NTS LogoSkeptical News for 26 June 2010

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Dispatch: Junk Science Budget Should Be Dumped


June 16, 2010

ACSH staffers offer an honorary seat at the table to Dr. Steven Salzberg, director of the Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology at the University of Maryland, College Park, for his powerful Forbes.com piece recommending the National Institute of Health eliminate funding for two alternative medicine research centers — the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and the Office of Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine (OCCAM).

As Dr. Salzberg points out, the annual collective budget of both centers exceeds $240 million, despite the fact that "not a single 'alternative' therapy supported by NCCAM has proven beneficial to health."

"These two organizations use your tax dollars — and take money away from real biomedical research — to support some of the most laughable pseudoscience that you can find," Dr. Salzberg writes. The NCCAM once spent $3.1 million to study Reiki, an "energy healing" method, and not surprisingly failed to find any evidence that it works.

Efforts by previous NIH Director Harold Varmus in 1998 to implement more stringent scientific standards on the Office of Alternative Medicine failed when Sen. Tom Harkin aided in creating NCCAM and boosted their budget — an issue that Stier has already exposed in a New York Post op-ed:

Harkin sees government scientists' refusal to validate alternative treatments as a failure not of the treatments but of the evaluation process. Had the tests been rigged, perhaps they'd have satisfied him.

Dr. Ross says that while alternative medicine should be studied, this sounds like a tragic waste of resources. "There's research that's goal directed with a reasonable theory to prove or disprove, and on the other hand, there's research on magic and pseudoscience."


Conservatives put Dumb and Dumber on the Health Select Committee


Despite an election pledge to take an evidence-based approach to health, the Conservatives have appointed MPs Nadine Dorries and David Tredinnick to the Health Select Committee

Martin Robbins guardian.co.uk, Saturday 26 June 2010 08.30 BST

Of all the MPs who could have been appointed to the Health Select Committee on Thursday, Conservatives Nadine Dorries and David Tredinnick are perhaps the most controversial choices. One attracted ridicule for claiming that an unborn foetus could punch its way out of the womb, while the other is a supporter of astrology who once asserted that blood doesn't clot under a full moon. The inclusion of either on any select committee is worrying, but for both to have been elected to the health committee is an extremely disturbing development.

Mid-Bedfordshire MP Nadine Dorries has been involved in select committees before. As a member of the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee, she achieved an attendance rate of just 2%. Having dipped her toe in the water, she then took up a place on the Science and Technology Select Committee, but clearly at this point she had overstretched herself, because she failed to attend a single meeting. Critics will be hoping that she maintains the same record at health – certainly I'd happily bet dinner on Nadine's attendance failing to reach double figures in her new role.

Dorries' primary interest in the health arena is abortion, a debate in which she has previous form. Back in 2007 Ben Goldacre wrote about dubious evidence presented to the Science and Technology Select Committee that supported Dorries' anti-abortion views. Goldacre's article prompted Dorries to issue a bizarre call for an enquiry into how select committee evidence – which is supposed to be in the public domain – got into the public domain.

Over the years, Dorries has issued a number of ill-founded claims about abortion. They include the fairytale "hand of hope" story that she helped to propagate across the web; the incorrect assertion that the NHS didn't carry out abortions after 16 weeks; the claim that charity Marie Stopes International supported her policy views; an attempt to dismiss scientific studies that disagreed with her view as "an "insult to the intelligence of the public"; and some rather dubious interpretations of opinion polls that led a frustrated Dawn Primarolo to exclaim that "The Honorable Lady has asserted many things to be facts that are not."

Faced with Dorries' cavalier approach to science-based policy, it's hard for the rational voter to imagine a worse candidate for a position on the Health Select Committee, but the Conservative Party has managed it, with a second seat on the committee handed to the extraordinary character of David Tredinnick, MP for the constituency of Bosworth, and possibly Narnia.

