in the state witnessing the type of epic battle over evolution that has riven communities throughout the nation. Nor can he recall a creationist serving on a local school board.

That's not true elsewhere. Eighty-five years after the Scopes Monkey Trial and five years after a federal judge ruled that it was unconstitutional for a Pennsylvania school district to teach intelligent design in a high school biology class, disputes over evolution continue to rage. In Texas, the state board of education approved a controversial policy last year that encourages teachers to examine "all sides" of the evolution debate.

The Discovery Institute, a think tank in Seattle that funds research into alternative theories of human origin, doesn't advocate that public schools teach intelligent design, which asserts that life is so complex that it had to be the handiwork of an intelligent being. But it does advocate that students be encouraged to view Darwin's teachings critically.

"People should weigh the evidence and draw their own conclusions," said Casey Luskin, a policy analyst with the institute. "We're talking about one of the most foundational questions of humanity: Where did we come from? There are credible scientists that challenge Darwinism. It is unconscionable to censor those views from students in the classroom."

It's an approach that Harris also favors. Proponents of evolution "haven't proven anything," he said. "It's all still theory and faith. If that's what they want to hold to, fine, but don't denigrate me because I believe the other way. We're both operating on faith. I just have faith in someone and they have faith in something."

To the majority of scientists, however, there are no credible alternatives to evolution. "People can believe what they want. Science is science," said Fred Myers, director of science for Glastonbury schools and former president of the Connecticut Science Supervisors Association.

Myers said there is a place in the schools for discussing different views on the origin of human life, but that place is a class on philosophy, not biology. "You let them know that there are competing beliefs but those beliefs are not founded on scientific evidence," he said.

And singling out evolution as a topic for critical analysis sends a message that undermines its credibility and suggests it is nothing more than a scientific hunch, Scott added.

"It would be a disservice to students to pretend that scientists are still debating the fact that living things have common ancestors just because some members of the community don't like the idea," she said.

A Tight Race

Harris, the stepfather of two grown children, lives in a modest ranch house in Haddam Neck. A self-described Army brat, he was born in Maine and moved 10 times before the age of 12, when his family settled in Middletown. He holds a degree in theology from Toccoa Falls College, a private Christian school in Georgia, and said he was motivated to run for the board because he wanted to make a difference: "I was tired of sitting back and watching things happen."

He almost didn't get the chance. The school board election was extremely close, with Harris prevailing — after a recount — over Democratic incumbent Sabrina Houlton. However, there were allegations of impropriety on the part of Democratic officials after they opened sealed envelopes to review tally sheets without Republicans present.

That prompted town Republicans to file a complaint with the State Elections Enforcement Commission. That complaint is pending.

Democratic officials say neither party affiliation nor Harris' views about evolution played a role; Ken Gronbach, chairman of Haddam's Republican town committee, isn't so sure.

For his part, Harris said, his biggest goal now is to put the controversy of Election Day behind him and focus on the work of the board.

"I'm not going to be fighting for the overthrow of any one way of doing things because we've gone past that," he said. "It's time for balance. ... And I just want to be there so there's a voice that says there's room for all of us."

Copyright © 2010, The Hartford Courant

'Vaccines court' rejects mercury-autism link in 3 test cases

http://articles.latimes.com/2010/mar/13/science/la-sci-autism13-2010mar13

The finding supports a broad scientific consensus that the mercury-containing preservative thimerosal does not cause autism, and will likely disappoint parents who are convinced otherwise.

March 13, 2010|By Thomas H. Maugh II and Andrew Zajac

Reporting from Washington and Los Angeles — The federal "vaccines court" ruled Friday in three separate cases that the mercury-containing preservative thimerosal does not cause autism, a finding that supports the broad scientific consensus on the matter but that greatly disappointed parents who are convinced that their child's illness was caused by vaccines.

The court had ruled 13 months ago that a combination of the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, commonly known as the MMR vaccine, and thimerosal does not cause the disorder, so the new ruling may finally close the bulk of litigation on the matter. The earlier ruling has been appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals, and this one most likely will be also, but most experts think the court will uphold the decision.

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A claim that the MMR vaccine alone causes autism has been withdrawn by parents.

More than 5,300 parents had filed claims with the vaccines court, a branch of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, seeking damages because they believed their children had developed autism as a result of vaccinations. And they reacted bitterly to Friday's ruling.

"Find me another industry where the U.S. government defends their product in court and funds the science that exonerates them," said J.B. Handley, a founder of Generation Rescue in Sherman Oaks and father of a child with autism. "The average citizen has no hope."

The cases that three judges, called special masters, chose to rule on as test cases were considered among the strongest, so the outlook appears grim for others making the same claim. Each ruled on one case.

Special Master Denise K. Vowell wrote in one of the decisions that "petitioners propose effects from mercury in [vaccines] that do not resemble mercury's known effects in the brain, either behaviorally or at the cellular level. To prevail, they must show that the exquisitely small amounts of mercury in [vaccines] that reach the brain can produce devastating effects that far larger amounts experienced prenatally or postnatally from other sources do not."

She also dismissed claims that some groups of children are unusually susceptible to the effects of mercury. "The only evidence that these children are unusually sensitive is the fact of their [autism] itself."

In a separate ruling, Special Master George L. Hastings wrote: "This case . . . is not a close case. The overall weight of the evidence is overwhelmingly contrary to the petitioners' causation theories."

Moving Right & Going Wrong: Education in Texas

http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL1003/S00167.htm

Monday, 15 March 2010, 12:01 pm
Column: Binoy Kampmark

Censors, it has been said, are paid to have dirty minds. Education panellists, at least in certain jurisdictions, are paid to prevent the exercise of one at all. For that reason, fifteen unknown individuals in a state should not be vested with the power to centrally control what is read or taught in texbooks. But that is certainly not the case in Texas, where educational expertise is less prized than political expediency in the coverage of such subjects as history and economics. The Texas Board of Education members have endorsed a draft proposal on the state's social studies curriculum that is a miracle in not only being long but patchy. The Republic faction was glowing with triumph after the vote.

According to the conservative majority on the board, American students will have to study such matters as 'American exceptionalism,' a necessary piece of education equipment for the true, second amendment wary Texan. Children will be fed a hearty diet of messianic stodge at the expense of cosmopolitan enlightenment, while such cultural references as Hip Hop will disappear as examples of American cultural prowess. The Enlightenment will be minimised as a source of inspiration for the American Revolution, while the Judeo-Christian inspirations will be marked in bold. The sterile term 'capitalism', an effective libel against a treasured economic system by 'liberal professors' (according to Board Members Terri Leo and Ken Mercer) would receive a re-christening, moving about the world as 'free enterprise'. Friedrich von Hayek's dark musings on the welfare state would have to make a prominent appearance in the economics course. Leo felt more than a touch smug at these historical touch-ups, calling the proposed Texan standards 'world class' and 'exceptional'.

These events will hardly come as any surprise to the student of Texan curricula. Each curriculum reform tends to return to basic, patriotic principles in Texas. 'American, and especially Texan, history is glorified,' claimed a 2006 study from the Fordham Institute's review of Texas' existing history standards. Jim Crow's legacy and the KKK are not so much condemned as wholly ignored. The history makers that matter are corporate giants who represented the best type of capitalism. History is made by robber barons rather than the sweat of the 'common' folk. The Texan class room is evidently no place for the pedagogical techniques of Howard Zinn.

The Board of Education has certainly had its conservative influences. Its members have also been, according to reports, casting more than keen eye on the Wedge Document, the Discovery Institute's study advocating the regeneration of American culture through an affirmation of God, Christian values and the evils of scientific materialism. The Discovery Institute, for those unfamiliar, is the pivot of the intelligent design movement.

One wonders whether the board has simply missed the point to this whole, rather silly exercise. Irrespective of what subject matter, erroneous, contentious, or otherwise is fixed in such a curriculum, fundamental matters such as literacy and lack of resources in teaching remain. Texas remains a considerable offender in that regard, with a functional literacy level of 19 percent. This is compounded by a considerable number of undocumented immigrants, mainly Hispanic, whose role in Texan history, like those of other minorities, has been airbrushed in this curriculum. Whether any of these considerations will be addressed by the time the final vote takes place in May is unlikely. Illiteracy, and a considerable degree of ignorance, is set to flourish.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Evolution education update: March 12, 2010

A free preview of Evidence of Evolution and the latest from Reports of the NCSE, plus a resolution to the recent furor over evolution in Israel.

A GLIMPSE OF EVIDENCE OF EVOLUTION

NCSE is pleased to offer a free preview of Evidence of Evolution (Abrams, 2009), featuring the photography of Susan Middleton and the text of Mary Ellen Hannibal. The publisher writes, "Published to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, Evidence of Evolution uses exquisite images by distinguished photographer Susan Middleton to reveal beautiful and surprising patterns of evolutionary development in animals and plants. These photographs, of rare and remarkable specimens from the collections of the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, are accompanied by a clear, accessible overview of the key evolutionary concepts that explain life on Earth, by science writer Mary Ellen Hannibal. Virtually a natural history museum in a book, Evidence of Evolution expresses the power of Darwin's vision in images and words that bridge art and science."

For the preview (PDF), visit:
http://ncse.com/files/pub/evolution/Evidence_combined.pdf

For the publisher's description, visit:
http://www.abramsbooks.com/Books/Evidence_of_Evolution-9780810949249.html

CATCHING UP WITH RNCSE

Selected content from volume 29, number 5, of Reports of the National Center for Science Education is now available on NCSE's website. Featured are NCSE's Joshua Rosenau's discussion of how a Nobel laureate's views on evolution were misrepresented by a member of the Texas state board of education and Julie Duncan's discussion of "Credibility, Profitability, and Irrefutability: Why Creationists are Building Museums." And Charles Israel reviews Marcel Chotkowski LaFollette's Reframing Scopes, Sander Gliboff reviews Benjamin Wiker's The Darwin Myth, and NCSE's Steven Newton reviews Davis A. Young and Ralph F. Stearley's The Bible, Rocks and Time.