Tredinnick's passion for "healthcare research" landed him in trouble during the expenses scandal last year, in which he was caught claiming £700 for "computer software and consultancy to investigate whether astrology can be linked to alternative medicine."

Protesting his innocence, he explained: "There are aspects of this such as plant cycles, the tides, that are linked to the moon. That's a fact of life, and there is a school of thought that says the moon affects other things as well. It's easy to make fun of me over this but the fact is there is a link."

Indeed, Tredinnick's views go further. In a Commons debate on Complementary and Alternative Medicine last year he made the extraordinary claim that "... at certain phases of the moon there are more accidents. Surgeons will not operate because blood clotting is not effective." One wonders if Tredinnick wraps himself in wool and plaster at every full moon, lest a stray paper cut cause his blood to drain completely from his body.

Tredinnick is also a passionate advocate of homeopathy, and has filed a string of Early Day Motions in an effort to raise support for magical homeopathic remedies in parliament. EDMs are listed with their signatories on the internet, providing a handy guide to the identity of the more credulous and ill-informed MPs.

The latest of these EDMs came in a flurry of activity this week. First, the British Medical Association was called to account for daring to express the opinion – backed of course by last year's Science and Technology Select Committee Report – that homeopathy should not be funded by the taxpayer.

Another three consisted of the MP and some of his more gullible colleagues welcoming three recent studies into the efficacy of homeopathy. These have already been drily amended by Liberal Democrat MP Julian Huppert, who tells me: "I tabled the amendments having analysed the methodology in the articles referred to; it turns out that none of them lead to his conclusions! In one case, one of the authors said 'I was not convinced it was a sound study' and asked to be removed as an author."

One of the studies has raised eyebrows as the research was apparently conducted at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, a prestigious Texan cancer research group. The centre's credibility will not be helped by its association with this work, although it appears that the lead author has since left the centre (my thanks to @medtek for that hot tip).

The study has been debunked by bloggers and scientists like Dr Rachel Dunlop and the blogger Orac, not least because the paper contains no statistical analysis of the significance of the results. In fact one of the authors left an extraordinary comment on Dunlop's blog, claiming that some results were removed from the paper, that she had asked not to be named as a co-author, and that there were clear alternative explanations for the results.

In spite of all this, the paper has been seized on by the homeopathy community, happy to ignore the flaws and the overwhelming weight of evidence against this 18th century relic. No evidence is too tenuous for homeopaths.

Naturally, there has been alarmed reaction to these appointments to the Health Select Committee, but I suspect there's little really to worry about. Dorries may not even turn up, and Tredinnick is a figure unlikely to be taken seriously by policymakers. Still, questions should be asked about why a party that rejected alternative medicine before the election, and promised an evidence-based approach to public health has managed to place two such clearly unqualified people on this important Commons committee.

Martin Robbins writes for The Lay Scientist

Friday, June 25, 2010

Overthrowing Darwin


The Texas / Russia Axis

The world has arisen in some way or another. How it originated is the great question, and Darwin's theory, like all other attempts to explain the origin of life, is thus far merely conjectural.

Jean Louis Agassiz, Evolution and Permanence of Type (1874)

Texans are probably feeling a touch despondent, not that it affects them directly. It would have been nice, however, if they could have pointed to Nebraskans instead of Russians as another example of enlightened thinking.

After the stories of the Texas School Board's success in putting evolution in its place in Texas text books and giving Creationism and its fellows a more prominent role in educating the young, news from Nebraska's Board of Education has to distress the non-evolved who object to the notion that they have, should or might, (including especially the Texas Board of Education) the Omaha World Herald on June 13, 2010 reported that the teaching of evolution will continue as a cornerstone of science education in Nebraska if proposed new standards are adopted by the state Board of Education. Three of the board's members have said they know of no efforts to introduce intelligent design into the curriculum and Jim Woodland, director of science education for the Nebraska Education Department, told the World-Herald that the board expects students "to develop an understanding of biological evolution."