If you like what you see, why not subscribe to RNCSE today? The next issue (volume 30, numbers 1-2) revisits the distribution of copies of the Origin of Species disfigured by a creationist introduction, with a summary by NCSE's Steven Newton and a commentary by Brian Regal. Plus it's a book review extravaganza, with reviews of Keith Thomson's The Young Charles Darwin, Robert T. Pennock and Michael Ruse's anthology But Is It Science?, Peter J. Bowler's Monkey Trials and Gorilla Sermons, Robert J. Richards's The Tragic Sense of Life, John H. Walton's The Lost World of Genesis One, and a host of further books. Don't miss out -- subscribe now!

For the selected content from RNCSE 29:5, visit:
http://ncse.com/rncse/29/5

For subscription information, visit:
http://ncse.com/membership

CONTROVERSY OVER EVOLUTION OVER IN ISRAEL?

In a letter released by Israel's ministry of education on March 3, 2010, Gavriel Avital promised to follow the ministry's policy on evolution and the environment, Haaretz (March 4, 2010) reported. Avital, the recently appointed chief scientist in the ministry, sparked a furor by questioning the reliabilty of evolution and global warming, eliciting a chorus of condemnation from Israel's scientific establishment as well as a disavowal from the minister of education, Gideon Sa'ar, who told Israel's parliament, the Knesset, "Avital's statements regarding evolution and the environment are not consistent with the Education Ministry's policy and are not acceptable to me."

In his letter, Avital wrote, "Following statements that were published which related to quotes from statements that I made before I assumed [m]y position, and following my conversations with the two of you, I wish to make it clear that the ministry's policy as presented by the education minister at the Knesset is acceptable to me without reservation and I will act accordingly in the context of my position as chief scientist of the Education Ministry." Haaretz noted, however, that not all of Avital's controversial statements were made before he assumed his position in December 2009. A source in the ministry told the newspaper, "the case ended with the release of Avital's letter."

For the article in Haaretz, visit:
http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1153813.html

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
800-290-6006
branch@ncse.com
http://ncse.com

Subscribe to NCSE's free weekly e-newsletter:
http://groups.google.com/group/ncse-news

NCSE is on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter:
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NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today!
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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Poof vs. the neo-creationist "orchard model"

http://scienceblogs.com/tfk/2010/03/poof_vs_the_neo-creationist_or.php

Category: Creationism • Culture Wars • Policy and Politics
Posted on: March 10, 2010 5:35 PM, by Josh Rosenau

Upchucky award runner-up and Disco. 'Tute staffer Casey Luskin is upset. Last fall, we were on a panel together, and I mocked his defense of the neo-creationist "orchard model" described in Explore Evolution as claiming that life "poofed" into existence. In the course of one of Casey's regularly scheduled bouts of logorrhea, he decides to respond to this claim:

I presented some of this information discussed below at the St. Thomas conference last fall, and NCSE staff member Josh Rosenau repeatedly alleged that I was making a "poof" hypothesis for the origin of monkeys.

No. That is not what I was arguing at all.

The NCSE made a specific argument for common descent based upon the "continuity" and "consistency" between biogeography and evolution. The evidence presented below refutes their assertion.

This argument is no "poof" hypothesis for the origin of monkeys. In fact, if the only alternative to common descent is, in the words of Josh Rosenau, the "poof" hypothesis, then that says more about common descent being an unscientific hypothesis than anything else.

Fortunately for Mr. Rosenau and the NCSE, there are alternatives to common descent apart from the "poof" hypothesis. Common descent is testable, and in my view it fails the test presented below. Explore Evolution presents a scientifically testable alternative to common descent, the orchard model. The NCSE dismisses it as a "creationist" argument, but as will be seen below, only the hardened Darwinian faithful will buy such quips, dismissals, and refusals to seriously engage this argument.

First, Explore Evolution offers no testable models. It does toss out a preference for a model of life's history as an orchard rather than a single tree, but never states where those trees are supposed to separate. Without that specificity, the claim strikes me as untestable. One could evaluate the likelihood of a specific claimed orchard, but the notion that an unspecified orchard is inherently testable makes no sense.

Second, and more significantly, the "orchard" is a "poof" model. Casey's specific argument (to the extent he has one) is that South American monkeys are not actually descended by common ancestry from the same genealogy as other primates. In short, that they were poofed into existence, fully formed, in South America, while quite similar species existed in Africa, evolving in the manner revealed by fossils, molecules, and anatomy.

The same pattern of fossils, molecules, and anatomy says that South American monkeys are related to the rest of the primates. It's true that we don't have a complete understanding of how they got from Africa to South America, but (contrary to what Casey suggests) rafting across the southern Atlantic at the time in question really isn't that problematic. Mangroves form giant interlinked root structures, and big storms drive massive chunks of forest away. A single pregnant monkey on such a raft is all that's required for successful colonization. And monkeys are social, so you probably wouldn't have just one in a tree. And the raft itself would be full of food (vegetation, insects, fruit), and hollow branches to take shelter in.

No, it's not a high-probability event. Most such rafts would sink mid-ocean. But it only takes one to succeed. South America drifted for millions of years in what George Gaylord Simpson calls "splendid isolation," with a fascinating fauna. That isolation seems to have left the fauna at a competitive disadvantage when exposed to the fauna of North America after the Isthmus of Panama closed, and it is likely that African monkeys would have had a similar competitive advantage upon arrival 50 million years ago.

At the time in question, the Atlantic was narrower than it is now, and sea levels lower than they are today, further narrowing the ocean. Then as now, a current ran from equatorial Africa to equatorial South America, which would push material from Africa to South America.

I understand that Casey finds this scenario unlikely, but it has the advantage of not needlessly calling for monkeys to have been poofed into South America in the process of planting a new tree of life in Oligocene South America. For an orchard model to be realistic, there has to be some mechanism in place that could explain multiple origins of life at the necessary point in time and capable of generating the sorts of life we actually see. Scientists do consider whether unicellular life has multiple origins over 3.5 billion years ago, trying to sort out the ways in which interchange of genetic material in that early period might have interwoven the early shoots of those many trees into a single tree, a process called anastomosis. Calling for the simultaneous origins of unicellular life early in earth's history is not unreasonable, as conditions must have existed at the time which were capable of giving rise to life at least once. The notion of a multicellular organism appearing fully formed in the midst of an existing fauna defies belief.

As to Casey's rejection of the "creationist" label for his favored "orchard" model, I refer him to the work of Kurt Wise, a young earth creationist who introduced the "orchard" to the world in 1990, at the Second International Conference on Creationism. In the figure below, from his 1990 paper "Baraminology: A Young-Earth Creation Biosystematic Method," Wise illustrates his preferred "orchard model." In the text, he explains:

Some modern creationists are suggesting a metaphor of their own — a metaphor which is planted between the Evolutionary Tree and the Creationist Lawn. The new metaphor may be described as the "Neo-creationist Orchard" (see figure 1C). In this metaphor, life is specially created (as fruit trees are specially planted) and polyphyletic (i.e. each tree has a separate trunk and root system). There are also discontinuities between the major groups (trees are spaced so that branches do not overlap and could not and never did anastomose) and there are constraints to change (a given tree is limited to a particular size and branching style according to its type). In these ways, the Neo-creationist Orchard is similar to the Creationist Lawn. They differ, though, in that the Neo-creationist Orchard allows change, including speciation, within each created group (each tree branches off of the main stem). Permitting this type of change (variously called by creationists 'diversification', 'variation', 'horizontal evolution', and 'microevolution') in different amounts in different groups allows the creation model to accommodate microevolutionary evidences (e.g. changing allelic rations, genetic recombination, speciation, etc.).

While the notion of multiple acts of creation yielding multiple trees is not novel to Wise's work, his use of the term "orchard" is new. In a 1996 article for Harper's, Jack Hitt quotes Wise explaining the idea more simply: "I intend to replace the evolutionary tree with the creationist orchard," Wise said, "separately created, separately planted by God."

That's "poof." It's the orchard. The illustration is nearly identical to that used in Explore Evolution to illustrate the "orchard". Search the evolutionary literature all you like, you will not find any papers advocating such a model, in which platyrrhine monkeys (among others) are magically poofed into existence in South America. For Casey to suggest that his beloved "orchard model" is anything but "poof," he needs to do offer an explanation for platyrrhine monkeys.

Alas, rather than offering to explain his orchard model, Casey closes by assuring us "The next three installments [of his blog series] will explain how the sea monkey hypothesis refutes the NCSE's biogeography objections to Explore Evolution." In other words, rather than defending his own ideas, he'll spend the time attacking other people. I don't think much of the strategy, but maybe Casey will take the advice of his fellow creationists instead. So here's Kurt Wise from Hitt's article:

"My idea is not to attack evolution," he said. "My goal is to develop a theory that explains the data of the universe better than conventional theory but is consistent with Scripture." His major beef with other creationists, he explained, is that they only take pleasure in picking at the weaknesses of evolution. "It's a small person who is focused on attacking a theory. By the time I finished at Harvard, I realized I could destroy macroevolutionary theory at will." …

"I don't want to challenge evolution," he said, his voice echoing in the dark stone chamber. "I intend to replace it."

Wise's ideas have no currency, in no small part because they add nothing to our knowledge, and where they can be tested, they are wrong. His goal of replacing "everything after, oh, about 3200 B.C." is ludicrous, but no less ludicrous than the Disco. 'Tute's goal of "nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies," and ultimately "to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions." The problem is, 12 years later, Disco. has nothing new to offer, no mechanism, no process, just flawed and failed attempts at challenging evolution. As the communications director of their creationist branch explains today,

we do not favor mandating the teaching of intelligent design — as is so often misreported — but rather that we think when evolution is taught teachers should present both the evidence the supports Darwinian evolution as well as some of the evidence that challenges it.

Where once the mighty 'Tute sought the "integration of design theory into public school science curricula," all they want now is for teachers to spend time criticizing evolution. Students who understand Earth's geological age are more likely to accept human evolution http://sify.com/news/students-who-understand-earth-s-geological-age-are-more-likely-to-accept-human-evolution-news-international-kdlrEfcfcfc.html

2010-03-11 17:40:00

A new study has determined that high school and college students who understand the geological age of the Earth (4.5 billion years) are much more likely to understand and accept human evolution.

The study, carried out by researchers at the University of Minnesota, could give educators a new strategy for teaching evolution, since the Earth's age is typically covered in physical rather than biological science classes.

Researchers Sehoya Cotner and Randy Moore, professors in College of Biological Sciences, and D. Christopher Brooks, of the university's Office of Information Technology, surveyed 400 students enrolled in several sections of a University of Minnesota introductory biology course for non-majors.

The survey included questions about knowledge of evolution and whether students were taught evolution or creationism in high school as well as questions about religious and political views.

Participation was voluntary and had no effect on grades for the course.

The researchers extracted six variables from the survey to explore factors that contributed to students' views about the age of the Earth and origins of life and the relation of those beliefs to students' knowledge of evolution and their vote in the 2008 presidential election.

Using that information, they created a model that shows, for example, when a student's religious and political views are liberal, they are more likely to believe that the Earth is billions, rather than thousands, of years old and to know more about evolution.

Conversely, students with conservative religious and political views are more inclined to think the Earth is much younger (20,000 years or less) and to know less about evolution.

"The role of the Earth's age is a key variable that we can use to improve education about evolution, which is important because it is the unifying principle of biology," said lead author Sehoya Cotner, associate professor in the Biology Program, which provides general biology classes for University of Minnesota undergraduates.

Through this and previous surveys, Cotner and her colleagues have learned that 2 percent of students are taught creationism only, 22 percent are taught evolution and creationism, 14 are taught neither and 62 percent evolution only.

"In other words, about one in four high school biology teachers in the upper Midwest are giving students the impression that creationism is a viable explanation for the origins of life on Earth," Cotner said.

"That's just not acceptable. The Constitution prohibits teaching creationism in schools," Cotner added. (ANI)

Leading Intelligent Design Advocate Challenges Former President of American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) to Debate

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2010/03/leading_intelligent_design_adv.html

The Discovery Institute has invited Dr. Francisco Ayala to debate the thesis of the book Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design with the book's author, Dr. Stephen Meyer.

Those who've been following the debate between Meyer and his critics know that there has been a bit of back and forth since Ayala was invited to critique SITC on the Biologos website. Meyer has responded this week, with the first of two parts on the Biologos site.

Discovery Institute would like to initiate a full-fledged, official debate between the two, and so we have already sent the following invitation to Dr. Ayala.

Dear Professor Ayala:

I am writing to you in my capacity as the Director of Research for the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute.

As you know, there is widespread interest but also widespread disagreement on the relationship between faith and science. Unfortunately, much of the dialogue on science and religion proceeds without careful examination of the scientific evidence in dispute in chemical and biological evolution. Surely one should consider, for instance, the evidence for a chemical evolutionary scenario before reflecting on its implications for religious belief.

In the same way, contemporary intelligent design arguments are often criticized on theological grounds, without first engaging ID arguments on scientific grounds. As a result, the scientific issues are rarely fully aired. For instance, you recently were asked by Biologos to comment on Stephen Meyer's new book, Signature in the Cell. Unfortunately, the forum did not provide the opportunity for a full critique of the book, as well as a full response by Dr. Meyer.

I am writing to offer you just such an opportunity. I would like to invite you to participate in a public debate with Dr. Meyer on the thesis of Signature in the Cell at a time and place that is mutually convenient. To limit your own travel and expenditure of time, we would be happy to have the debate take place at the University of California, Irvine.

There would be many details to work out, of course; but I wanted first to extend a formal invitation for you to participate in such a forum. Please let me know at your earliest convenience.

Sincerely yours,

Jay Richards

Director of Research

Center for Science & Culture

Posted by Robert Crowther on March 10, 2010 10:10 AM | Permalink


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

New York Times Repeats NCSE's False Account of Selman v. Cobb County Case

Last week's New York Times article on academic freedom legislation makes a false assertion that the Selman v. Cobb County Board of Education claimed it was illegal to single out evolution in a curricular policy. The NY Times article wrongly states:

The legal incentive to pair global warming with evolution in curriculum battles stems in part from a 2005 ruling by a United States District Court judge in Atlanta that the Cobb County Board of Education, which had placed stickers on certain textbooks encouraging students to view evolution as only a theory, had violated First Amendment strictures on the separation of church and state.

Although the sticker was not overtly religious, the judge said, its use was unconstitutional because evolution alone was the target, which indicated that it was a religious issue.

The problem with the NY Times' claim is that the Selman case did NOT rule that the sticker was unconstitutional due to the fact that "evolution alone was the target." In fact, in the Selman v. Cobb County ruling, Judge Cooper held that the Cobb County sticker had a valid secular purpose and that it was permissible to single out evolution. In the words of Judge Cooper's lower court ruling in Selman, "The School Board's singling out of evolution is understandable in this context" because "evolution is the only theory of origin being taught in Cobb County classrooms," and "evolution was the only topic in the curriculum, scientific or otherwise, that was creating controversy." The court then found two legitimate secular purposes for the sticker. The sticker was permissible because the purpose of "[f]ostering critical thinking is a clearly secular purpose . . . [and] because [the disclaimer] tells students to approach the material on evolution with an open mind, to study it carefully, and to give it critical consideration." Additionally, "presenting evolution in a manner that is not unnecessarily hostile" in order to "reduce[] offense to students and parents whose beliefs may conflict with the teaching of evolution" was held to be a permissible purpose. In the end, the court struck down the sticker on other grounds. (See Selman v. Cobb County Board of Education, 390 F. Supp. 2d 1286, 1302-05 (N.D. Ga. 2005) vacated and remanded, 449 F.3d 1320 (11th Cir. 2006).)

So the NY Times was flat wrong to claim that Selman held it is impermissible to single out evolution.

The day the story came out, I contacted Leslie Kaufman, the New York Times reporter who wrote the original story, and sent all of the above information, explaining the error. Ms. Kaufman and her editor refuse to correct the error, claiming, "we are confident that our characterization of the decision was correct and that no correction is warranted" because "lawyers whom I have consulted concur" with the story. Despite my requests, they have refused to release information about which "lawyers" "concur" with the NY Times' inaccurate description of the ruling.

We do know one of the NY Times sources—and he's not a lawyer. Kaufman's original article cites Josh Rosenau of the NCSE to wrongly claim that Selman struck down policies that single out evolution, which means that, unfortunately, the NCSE gave inaccurate information to the NY Times which has now been promulgated around the country. (This is not the first time the NCSE gave bad facts which the NY Times reprinted uncritically.)

In fact, the only court ruling to buy the "no singling out" evolution argument was Judge Jones in the Kitzmiller v. Dover ruling; however, the authority that Judge Jones relied on to validate the "no singling out" evolution argument was the (now vacated) Selman decision which, as we have seen, rejected the "no singling out" evolution argument and instead held "[t]he School Board's singling out of evolution is understandable" because "evolution was the only topic in the curriculum, scientific or otherwise, that was creating controversy." So Judge Jones chose the wrong authority to validate the "no singling out evolution" argument.

What the NY Times doesn't tell you is that the highest court to deal with the "singling out" of evolution question in fact determined that it IS legally permissible to single out evolution in a curricular policy. In Freiler v. Tangipahoa Parish Board of Education, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals dealt with a lawsuit over an evolution-disclaimer, and validated a secular purpose underlying the disclaimer "to disclaim any orthodoxy of belief that could be inferred from the exclusive placement of evolution in the curriculum, and . . . to reduce offense to the sensibilities and sensitivities of any student or parent caused by the teaching of evolution." The Fifth Circuit noted that "a purpose is no less secular simply because it is infused with a religious element," and thus "the fact that evolution, the subject about which the School Board sought to disclaim any orthodoxy of belief, is religiously charged . . . and the fact that sensitivities and sensibilities to which the School Board sought to reduce offense are religious in nature, does not per se establish that those avowed purposes are religious purposes." The court explicitly validated these legislative purposes because "local school boards need not turn a blind eye to the concerns of students and parents troubled by the teaching of evolution in public classrooms." (Freiler v. Tangipahoa Parish Bd. of Educ. 185 F.3rd 337, 344-346 (5th Cir. 1999), cert. denied, 530 U.S. 1251 (2000) (striking down the policy on other grounds).)

In sum, there are 3 cases that have dealt with the "singling out evolution" argument: (1) Selman v. Cobb County (a vacated lower court ruling which said it's OK to single out evolution), (2) Freiler v. Tangipahoa (a 5th Circuit Appellate court ruling which said it's OK to single out evolution), and (3) Kitzmiller v. Dover (a lower court which said it is NOT OK to single out evolution, but mis-cited Selman as its authority to justify that point). That means that courts are 2-1 in favor of the constitutionality of singling out evolution, and the highest court to rule on the issue upheld the constitutionality of singling out evolution. (And the one case that disagreed mis-cited Selman, its authority.)