The adoption, when it comes, will stand in marked contrast to Texas where Don McLeroy, former school board president, commenting on Texas's successful assault on evolution in Texas textbooks said: "Whooey. We won the grand slam and the super bowl. . .Our science standards are light years ahead of any other state when it comes to challenging evolution."

Disappointed in Nebraska, as they may well be, Texans should take comfort in a new found ally, Russia, although as of this writing it is not clear whether it is a reliable ally.

Russia is a country that in neither this nor former times, (except for its size) would have seemed a natural ally for Texas. A recent report suggests that fundamentalists in Russia, however, like the same group in Texas, are concerned with what their children are being taught in schools. The concern is inspired not by some minor sect that lacks credibility, being out of the main stream, but by the Russian Orthodox Church.

According to a report by Conor Humphries for Reuters, the church is concerned about the fact that in Russian schools there is a "monopoly of Darwinism." Railing against the teaching of evolution, Hilarion Alfeyev, (who was elected Bishop of Volokolamsk on March 31, 2009 and elevated to the post of Archbishop on April 20, 2009) was quoted by Reuters as saying in a lecture to a group of officials from Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Moscow that: "The time has come for the monopoly of Darwinism and the deceptive idea that science in general contradicts religion [sic]. These ideas should be left in the past. Darwin's theory remains a theory. This means it should be taught to children as one of several theories, but children should know of other theories too." Reuters said his talk was "dedicated to fighting 'fanatical secularism' of liberals hostile to religion."

Texas can view the Archbishop's attack on Darwin as just another benefit of the collapse of communism in Russia. When the Soviets governed, atheism was the official state religion and Darwin was its useful ally since the explanations offered by him for evolution ran counter to the religious teachings of fundamentalists as to the origin of the species. Nonetheless, Texans should not get their hopes up. Neither should the Archbishop. If past is prologue to the future, Russian courts may not be much help to those seeking to overthrow Darwin.

On August 1, 2006 Maria Schraiber and her father of St. Petersburg filed suit against the Ministry of Education of Russian Federation demanding that Darwin's theory of evolution, that they described as not scientifically grounded, be excluded from school textbooks. Maria said that schoolbooks that only teach evolution violated freedom of conscience and religious rights and were, therefore, unconstitutional. Her father said that: "Darwin only presented a hypothesis that has not been proved by him or anyone else. Therefore, we think that when schools impose this theory on children as the only scientific option, they violate the human right of free choice." The court did not agree.

On February 21, 2007 it ruled against Maria. Maria left Russia and moved to the Dominican Republic where at last report she was working in a real estate and travel agency. Evolution continues to be taught at her former school. Given that depressing result (from the perspective of Maria and the Archbishop) the Archbishop should probably limit his efforts on behalf of creationism to speeches and writing and Texas should look elsewhere for allies in its ongoing battle against Darwin.

Christopher Brauchli can be e-mailed at brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu.

Texas creationist college cannot offer masters in science says judge


June 24, 10:50 AMA

Back in March of 2009, I reported that Republican Leo Berman, who was a member of the House Higher Education Committee of Texas, was the sole sponsor of House Bill 2800 that was introduced on March 9, 2009 in the Texas House of Representatives. That bill was aimed at allowing the Institute for Creation Research Graduate School (ICRGS) to award master's degrees in science. (ICRGS has the right to grant master's degrees in science in California, but that is not the case in Texas.)

Leaders of the university decided to take their fight even further. In April, 2009, they decided to sue Texas for the right to grant this degree. They filed suit on April 16th in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas.

They may now be wishing they hadn't. It seems that an Austin federal judge, Sam Sparks, was not amused by the suit. According to a report on the Wall Street Journal Web site, Judge Sparks dismissed the suit. But, he didn't just dismiss it quietly.