Since Selman was vacated (on other grounds), the ruling doesn't hold much water anymore for anyone—whether for Judge Jones or for the NY Times or for me. Nonetheless, the Times said that Cobb County's disclaimer "was unconstitutional because evolution alone was the target," but the singling out of evolution was NOT the basis that the Selman court struck down the sticker. Whatever current law may say, that is not an accurate description of the Selman holding.

(For further details on these cases, see Does Challenging Darwin Create Constitutional Jeopardy? A Comprehensive Survey of Case Law Regarding the Teaching of Biological Origins.)

At the end of the day, all of the NY Times' misinformation is part of a campaign to attack academic freedom for teachers to openly discuss all the scientific evidence regarding evolution in the classroom. To support academic freedom, visit AcademicFreedomPetition.com.

Posted by Casey Luskin on March 9, 2010 7:31 AM | Permalink

Blinded by the Disco. light

http://scienceblogs.com/tfk/2010/03/blinded_by_the_disco_light.php

Category: Creationism • Culture Wars • Policy and Politics

Posted on: March 10, 2010 1:45 AM, by Josh Rosenau

Casey Luskin, intrepid Upchucky also-ran, is aflutter. Last week's New York Times story about creationists and global warming deniers partnering up has the whole Disco. 'Tute in something of a tizzy, but Casey's outrage is of a special sort.

Casey, you see, thinks the the Times misdescribed Selman v. Cobb County. The article states:

The legal incentive to pair global warming with evolution in curriculum battles stems in part from a 2005 ruling by a United States District Court judge in Atlanta that the Cobb County Board of Education, which had placed stickers on certain textbooks encouraging students to view evolution as only a theory, had violated First Amendment strictures on the separation of church and state.

Although the sticker was not overtly religious, the judge said, its use was unconstitutional because evolution alone was the target, which indicated that it was a religious issue.

This is accurate. It's what the judge ruled. And so, of course, Casey is deeply insistent that it isn't what the judge ruled:

The problem with the NY Times' claim is that the Selman case did NOT rule that the sticker was unconstitutional due to the fact that "evolution alone was the target." In fact, in the Selman v. Cobb County ruling, Judge Cooper held that the Cobb County sticker had a valid secular purpose and that it was permissible to single out evolution. In the words of Judge Cooper's lower court ruling in Selman, "The School Board's singling out of evolution is understandable in this context" because "evolution is the only theory of origin being taught in Cobb County classrooms," and "evolution was the only topic in the curriculum, scientific or otherwise, that was creating controversy."

The court then found two legitimate secular purposes for the sticker. The sticker was permissible because the purpose of "[f]ostering critical thinking is a clearly secular purpose . . . [and] because [the disclaimer] tells students to approach the material on evolution with an open mind, to study it carefully, and to give it critical consideration." Additionally, "presenting evolution in a manner that is not unnecessarily hostile" in order to "reduce[] offense to students and parents whose beliefs may conflict with the teaching of evolution" was held to be a permissible purpose. In the end, the court struck down the sticker on other grounds. (See Selman v. Cobb County Board of Education, 390 F. Supp. 2d 1286, 1302-05 (N.D. Ga. 2005) vacated and remanded, 449 F.3d 1320 (11th Cir. 2006).)

So the NY Times was flat wrong to claim that Selman held it is impermissible to single out evolution.

I'm not a lawyer, but I've picked up some things over the years, and one of them is that the test at issue in Selman is something called the Lemon test. It has three parts (actually prongs, because lawyers love cutlery). The first is purpose: a government action may not have a primarily religious purpose. The second is effect: its effect cannot be to elevate one religion over another, or religion over nonreligion. The final is entanglement: The action cannot excessively entangle government with religion. In the 1980s, Justice O'Connor began combining the latter two prongs into a single "endorsement" test, where a policy must have a secular purpose and the policy must not endorse a particular religion or religion over nonreligion. It tends not to make a big difference in practice, but judges often perform both analyses just in case.

Anyway, the court in Selman looked at a sticker which the local board of education wanted affixed to biology textbooks and applied the Lemon test. And the court concluded that, yes, placing the sticker on books does serve a secular purpose. Had the court stopped there, Casey would be right.

But the court only stops when a policy fails one of the prongs, or after looking at all the prongs. Indeed, the same paragraph which includes the sentence: "The Court finds the School Board's explanation to be rational and does not declare the Sticker to violate the purpose prong of Lemon," continues:

However, because the administration suggested alternative language that did not place the emphasis so heavily on evolution, albeit after the Board adopted the Sticker, the message communicated to the unformed, reasonable observer is that the School Board believes there is some problem peculiar to evolution. In light of the historical opposition to evolution by Christian fundamentalists and creationists in Cobb County and throughout the Nation, the informed, reasonable observer would infer the School Board's problem with evolution to be that evolution does not acknowledge a creator.

The court notes that isolating evolution like that has caused legal trouble before:

In Epperson, the Supreme Court declared an anti-evolution statute unconstitutional because it "select[ed] from the body of knowledge a particular segment which it proscribe[d] for the sole reason that it is deemed to conflict with a particular religious doctrine." Similarly, in Edwards, the Supreme Court declared that a balanced treatment statute was unconstitutional because "[o]ut of many possible science subjects taught in the public schools, the legislature chose to affect the teaching of the one scientific theory that historically has been opposed by certain religious sects."

In both cases, the court ultimately found the policies unconstitutional. For someone actually reading the text of the ruling, this is a bad sign for the sticker. It looks kinda like the court is building toward saying that singling out evolution in the sticker was also unconstitutional in the way that singling out evolution made policies unconstitutional before. Aaaaand here's how it went:

just as evolution was isolated in the statutes in Epperson and Edwards, evolution is isolated in the Sticker in this case. In the absence of an explicit explanation on the Sticker for evolution's isolation, the Court believes the Sticker sends an impermissible message of endorsement.…

the Sticker focuses exclusively on evolution … and there are no other stickers placed in any other textbooks used in the Cobb County School District regarding any other subjects … These facts support Plaintiffs' argument that the Sticker, considered in context, conveys a message of endorsement.…

considering all facts and circumstances related to the Sticker and its adoption, the Court is convinced that the Sticker's primary effect … endorses religion. …

In sum, the Sticker in dispute violates the effects prong of the Lemon test… Adopted by the school board, funded by the money of taxpayers, and inserted by school personnel, the Sticker conveys an impermissible message of endorsement and tells some citizens that they are political outsiders while telling others that they are political insiders. … the Sticker has already sent a message that the School Board agrees with the beliefs of Christian fundamentalists and creationists. The School Board has effectively improperly entangled itself with religion by appearing to take a position. Therefore, the Sticker must be removed from all of the textbooks into which it has been placed.

See what the court did there? It found the Sticker unconstitutional because it violated the second two prongs of the Lemon test – and therefore the endorsement test – in no small part because it singles out evolution. (Note to Casey: "singles out" and "isolates" would be synonyms.)

Now, my first thought was just that Casey might've been lazy. Maybe he got to the bit about "The Court finds the School Board's explanation to be rational and does not declare the Sticker to violate the purpose prong of Lemon," and stopped reading. But that doesn't work, because even before getting to that, the decision says:

the informed, reasonable observer would perceive the School Board to be aligning itself with proponents of religious theories of origin. … in light of the sequence of events that led to the Sticker's adoption, the Sticker communicates to those who endorse evolution that they are political outsiders, while the Sticker communicates to the Christian fundamentalists and creationists who pushed for a disclaimer that they are political insiders.

This is not what you write if you plan to say that there's no unconstitutional endorsement of or entanglement with religion. It's what you write as you prepare to say that there might be circumstances where a policy singles out evolution for valid secular reasons, but which nonetheless has an unconstitutional effect, thus invalidating the policy.

Casey is just wrong.

But he sent his plaint to the Times, and they politely informed him that they checked with real lawyers, and those lawyers "concur" that "our characterization of the decision was correct and that no correction is warranted." Having been rebuffed by the reporter, by the editors, and by lawyers with at least modest literacy, Casey didn't take the hint, so he posted his complaint and selections from the Times' response at the Disco. 'Tute complaints department (created, they explain, for "the misreporting of the evolution issue"), hoping that if he didn't link to the ruling itself and the various other documents relevant to the case, that his readers would just take his word for the ruling's content.

Maybe they will. And maybe they'll buy his elaborate conspiracy in which … well, let's let Casey explain:

Despite my requests, they [staff at the Times] have refused to release information about which "lawyers" "concur" with the NY Times' inaccurate description of the ruling.

We do know one of the NY Times sources—and he's not a lawyer. Kaufman's original article cites Josh Rosenau of the NCSE to wrongly claim that Selman struck down policies that single out evolution, which means that, unfortunately, the NCSE gave inaccurate information to the NY Times which has now been promulgated around the country.

My God! NCSErs under every rock!

Yes, I spoke to the reporter about this, and suggested that the Selman ruling spurred attempts to tie creationism in with other scientific notions found distasteful by conservatives. And I did suggest that it was the Selman ruling's emphasis on the isolation of evolution which gave impetus to that move. I still think that. Because I know that "isolate" and "single out" mean the same thing, and because I know that the purpose prong is followed by two others, and because the court found that isolating (or singling out!) evolution violated those other prongs in Cobb County, I'm comfortable saying that other courts may well find policies which single out evolution to be unconstitutional. But I'm not the lawyers that the Times contacted.