Judge Sparks, in his order, reprimanded ICRGS, in a sense, and slammed their suit by saying, "Having addressed this primary issue, the Court will proceed to address each of ICRGS's causes of action in turn, to the extent it is able to understand them. It appears that although the Court has twice required Plaintiff to re-plead and set forth a short and plain statement of the relief requested, Plaintiff is entirely unable to file a complaint which is not overly verbose, disjointed, incoherent, maundering, and full of irrelevant information."

In the end, the judge found that "ICRGS has not put forth evidence sufficient to raise a genuine issue of material fact with respect to any claim it brings." The case was dismissed.

According to a report on the Houston Chronicle Web site, school representatives responded in an e-mail that they are reviewing the decision and are considering whether they will appeal.

Creationism creeps into NSW schools


Jodie Minus From: The Australian June 25, 2010 10:15PM

STUDENTS at one NSW school were told by an untrained scripture teacher they would "burn in hell" if they didn't believe in Jesus

And, elsewhere in the state, children at other schools were given creationism showbags. A survey by Sydney's Macquarie University also found 70 per cent of scripture teachers think children should be taught the Bible as historical fact and 80 per cent believe students should not be exposed to non-Christian beliefs.

The survey found a group of scripture volunteers were distributing kits called "Creation For Kids" containing colouring books, calendars and DVDs deriding evolution and claiming that the universe was only 6000 years old.

The university conducted surveys at 13 NSW schools and spoke to parents, teachers, scripture volunteers and principals, and found stark differences between what parents want and what is taught in classrooms.

Researcher Cathy Byrne, of the university's Centre for Research and Social Inclusion, said most parents would be shocked to learn what goes on in some religious education classes. Scripture teachers generally discouraged questioning, emphasised submission to authority and excluded different beliefs.

"Most parents and trained teachers want critical thinking about religion, individual responsibility for moral decisions and empathy towards others," Ms Byrne said. "Several parents also expressed concerns that pressure is being put on children to become full church members."

Ms Byrne said NSW schools were required to offer access to religious groups to teach children for an hour a week but there were no requirements for professional training or control of content.

The survey comes as the NSW Department of Education tries out ethics classes as an alternative to scripture.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Victoria reviews homeopathy course


8:12 AM Thursday Jun 24, 2010

Victoria University is distancing itself from a course it is offering in the controversial alternative medicine homeopathy.

The course "Homoeopathy: increasing your health awareness" is being offered through its Community Continuing Education programme in a one-off two hour lecture.

The lecture by Art Buehler, a senior religious studies lecturer advertises it will teach participants about the "internationally recognised, scientific medical system"

Victoria University's humanities faculty pro-vice chancellor Professor Deborah Willis told the Dominion Post that the lecture was not an approved course saying "that the lecture should have been advertised with more careful wording".

She said they were reviewing whether the lecture would go forward in its current form.

Homeopathy is an alternative theory of medicine which advocates treating patients with heavily diluted amounts of substances which would cause similar symptoms in a healthy person.

Medical practitioners and scientists are critical of the technique and say it has no scientific basis.


Article on Evolution Education in Science Endorses Teaching Students Evidence "That Supports ... Or Does Not Support"


[editor's note: the Science article is not about evolution education.]

In a recent article in Science titled "Arguing to Learn in Science: The Role of Collaborative, Critical Discourse," education theorist Jonathan Osborne explains the importance of using debate, argument, and critique when teaching science. In fact, he laments that these teaching strategies not employed more often:

Argument and debate are common in science, yet they are virtually absent from science education. Recent research shows, however, that opportunities for students to engage in collaborative discourse and argumentation offer a means of enhancing student conceptual understanding and students' skills and capabilities with scientific reasoning. As one of the hallmarks of the scientist is critical, rational skepticism, the lack of opportunities to develop the ability to reason and argue scientifically would appear to be a significant weakness in contemporary educational practice. In short, knowing what is wrong matters as much as knowing what is right. This paper presents a summary of the main features of this body of research and discusses its implications for the teaching and learning of science.