What's most disappointing is that, for all Casey's bluster in his blog post (and presumably the letter he sent to the Times), he knew he was wrong. He knew this because he wrote this about the Selman case in a 2009 law review article (p. 54):

While the sticker passed the purpose prong of the Lemon analysis, the judge ruled that the disclaimer failed the effect prong of the Lemon test. The court observed that "citizens around the country have been aware of the historical debate between evolution and religion." The court found that the school district did not intend to endorse religion, but nonetheless "the Sticker sends a message to those who oppose evolution for religious reasons that they are favored members of the political community, while the Sticker sends a message to those who believe in evolution that they are political outsiders." In this particular case, "the informed, reasonable observer would know that a significant number of Cobb County citizens had voiced opposition to the teaching of evolution for religious reasons" and "put pressure on the School Board to implement certain measures that would nevertheless dilute the teaching of evolution." Although the district did not intend to endorse religion, "the informed, reasonable observer would perceive the School Board to be aligning itself with proponents of religious theories of origin."

While Casey decided not to emphasize the decision's specific references to the effect of singling out evolution, he quoted language found all around those passages, so I presume he read those bits as well, and saw how the parts he's quoting here connect to the parts about isolating evolution. So we know that, within the last year, Casey has apparently read the ruling. He saw that the sticker failed the Lemon test, and why. He knows better, yet he keeps advancing a claim which he knows to be wrong. I cannot fathom why. The issue isn't even the dishonesty of haranguing reporters with meritless demands for a correction, but the massive FAIL embodied in trotting out the attempts by others to set him straight that I find so puzzling.

The Times reporter has no anti-Casey agenda. She just has an accurately-describe-reality agenda. And if that agenda happens to be anti-Casey, the problem is Casey's, not the reporter's.

AP evolution story lacks intelligent design

http://www.getreligion.org/?p=28134

Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Posted by Bobby

So this is my first real GetReligion post. Where do I start?

Do I begin with the slanted perspective of a weekend Associated Press report on home-school science textbooks? Or does the overly simplistic treatment of the subject concern me more? Slanted or simplistic? Simplistic or slanted?

Oh, all right, I'll open with the sin of commission — the imbalance in this piece. The story immediately calls into question its own news value by leading with a 6-year-old anecdote:

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Home-school mom Susan Mule wishes she hadn't taken a friend's advice and tried a textbook from a popular Christian publisher for her 10-year-old's biology lessons.

Mule's precocious daughter Elizabeth excels at science and has been studying tarantulas since she was 5. But she watched Elizabeth's excitement turn to confusion when they reached the evolution section of the book from Apologia Educational Ministries, which disputed Charles Darwin's theory.

"I thought she was going to have a coronary," Mule said of her daughter, who is now 16 and taking college courses in Houston. "She's like, 'This is not true!'"

However, the anecdote sets the tone for the article: Home-school parents who believe in evolution are victims of a market that favors a "Bible-based version of the Earth's creation." These parents feel "isolated and frustrated." The most popular home-school science textbooks "promulgate lies to kids" and "stack the deck against evolution."

Grab a tissue, folks, because "if this is the way kids are home-schooled then they're being shortchanged, both rationally and in terms of biology," as one evolution expert tells AP.

You get the idea. These are valid questions, of course, but the story provides no concrete evidence — or even any squishy anecdotal proof — that home-school graduates receive an inferior science education to their public school counterparts. This is just assumed. Why not track down a few home-school graduates now taking university-level science courses and see how they're doing?

To be fair, opposing viewpoints are included in the AP article, but never — in my opinion — with the same level of precision and conviction as the sources that embrace Charles Darwin and evolutionary science. The story quotes a second "disheartened" home-school parent and a third who complains about the lack of a "scientifically credible curriculum" before finally giving a voice to a creationist family in the last three paragraphs:

Adam Brown's parents say their 16-year-old son's belief in the Bible's creation story isn't deterring him from pursuing a career in marine biology. His parents, Ken and Polly Brown, taught him at their Cedar Grove, Ind., home using the Apologia curriculum and other science texts.

Polly Brown said her son would gladly take college courses that include evolution, and he'll be able to provide the expected answers even though he disagrees.

"He probably knows it better than the kids who have been taught evolution all through public school," Polly Brown said. "But that is in order for him to understand both sides of that argument because he will face it throughout his higher education."

Of course, that leads to the sin of omission — the fact that this piece fails to grasp the complicated nature of the creation vs. evolution debate.

To read this story, there is only one kind of creationist and one kind of evolutionist — and never shall the twain meet. But that's just not the case.

ReligionLink's most recent primer on evolution explains the difference between young-Earth creationists and old-Earth creationists. And it points out that some advocates of intelligent design — the theory that the complexity of life points to a higher being at work — believe that evolution can be compatible with belief in God. Then again, ReligionLink notes:

ID (intelligent design) and creationism are not necessarily in accord with each other, and in fact proponents of each camp can argue as vociferously as Darwinists and anti-Darwinists.

It might surprise the AP writer to learn that, even among Christian university biology professors, much diversity exists on this topic. The word "evolution" means many things to many different people, and there are many people who keep getting jammed under that "creationist" umbrella that have no business being there.

Yes, I know (as an AP alum), that a reporter can't include every detail and nuance in an 883-word story. But would a little less bias — and a little more rudimentary knowledge — be too much to ask?

I didn't think so.

By the way, I may be new here, but I already know to ask readers to stick to the journalism issues when writing comments about a topic as hot as this one.

Written by: Bobby on March 9, 2010.

US creationists unswayed by evolution exhibition

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/expat/expatnews/7412606/US-creationists-unswayed-by-evolution-exhibition.html

They plan to become doctors, researchers and professors, but these students from Liberty University, an evangelical school, also believe that God created the Earth in a week, around 6,000 years ago.

By Virginie Montet, in Washington for AFP
Published: 11:25AM GMT 10 Mar 2010

The group included a biology major who didn't understand the principle of evolution.

Each year, a group of biology students at the Christian university based in Lynchburg, Virginia, travels to the Natural History Museum in Washington to learn about a theory they dismiss as incorrect - Darwin's theory of evolution.

The young "creationists" examined a model of the Morganucodon rat, believed to be the first and common ancestor of mammals that appeared some 210 million years ago.

Majority think it is possible to believe in God and DarwinLauren Dunn, 19, a second-year biology student, was unimpressed.

"210 million years, that's arbitrary. They put that time to make up for what they don't know," she said.

Nathan Hubbard, a 20 year-old from Michigan and a first-year biology major who plans to become a doctor, regarded the model with suspicion.

"There is no scientific, biological genetic way that this, this rat, could become you," he said, seemingly scandalised by the proposition.

Liberty University is the most prominent evangelical university in the United States, with around 12,000 students who adhere to strict rules and regulations regarding moral conduct.

Its biology curriculum includes a course on "Young Earth Creationism", which juxtaposes Charles Darwin's Origin of the Species with the Book of Genesis.

"In order to be the best creationist, you have to be the best evolutionist you can be," said Marcus Ross, who teaches paleontology and says of Adam and Eve: "I feel they were real people, they were the first people."

David DeWitt, a Liberty University biology professor, opens his classes with a prayer, asking God to help him teach his students.

"I pray that you help me to teach effectively and help the students to learn and defend their faith," he says.

Strongly expressed faith is not unusual in the United States, a country where 80 per cent of the population claim to believe in God and ascribe to established religions.

Polls taken in the last two years found that between 44 and 46 per cent of Americans believe that the Earth was created in a week, somewhere between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago.

Creationism, an increasingly popular theory in the United States and elsewhere in the world, rejects Darwin's theory that all living species evolved over the course of billions of years via the process of natural selection.

The school of thought has adherents among Jehovah's Witnesses and some fundamentalist Muslims, but in the United States it has won the most converts in the evangelical Christian community.

Former president George W. Bush, a born-again Christian, is among those who say evolutionary theory does not fully explain the Earth's creation, though the ex-president also noted he is not a "literalist" when it comes to the Bible.

Creationist belief has implications for the way people understand a variety of fields, including biology, paleontology and astronomy, but also impacts questions about climate change and educational debates.

At the Smithsonian Institute, among crowds of weekend visitors, the Liberty University students visited the evolution exhibition,.

But Darwin's explanation for why giraffes have long necks - that they evolved over time so they could reach higher foliage - and displays of fossil evidence failed to sway them.

"Creationism and evolutionism have different ways of explaining the evidence. The creationist way recognises the importance of biblical records," said Ross.

He teaches his students that dinosaurs were wiped from the face of the Earth 4,000 to 5,000 years ago during the flood that Noah survived by building an ark.

He says carbon-dating techniques that have been used to suggest the Earth is in fact billions of years old are simply not reliable.

He doesn't reject one prominent theory that dinosaurs were wiped out by a massive asteroid that collided into Earth, but suggests the collision coincided with the biblical flood.

Though Ross acknowledges that the United States is among the most welcoming environments in the world for creationists, he said it can be difficult to convince people to take him and his beliefs seriously.

"The attitude is when you are a creationist you are ignorant of the facts," he said.

Scientism is Seductive Public Policy, and Wrong

http://www.discoverynews.org/2010/03/scientism_is_seductive_public032711.php

From time to time almost everyone at Discovery Institute winds up taking a swipe at scientism, the philosophy that enthrones science as the ultimate arbiter of morals, as well as facts. Scientism--seen in many a news and opinion article--is an arrogant assumption of unearned authority. Wesley J. Smith blogs about it at First Things today.

The trouble is, one may dismiss scientism as folly, and yet be seduced by it in particular circumstances. My chief disappointment these days is not with those snake oil salesmen in the scientific community who try to peddle their views as unimpeachable truth, but the gullible laypeople who, lacking a doctorate in science, think they have to defer to the "experts". This is particularly true of journalists and editorial writers. They wouldn't defer so readily to generals on the subject of the advisability of war, would they? Nor to Wall Street gurus on the wisdom of a given tax policy. But some "study" in which "scientists say" something in a "journal" is treated as Gospel.

Gospel, of course, is not treated as Gospel.

Posted by Bruce Chapman on March 9, 2010 12:03 PM | Permalink

For Psychic, Suit Came as Surprise

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/05/business/05psychic.html

By MICHAEL J. de la MERCED
Published: March 4, 2010

He calls himself "America's Prophet," a psychic, trained by Nepalese monks in the art of time travel, who can foretell the future of the stock market.

But to the authorities, Sean David Morton is simply a fraud — and a really, really bad psychic.

In a case that seems ripped from the pages of the satirical newspaper The Onion, the Securities and Exchange Commission sued Mr. Morton for securities fraud on Thursday, claiming he swindled more than $6 million from investors by promising them "piles of money," along with spiritual happiness.

"I have called ALL the highs and lows of the market giving EXACT DATES for rises and crashes over the last 14 years," Mr. Morton claimed at one point, according to the documents filed in connection with the case.

Next to the Ponzi scheme orchestrated by Bernard L. Madoff, the Morton case might seem like little more than a footnote in the annals of financial fraud. But the story is so unlike the usual Wall Street fare — it touches on late-night talk radio, a company called Magic Eight Ball and the Dalai Lama — that even in this post-Madoff world it all seems a bit hard to fathom.

By his own reckoning, Mr. Morton is a modern-day Nostradamus. According to his Web site, delphiassociates.org, the Dalai Lama sent him to a monastery in Nepal, where a fusion of Eastern spirituality and Western psychic techniques helped him develop the "spiritual remote viewing" system.

He told The Los Angeles Times in 1991 that he grew up in Texas, the son of a public relations official for NASA. His dinner table companions, he said, were astronauts, who told him of their sightings of extraterrestrial life.

Mr. Morton's reach was broad. He solicited investors through a newsletter with 20,000 subscribers, run through his Delphi Investment Group; his Web site; and his frequent appearances on radio shows like "Coast to Coast," a late-night syndicated program focused on the paranormal. He and his wife, Melissa, created three unregistered vehicles for their investors. One was called Magic Eight Ball Distribution.

The S.E.C. named Mrs. Morton and a religious organization the couple founded as relief defendants, meaning that the regulator is seeking to retrieve profits from them but has not filed civil charges against either.

According to the S.E.C., Mr. Morton pledged to invest the money he collected with foreign currency traders, who would act according to his psychic revelations. The strategy purportedly earned returns as high as 117 percent over five-month periods.

The reality, the S.E.C. claims, was less impressive — and fraudulent. In court filings, the agency claims that Mr. Morton actually deposited only $3.2 million into the trading accounts. The rest was funneled to various entities, with $240,000 sent to the Prophecy Research Institute, a nonprofit religious group set up by the Mortons.

His predictions weren't particularly accurate, either. On a Nov. 21, 2001, radio broadcast, Mr. Morton predicted that the Dow Jones industrial average would rise between April and June of 2002, cresting at "12,000 or so" by December of that year. According to the S.E.C., the index fell that year, ending at 8,341.

"Morton's self-proclaimed psychic powers were nothing more than a scam to attract investors and steal their money," George S. Canellos, the director of the S.E.C.'s New York regional office, said in a statement.

Neither of the Mortons could be reached for comment on Thursday. But as part of a 2009 lawsuit aimed at halting an S.E.C. investigation, the Mortons argued that they were the targets of "two (or more) dishonest and incompetent S.E.C. employees, who apparently need to justify a trip to California in order to visit Disneyland and eat In And Out Burgers at the taxpayers' expense."

A federal judge dismissed that lawsuit in December.

Diana B. Henriques contributed reporting.

A version of this article appeared in print on March 5, 2010, on page B1 of the New York edition.


Tuesday, March 09, 2010

LIVE WELL: What does craniosacral therapy feel like?

http://www.gazette.com/articles/therapy-95177-craniosacral-yoga.html

March 08, 2010 11:50 AM
JEN MULSON
THE GAZETTE

Craniosacral therapy (CST) has been popping up on my radar quite a bit lately.

A co-worker asked me about it, a fellow yoga teacher I know is studying it, and there's a CST therapist who works out of the yoga studio where I teach. What I find most compelling though, is my mom's experience. Her naturopath recommended CST to her after an extended period of head problems, and she began regular sessions last summer. She rapidly became an enthusiastic supporter of the healing modality, raving about it and planting a seed in my mind's soil.

In the hands-on modality, a therapist will "listen" to the cerebral spinal fluid of a patient's body with his or her hands, gauge the health and rhythm of the flow, and help it to become unblocked.

CST is an alternative medicine therapy, and I realize some might be suspicious right off the bat about anything that isn't traditional medicine.

I like to err on the side of keeping a very open mind, doing research and trying it on myself. And even after all that, if it still doesn't resonate with me, it might with somebody else.

I sat down with my mom's therapist, Richard Challenner, for a chat and a short sample session.

What is it?

CST gets its name from the main parts of the central nervous system: the brain and spinal cord. A fluid called the cerebral spinal fluid is the substance that ebbs and flows up and down the spinal cord and fills the brain. This is the fluid a craniosacral therapist works with. The hands of the practitioner are not doing anything but feeling this fluid, and listening to how it's flowing through the patient.

I thought CST was a brand new technique, but its roots go back to osteopath William Sutherland, who first published his ideas on cranial osteopathy in the 1930s. He believed the bones that make up the cranium can, and do, move. Although most physicians still believe the bones of the skull are immovable by the end of adolescense, Sutherland's ideas gained wider acceptance through the 1940s.

Dr. John E. Upledger expanded Sutherland's ideas in the 1970s and 1980s. Upledger's team took on studies that they believed proved the theories of cranial bone movement and a cranial rhythm -- both ideas are still a matter of debate in the scientific community.

The Upledger Institute became the main evangelists for a new therapy, now called craniosacral therapy, that has since been learned by massage therapists and other body workers such as Challenner.

The cerebral and spinal fluid has a tidal rhythm, Challenner said, and it expands the skull and causes those small bones to move. He listens to that tidal rhythm and in a healthy patient, it flows strongly and the skull expands and contracts as it's supposed to. This fluid also flows down into the hips and the sacral area expands as well, he said. A healthy body has a smooth, steady and strong tidal rhythm that therapists call the "breath of life."

However, there can be holding patterns in our bodies, often called blockages by body workers. They can inhibit that smooth flow, causing the area to be dry. This is where CST comes in.

The therapist will place his or her hands on the body, often beginning at the head, and feel for the subtle movement of that cerebral spinal fluid. This is where you, as the patient, have to trust in the therapist's intuition and ability to get quiet enough to feel the pulse and state of your body. Challenner compares it to Chinese practitioners who feel for the pulse in a patient's wrist to determine their state of health.

Challenner and other CST workers believe the body has an innate wisdom. It knows what perfect health is supposed to be, and has known that perfect pattern since the moment of conception. The whole living as a human thing gets in the way.

"Whatever we start doing at birth to form ourselves, puts a pattern over that perfect pattern," he said.

We go through our lives, acquiring thoughts and habits that layer unnatural and unhealthy patterns on top of the perfect pattern. We experience trauma and abuse. We eat and drink harmful substances and think hurtful thoughts, and our body takes it all in, never forgetting anything. Everything that happens to us is stored in the body, he said.

Fortunately, that perfect pattern is always etherically there. The body knows and can ideally access it, he said, but the body always does what it's told. And what it's told is always coming from the human living in that body, who might not be willing or able to listen to that natural wisdom.

CST gives the patient permission to let go of those unhealthy patterns and move back into perfect health, the theory goes. It helps the body reestablish a connection to that perfect pattern. As humans, we don't release the habits or fears or traumas. We think we can bypass them, but the body always remembers. It holds onto the fears. And with enough time, all of that "junk" can eventually affect your health.

What the therapist does:

It is a hands-on therapy, but it isn't massage. If it's conducted in an office environment, most likely the room will look like a room where you'd get a massage. You won't have to take any clothing off, except perhaps belts, jewelry and anything that might hinder the therapist.

The treatment might begin at your head or elsewhere, depending on what the therapist intuits. He or she will first feel for the rhythm of that cerebral spinal fluid by placing their hands very lightly on you. Then begins the work of influencing the fluid and allowing the body to release and realign. There might be a lot of work done in the sacral area, where the pelvic bones are often out of alignment, which can affect the knees and the feet. The therapist listens, not in an aural way, but with a medical intuitiveness, and tries to facilitate the body's healing process. It's very subtle work.

Challenner describes his work as just being present with that person on the table, and creating a dynamic system where the suggestion and intention of health can affect the other just by that presence. It's almost like remote viewing, where the therapist can take a kinesthetic view of the client's whole system and help the body recover its own natural state of health.

What's it feel like?

I lay down on the table with a bolster under my knees to keep my low back feeling happy. He situated himself in a chair right behind my head.

He asked if it was OK to touch my head, and placed his fingertips very lightly on the sides of my head. He stayed there for quite some time, and the pressure abated and increased occasionally. He moved his hands to my forehead for a bit, then asked if it was OK to slide his arms underneath my shoulder blades, with his palms face up. I felt my upper body lift slightly up and down for another period of time as his hands increased and decreased pressure.

Afterward he said the changes in pressure were made with the expansion and contraction of my tidal rhythm.

Sometimes patients can feel shifts in the alignment of their bodies, Challenner said, and sometimes not. I was of the "not" variety, as I didn't really feel anything other than very relaxed as I lay there. I actually practiced Savasana, the yoga posture we always end classes with. It's also known as final relaxation or corpse posture. You lay there, still, quiet and let the body absorb the work of the postures. I lay there and let myself absorb the work of Challenner and my own body's innate knowing. My mom says she "tries to think of nice things," as she lays there.

When the session ended, he asked me to slowly rise, roll onto my side and then stand and just feel myself in my body. He said he felt some small, lateral shifts in my head as we went along.