(Jonathan Osborne, "Arguing to Learn in Science: The Role of Collaborative, Critical Discourse," Science, Vol. 328 (5977): 463-466 (April 23, 2010).)

Osborne notes that a major deficiency in modern science education is its lack of emphasis upon the arguments that scientists use when showing why certain ideas are right, or wrong:

Typically, in the rush to present the major features of the scientific landscape, most of the arguments required to achieve such knowledge are excised. Consequently, science can appear to its students as a monolith of facts, an authoritative discourse where the discursive exploration of ideas, their implications, and their importance is absent. Students then emerge with naïve ideas or misconceptions about the nature of science itself....

The problem, in essence, is that science education does not sufficiently emphasis inquiry-based learning. Yet according to Osborne, there are "a number of classroom-based studies, all of which show improvements in conceptual learning when students engage in argumentation." In Osborne's view, "Critique is not, therefore, some peripheral feature of science, but rather it is core to its practice, and without argument and evaluation, the construction of reliable knowledge would be impossible" (emphasis added).

Osborne cites work from sociology, philosophy, and science education showing that students best understand scientific concepts when learning "to discriminate between evidence that supports (inclusive) or does not support (exclusive) or that is simply indeterminate" (emphasis added).

Learning about evidence that "supports ... or does not support" sure sounds like learning about the "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theories. But didn't we constantly hear last year during the Texas debate that teaching the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution is "bad" for students, or would bring "creationism" into the science classroom?

Let no fair-minded person be fooled: Science education theory consistently shows that teaching students both the evidence for and against scientific theories can be a highly beneficial method of teaching science. Objections to this approach are bluffs which would abuse the First Amendment by turning it into a tool for censorship.

While I have no reason to believe that Jonathan Osborne himself is a skeptic of neo-Darwinian evolution, he does seem to be fair-minded. He argues that the very approach of -- teaching the science that "supports ... or does not support" is strongly supported by empirical studies of science education:

What is in little doubt is that employers, policy-makers, and educators believe that individuals' ability to undertake critical, collaborative argumentation is an essential skill required by future societies. Of its own, the evidence from research to date is that mere contact with science does not develop such attributes. Indeed, the cultivation of critical skepticism, a feature that is one of the hallmarks of the scientist, would appear to have only minimal value within science education. Yet, research has demonstrated that teaching students to reason, argue, and think critically will enhance students' conceptual learning.

Does This Apply to Evolution Education?

The obvious answer is yes, of course. But does Osborne have the courage to face the ridicule and suggest applying this approach directly to evolution-education? I can't read Osborne's mind, but he does make this encouraging comment in the article:

The study of reasoning also offers an opportunity to explore the types of arguments used in science, which may be abductive (inferences to the best possible explanation), such as Darwin's arguments for the theory of evolution; hypothetico-deductive, such as Pasteur's predictions about the outcome of the first test of his anthrax vaccine; or simply inductive generalizations archetypal represented by "laws."

This much I know: leading pro-Darwin educational authorities who praise inquiry-based science education seem to ignore or disavow such beneficial methods of studying science when recommending ways to study evolution. As I explained recently in University of St. Thomas Journal of Law & Public Policy, there is no small measure of hypocrisy reflected in the fact that leading science education authorities laud the importance of inquiry-based science education -- with all of its critical thinking, skepticism, and consideration of alternative explanations -- but then effectively jettison such pedagogical philosophies when recommending methods of teaching evolution.

The evidence seems clear: students learn science best when they study both the scientific evidence for and against a particular scientific theory. This also allows them to develop key scientific values like "critical skepticism." Perhaps the lack of inquiry-based learning in evolution-education reflects the fact that skepticism on evolution is exactly what Darwin-lobbyists fear the most.