I began to really feel the affects as I drove away. I felt lighter and a bit buzzy and spacey, in a good way. Mostly, I felt a little happier and had an overall sense of better well-being. It lasted for the next couple of hours. My brain felt clearer, with less noisy thoughts buzzing around, and I felt calmer.

My mom reports feeling more energized and grounded after her last treatment. Another friend reports her CST experience was "subtle but incredible."

In regards to side-effects or after-effects, he said patients mostly report feeling calm, relaxed and peaceful after their sessions. Sometimes they can feel a change in body alignment, but even if they can't feel those changes, he said, the body is nonetheless quietly making those small adjustments to bring itself back into its own natural pattern of balance. He recommends not having any other bodywork done for 48-72 hours so as to allow the body to settle into its new state. Hydration is also important, as you'll often hear from most bodywork practitioners.

Who is it for?

Anybody can benefit from a treatment. Challenner has worked with people with PTSD, hyperactive teenagers, and those with sleep disorders, headaches, autoimmune diseases and trauma of all kinds. It can also alleviate chronic fatigue, motor-coordination impairments, chronic neck and back pain, scoliosis, central nervous system disorders, TMJ, stress and tension-related problems and orthopedic problems. The frequency of treatments is up to the patient and therapist. Cost varies for the typically one-hour long sessions. A quick search online turned up a range from $75-$130.

If you're interested, Richard Challenner can be reached at 213-7066. The School of Inner Health in Manitou Springs teaches people the technique and can offer more information: www.schoolofinnerhealth.org. Plug pulled on 'bad medicine' http://www.gairrhydd.com/features/science-environment/918/plug-pulled-on-bad-medicine

by Omar Shamayleh Issue 918

A new House of Commons Science and Technology Committee (STC) report casts doubt on homeopathy, stating that there is no scientific evidence to support its effectiveness. The committee is now urging the government to abide by its principals and withdraw funding for homeopathic treatment.

Homeopathy is a type of alternative medicine that emerged in Germany in the 18th century. It is based on a concept called 'the law of similars' which states that introducing a small amount of disease-causing elements into the body will eventually heal the body from that disease. However, in order to prevent the medicine from complicating the illness, the amount introduced into the body is highly diluted.

This is where the controversy stems from, as some homeopathic remedies are diluted to a point where it becomes a physical impossibility for any molecules of the active agent to be present in the prescribed dose. To put this into perspective, a homeopathic remedy's typical dilution is the same as adding a pinch of salt to both the North and South Atlantic oceans. It becomes clear therefore that a patient taking a typical dosage of a few pills is highly unlikely to have ingested any amount of the active agents in the medicine.

Thus, critics and sceptics of homeopathy argue that patients are basically given sugar tablets. The committee agreed with a previous government assessment that homeopathy has no effect beyond that of a placebo. Prescribing placebos is, in the committees view, deceitful to the patient and amounts to what is labelled "bad medicine".

Nevertheless, homeopathy does have high-profile proponents such as Prince Charles. In response to the STC's report, the representative body of non-medicallly qualified homeopaths (the Society of Homeopaths), pointed to the fact that 74 Randomised Controlled Trials (RCTs) of homeopathy, published in peer-reviewed journals, describe statistically significant results. These RCTs compared homeopathic treatments with either a placebo or a conventional treatments, and 63 produced positive results. Furthermore, researchers at the University of Texas have shown that ultra-diluted homeopathic remedies were capable of killing cancer cells in a test tube.

The report published by the STC went on to criticise the government's policy of licensing homeopathic remedies in a similar fashion to drugs which have undergone extensive testing.

Debate around alternative treatments is growing, with both opponents and proponents presenting plausible arguments.

Moore's HB 397 aimed at more options in evolution, global warming theories

http://www.thenewsenterprise.com/cgi-bin/c2.cgi?053+article+News.Local+2010030817004053053006

By JOHN FRIEDLEIN
jfriedlein@thenewsenterprise.com

FRANKFORT — State Rep. Tim Moore has filed a House bill meant to give public school educators more options when discussing scientific theories such as evolution and global warming.

The Kentucky Science Education and Intellectual Freedom Act — which has been in the Education Committee since Feb. 10 — was one of several such measures featured in a recent New York Times article: "Darwin Foes Add Warming to Targets."

House Bill 397 would encourage teachers and administrators to "foster an environment promoting objective discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of scientific theories."

In addition to evolution and global warming, specific theories mentioned in the proposal include "the origins of life" and human cloning.

Texas and Louisiana passed similar laws during the past two years; Oklahoma considered it but didn't enact one.

Moore said textbooks are written on a national basis, so people in Kentucky too often feel hostage to those on both coasts with dissimilar world views.

"There needs to be a little bit of balance," he said.

Moore said local teachers have told him textbooks seem one-sided. He said there is no reason these issues shouldn't be discussed in an open forum. Within academia, voices that disagree are shut out, he said.

"Schools are places where kids are supposed to be able to ask questions and think critically," Moore said.

Former Vice President Al Gore, in his documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth," made leaps of faith concerning the causes of global warming and how to stop it via policy changes, Moore said.

Kelly Graham, instructional supervisor for Elizabethtown Independent Schools said a teacher she asked about the matter touches on global warming "very generally."

District teachers do no present evolution alternatives such as intelligent design or creationism. They do tell kids that evolution is a theory. Graham said she has not heard complains about evolution being taught.

Teaching in these areas is "very objective" — just the facts; opinions are left out, she said.

Moore said he has read authors of scientific works that say evolution is not an accepted fact.

According to the NYT article: "For mainstream scientists, there is no credible challenge to evolutionary theory." And courts find singling out evolution for criticism violates the separation of church and state.

Moore said his proposal doesn't have religious overtones.

He would not speculate on the odds it will come out of committee. He said the proposal isn't receiving vast consideration.

He also said he is trying to keep this from being an emotional argument.

John Friedlein can be reached at (270) 505-1746.

'Intelligent design' supporters ready for Dawkins

http://www.3news.co.nz/Intelligent-design-supporters-ready-for-Dawkins/tabid/423/articleID/145482/Default.aspx

Tue, 09 Mar 2010 5:17p.m.
By Lachlan Forsyth

Richard Dawkins, the world's most famous atheist and a scathing critic of creationist arguments, has arrived ahead of a nationwide speaking tour.

Religious objectors were today attempting to convince members of the public that he is mistaken.

There were plenty of takers at Victoria University for a free copy of Charles Darwin's On The Origin of Species, but these books have a new foreword – 54 pages of information about intelligent design.

It's the work of New Zealand-born evangelist Ray Comfort, who founded the California-based Living Waters Ministry. He has run a huge campaign in the United States promoting both intelligent design and creationism over the random genetic variations of evolution.

"Everything didn't get created from nothing," says Melissa Day, Living Waters NZ. "Everything was created by an intelligent designer, and there is lots and lots of evidence for that."

Some students were interested in what Ms Day had to say. Angelina Leota says, "I'd be quite interested to see what this has to say about both sides of the story."

But some were unwilling to compromise.

"People can believe whatever they want as long, as creationism is kept out of schools, because it's a theory - not a science," says Shannon Keast, student.

Not everyone welcomes the amendment.

"There are problems with them intentionally misleading the public and intentionally lying about parts of evolutionary theory," says Simon Fisher, NZ Atheists.

This latest giveawayis designed to combat local speaking engagements by world-renowned atheist and author Richard Dawkins.

"The whole reason we are doing this is for people to have both sides of the argument," says Ms Day. "We want to respect people's intellect, give them both sides of the story so they can make an educated choice on what to believe themselves."

Atheists agree the public should take a copy.

"Skim through the introduction, maybe even cut it out, and they've got a good copy of On The Origin Of Species - possibly one of the most influential and liberating books ever written," says Mr Fisher.

Perfect bedtime reading for primates everywhere.

Do You Teach Your Kids About Darwin? (GeekDad Wayback Machine)

http://www.wired.com/geekdad/2010/03/do-you-teach-your-kids-about-darwin-geekdad-wayback-machine/

By Kathy Ceceri March 9, 2010 | 8:30 am | Categories: Science and Education We homeschoolers often get a bum rap for trying to insulate our kids from evolutionary theory. But it's just as likely that your public school student has never heard of the subject. In fact, "about one-third of biology teachers support the teaching of creationism or intelligent design," according to The New York Times. Even if evolution is part of the curriculum, it may be assigned as reading but not discussed in class. Swarthmore College prof Colin Purrington believes evolution should not only be taught throughout the biology curriculum, but should be started early. Like in kindergarten.

There is, I discovered … a very large literature about when, exactly, children start to develop theories about the origin of life and the origin of adaptations. This literature shows that kids are "primed" to learn evolution even before first grade. Therefore, waiting until high school to explain the reality of life seems a bit late.

About 10 years too late.

If that makes you want to grab the geeklets and start larning 'em some natural selection, I just wrote a column listing kid-friendly websites explaining evolution. The article was inspired by the many, many books, movies, songs and other resources collected by the homeschooling blog Farm School for last month's Darwin Day, February 12.

As Purrington says, "[T]he only evolution instruction that young children get is from their parents — so everyone is a homeschooler when it comes to this topic."

Read More http://www.wired.com/geekdad/2010/03/do-you-teach-your-kids-about-darwin-geekdad-wayback-machine/#ixzz0hiNTAI3M

Creationist takes on Dawkins

http://www.stuff.co.nz/entertainment/books/3421162/Creationist-takes-on-Dawkins

By KEITH LYNCH - The Press Last updated 05:00 09/03/2010

New Zealand-born author Ray Comfort, who is now based in the United States, has written his own introduction to Darwin's groundbreaking work on evolution, where he argues for intelligent design.

Melissa Day, of Comfort's New Zealand Living Waters Ministry, said the group planned to give away about 10,000 copies of the book today on university campuses in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

Canterbury volunteers also plan to give out 1000 copies of the book, with Comfort's foreword, after Dawkins' appearance at the Christchurch Town Hall.

Dawkins, an atheist and evolutionary biologist, will be speaking at The Press Literary Liaison about his new book, The Greatest Show on Earth, in which he outlines the case for evolution.

Day said Comfort wanted the books handed out after the Literary Liaison because "Richard Dawkins is giving one side of the argument and trying to censor the other".

"The 54-page introduction has information on Darwin himself, his life and what his theories led to in quite a few instances. It talks about his views on black people and women and it argues for intelligent design," Day said.

Dawkins was unavailable for comment.

Science and The Sacred - Beyond Creationism vs Evolution

http://www.npr.org/blogs/13.7/2010/03/science_and_the_sacred_beyound.html

9:00 am
March 9, 2010

The sacred "can be an experience that calls us out to see the world on its own terms." (Mess of Pottage/via flickr)

By Adam Frank

Language shapes us. It defines the world and filters our reactions to experiences and ideas. Finding the right words can move history. Failing to find them can mean opportunities lost. In no domain is this tension more apparent than long, sad story of discussions of Science and Religion.

I thought long and hard about terminology when I started my book The Constant Fire on science and religion. I wanted to find words that could carry my own thinking beyond the usual, exhausted polarities so prevalent in the Creationism vs. Evolution debate. One of the first (and easiest) departures from convention was to eschew the word "Religion" for the more immediate and experiential "Spiritual Endeavor". Religion is often about institutions and all the power, politics and real estate that can imply. I was not interested in dogma, creeds or canon. Spiritual endeavor, in my reading, was about a personal response to the world that is ancient and universal, finding expression in art, poetry, science and the varied forms of religious life. But beyond this shift was a more difficult choice.

In spite of all the contentious public acrimony, examination of the long history of human culture shows that science and spiritual endeavor grow from a common root, a common aspiration to know what is true and what is real. The question then becomes what word embraces this taproot of longing? What word emerges in response to our most deeply felt experience of the world - the awe and wonder we feel seeing the crescent moon in the morning sky, catching the ravens swift arc overhead or hearing the perfect rhythm of rain water percolating through summer trees.

In my research I was looking for words that had a history and a resonance that could lift them above the particulars of any particular spiritual tradition. I am an atheist so terms like "God" and "the Divine" will not work for me or many of my scientific colleagues. But like many of those colleagues I respond to the world in ways that embrace the qualities of traditional religious feeling, even if that feeling comes through the lens of scientific practice. Thus I was looking for a word that spoke to the experience and aspiration underlying 50,000 years of cultural evolution. Given a sabbatical in the Religion and Classics Department's library, "the sacred" is where I landed. As readers of this blog have, no doubt, noticed it is a word the other members of this scientific group have found useful as well.

The wonderful thing about the word "sacred" is that it is not really tied to any of the world's current traditions. Lots of scientifically minded folks take issue with "the sacred" because, for them, it conjures up the dangers of supernaturalism, the enemies of science and religious intolerance. I understand their fear. Unless, however, you are a citizen of the Roman Empire the sacred is a word that no longer speaks to any particular living religion and be used broadly to define something quite universal.

According to the Encyclopedia of Religions, the Latin origins of "sacred" relate to "sacrum"--"what belonged to the gods or what was in their power." Its early usage related to Roman temples and their rites. In that context, the words sacrum and profanum have been frequently paired together.

The profanum was the space in front of the temple. It was the "outside" where you could sell your Grateful Dead T-shirts, sunglasses and hot dogs. The sacrum was the inside, and it was a very different kind of place: "A spot referred to as sacer, was either walled off or otherwise set apart." That definition makes for a compelling resonance.

The Sacred relates back to a specific location, a space and a time, set apart from the ordinary day-to-day happenings of life. The commerce, contest, and competition of the ordinary world occur outside in the profane. Inside, within the sacer, humans entered a realm of a different order. For the Romans, it was a realm of their divinities. For us it can be an experience that calls us out to see the world on its own terms. It is the moment when experience becomes luminous, lit up on its own. That is the space where science begins. We notice the world as it is on its own terms and we are moved to draw closer and ask more. That is also the moment when spiritual endeavor can begin, when an attempt to draw closer to the root of the personal experience is initiated.

"Humans entering a realm of a different order..."--I know that quite well, and I am sure many of you do too. I've felt it when I walked through the entry way of a Neolithic monument in Ireland that was aligned with the winter solstice, I've felt it when I walked into the Cathedral of St. John on 113th street in New York, and I've felt it as the giant Radio Telescopes came into view during a drive across the desert.

"A space and a time of a different order" -- that seems like a useful expression of the role of science and spiritual endeavor in our lives and in our common culture. In the public discussion of these two great human efforts perhaps that is a new and better direction to take. It would certainly be better, be more enlivening, than being endlessly caught in the middle an old debate that no longer speaks to the issues and challenges we face.


Monday, March 08, 2010

Top home-school texts dismiss Darwin, evolution

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100306/ap_on_re/us_rel_home_school_evolution

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Home-school mom Susan Mule wishes she hadn't taken a friend's advice and tried a textbook from a popular Christian publisher for her 10-year-old's biology lessons.

Mule's precocious daughter Elizabeth excels at science and has been studying tarantulas since she was 5. But she watched Elizabeth's excitement turn to confusion when they reached the evolution section of the book from Apologia Educational Ministries, which disputed Charles Darwin's theory.

"I thought she was going to have a coronary," Mule said of her daughter, who is now 16 and taking college courses in Houston. "She's like, 'This is not true!'"

Christian-based materials dominate a growing home-school education market that encompasses more than 1.5 million students in the U.S. And for most home-school parents, a Bible-based version of the Earth's creation is exactly what they want. Federal statistics from 2007 show 83 percent of home-schooling parents want to give their children "religious or moral instruction."

"The majority of home-schoolers self-identify as evangelical Christians," said Ian Slatter, a spokesman for the Home School Legal Defense Association. "Most home-schoolers will definitely have a sort of creationist component to their home-school program."

Those who don't, however, often feel isolated and frustrated from trying to find a textbook that fits their beliefs.

Two of the best-selling biology textbooks stack the deck against evolution, said some science educators who reviewed sections of the books at the request of The Associated Press.

"I feel fairly strongly about this. These books are promulgating lies to kids," said Jerry Coyne, an ecology and evolution professor at the University of Chicago.

The textbook publishers defend their books as well-rounded lessons on evolution and its shortcomings. One of the books doesn't attempt to mask disdain for Darwin and evolutionary science.

"Those who do not believe that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God will find many points in this book puzzling," says the introduction to "Biology: Third Edition" from Bob Jones University Press. "This book was not written for them."

The textbook delivers a religious ultimatum to young readers and parents, warning in its "History of Life" chapter that a "Christian worldview ... is the only correct view of reality; anyone who rejects it will not only fail to reach heaven but also fail to see the world as it truly is."

When the AP asked about that passage, university spokesman Brian Scoles said the sentence made it into the book because of an editing error and will be removed from future editions.

The size of the business of home-school texts isn't clear because the textbook industry is fragmented and privately held publishers don't give out sales numbers. Slatter said home-school material sales reach about $1 billion annually in the U.S.

Publishers are well aware of the market, said Jay Wile, a former chemistry professor in Indianapolis who helped launch the Apologia curriculum in the early 1990s.

"If I'm planning to write a curriculum, and I want to write it in a way that will appeal to home-schoolers, I'm going to at least find out what my demographic is," Wile said.

In Kentucky, Lexington home-schooler Mia Perry remembers feeling disheartened while flipping through a home-school curriculum catalog and finding so many religious-themed textbooks.

"We're not religious home-schoolers, and there's somewhat of a feeling of being outnumbered," said Perry, who has home-schooled three of her four children after removing her oldest child from a public school because of a health condition.

Perry said she cobbled together her own curriculum after some mainstream publishers told her they would not sell directly to home-schooling parents.

Wendy Womack, another Lexington home-school mother, said the only scientifically credible curriculum she's found is from the Maryland-based Calvert School, which has been selling study-at-home materials for more than 100 years.

Apologia and Bob Jones University Press say their science books sell well. Apologia's "Exploring Creation" biology textbook retails for $65, while Bob Jones' "Biology" Third Edition lists at $52.

Coyne and Virginia Tech biology professor Duncan Porter reviewed excerpts from the Apologia and Bob Jones biology textbooks, which are equivalent to ninth- and 10th-grade biology lessons. Porter said he would give the books an F.

"If this is the way kids are home-schooled then they're being shortchanged, both rationally and in terms of biology," Coyne said. He argued that the books may steer students away from careers in biology or the study of the history of the earth.

Wile countered that Coyne "feels compelled to lie in order to prop up a failing hypothesis (evolution). We definitely do not lie to the students. We tell them the facts that people like Dr. Coyne would prefer to cover up."

Adam Brown's parents say their 16-year-old son's belief in the Bible's creation story isn't deterring him from pursuing a career in marine biology. His parents, Ken and Polly Brown, taught him at their Cedar Grove, Ind., home using the Apologia curriculum and other science texts.

Polly Brown said her son would gladly take college courses that include evolution, and he'll be able to provide the expected answers even though he disagrees.

"He probably knows it better than the kids who have been taught evolution all through public school," Polly Brown said. "But that is in order for him to understand both sides of that argument because he will face it throughout his higher education."

Apologia Educational Ministries: http://www.apologia.com

Bob Jones University Press: http://www.bjupress.com/page/HS+Home

Jerry Coyne's blog, "Why Evolution is True": http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/