Posted by Casey Luskin on June 24, 2010 7:23 AM | Permalink

The truth hurts


Scientists question voice-based lie detection

By Rachel Ehrenberg July 3rd, 2010; Vol.178 #1 (p. 28)

July 3rd, 2010; Vol.178 #1

Many police forces have turned to voice-based lie detectors, but scientists are finding that these polygraph alternatives don't reliably tell fact from fiction. Michael MorgensternTruster-Pro and the Vericator may sound like devices Wile E. Coyote would order from the Acme Co., but they are real technologies for detecting lies. Unlike the traditional polygraph, which zeroes in on factors such as pulse and breathing rate, these analyzers aim to assess veracity based solely on speech.

Police departments shell out thousands of dollars on such devices — known collectively as voice stress analyzers — in an attempt to tune in to vocal consequences of lying. Airports are considering versions for security screening purposes, and insurance companies may employ the polygraph alternatives to detect fraud.

But beyond their crime-fighting objective, these tools have something less noble in common with their predecessor: a poor track record in actually telling truth from deception.

Scientists evaluating Truster-Pro, the Vericator and newer analyzer models repeatedly report lackluster results. Now research finds that two of the most commonly used voice stress analyzers can discern lies from truth at roughly chance levels — no better than flipping a coin.

"Quite frankly, they're bogus. There's no scientific basis whatsoever for them," says John H.L. Hansen, head of the Center for Robust Speech Systems at the University of Texas at Dallas. "Law enforcement agencies — they're spending a lot of money on these things. It just doesn't make sense."

A lackluster alternative

Many agencies have been seeking alternatives to the polygraph, especially following a 2003 National Research Council report that concluded that the physiological responses measured, such as increased heart rate, can identify stress but not pinpoint deception. Champions of voice stress analyzers often cite this report among other criticisms of polygraphs as a reason to switch to voice-based lie detection. The National Institute for Truth Verification — a company based in West Palm Beach, Fla., that makes a widely used device called the Computer Voice Stress Analyzer — has a page on its website dedicated to denigrating this traditional lie detector, titled "Polygraph Failures Continue to Mount."

But the institute fails to mention the same report's conclusions about alternatives to the polygraph, including voice analyzers. Research offers "little or no scientific basis for the use of the computer voice stress analyzer or similar voice measurement instruments as an alternative to the polygraph for the detection of deception," the report noted.

As with the old lie detector, creators of voice analyzers usually avoid direct claims that the units detect deception, speech perception expert James Harnsberger said in April in Baltimore at a meeting of the Acoustical Society of America. Instead, the developers contend that physiological changes that occur when someone is lying trigger consistent, readable changes in voice. "There's an assumption that there's a direct mind-mouth link," said Harnsberger, of the University of Florida in Gainesville.

Speech does in fact change when a person is under stress, both in frequency and in the amount of time spent on segments of words, says Hansen. But, as with the polygraph, distinguishing stress related to deception from stress related to fatigue, anxiety or fear is not so easy.

"No one has identified an acoustic signature that is unique to deception," says Mitchell Sommers, director of the Speech and Hearing Laboratory at Washington University in St. Louis.

Two large studies, one conducted in a jail and another in a lab, suggest that the two most widely used voice stress analyzers haven't pinpointed such a signature, either.

One voice analyzer — Layered Voice Analysis, created by the Israel-based company Nemesysco — purports to use more than 8,000 algorithms to tune in to three states of mind: excitement, stress and cognitive dissonance (the psychological discomfort that comes with holding two conflicting views at once). A second, the Computer Voice Stress Analyzer, claims to detect inaudible changes in "microtremors" in the voice of a lying person. Versions of both systems can cost more than $10,000 with training.

Numbers speak truth

In the jailhouse study, researchers led by Kelly Damphousse of the University of Oklahoma in Norman interviewed a random sample of 319 arrestees during booking in an Oklahoma county jail. The team asked the men about recent use of drugs, including cocaine, marijuana, PCP and methamphetamine, and researchers dissected responses with both voice analyzers. After the interview, the arrestees' urine was tested for actual drug use.

Both voice analyzers got poor marks, write Damphousse and his colleagues in a 2007 report for the Department of Justice. All told, fewer than one-sixth of the lies were detected. LVA spotted about 10 percent of lies, while CVSA got nearly 20 percent. They were better at detecting truths, correctly identifying between 85 and 95 percent. The remaining truths were still falsely labeled as lies.

The technologies didn't fare much better in the lab, Harnsberger reported at the Acoustical Society meeting. As part of a team of Florida researchers, Harnsberger underwent training for both technologies. Working with company representatives, the researchers conducted a study where subjects were video recorded telling the truth and telling lies under various levels of stress. For a very high-stress lie, the participants were asked to make a statement that they strongly disagreed with; topics included sexual orientation and gun control. Participants were also told that the video would be shown to their peers and that they should expect an electric shock during the statement.

One technology caught lies at rates similar to chance, and the other did somewhat better, Harnsberger and colleagues reported at the meeting and in two papers in the Journal of Forensic Science. But both detectors also falsely labeled true statements as lies at similar rates. These false positives, which are often unreported in studies and left out of company descriptions of the technologies, are key for evaluating merit, Harnsberger noted.

"A common mistake is to only report how many lies were successfully detected," Harnsberger says. "You could write 'lie' on a piece of paper and hold it up every time someone speaks to you, and you will detect 100 percent of the lies."

Amir Liberman, CEO of Nemesysco, likens the technology to a microscope; it doesn't detect disease per se, but it's a tool for exploration. He adds that the circumstances and the interrogator are crucial to success. Still, Liberman says explicitly that Layered Voice Analysis can do what researchers say it can't: "LVA differentiates between stress and lies," he says. How exactly, he can't disclose. The National Institute for Truth Verification declined requests for an interview.

Harnsberger has repeatedly made the case to policy makers that voice analyzers don't live up to their manufacturers' claims. And currently only two "credibility assessment" devices have been approved for use by the Department of Defense: the good old polygraph and a next-generation version that also evaluates physiological factors.

But manufacturers of the voice stress analyzers continue to lobby for their products, says Harnsberger. Such efforts may not be in vain. In a statement, Defense Department spokesperson René White said the department "continues to conduct research on and evaluate additional potential credibility assessment tools." And according to USAspending.gov, the National Institute for Truth Verification, maker of the Computer Voice Stress Analyzer, has received more than $1.6 million in Defense Department contracts since 2005.

Though the technologies apparently don't tell truth from fiction, they may have merit as props. The jailhouse study followed up work that had asked arrestees about drug use, that time without a lie detector in the room. Comparing the two studies revealed that more than three times as many drug users lied when no device was present than when one was.

"They may be very useful for eliciting admissions," Harnsberger says. "That's not the same as detecting lies."

Fungi, Feces Show Comet Didn't Kill Ice Age Mammals?


John Roach for National Geographic News

Published June 22, 2010

Tiny balls of fungus and feces may disprove the theory that a huge space rock exploded over North America about 12,900 years ago, triggering a thousand-year cold snap, according to a new study.

The ancient temperature drop, called the Younger Dryas, has been well documented in the geologic record, including soil and ice core samples.

The cool-down also coincides with the extinction of mammoths and other Ice Age mammals in North America, and it's thought to have spurred our hunter-gatherer ancestors in the Middle East to adopt an agricultural lifestyle.

(Related: "Mammoth-Belch Deficit Caused Prehistoric Cooling?")

But the theory that a comet or asteroid explosion is behind the cooling event is wrong, according to study leader Andrew C. Scott, a paleobotanist at Royal Holloway University in London.

For years proponents of the impact theory have cited tiny spherules of carbon found in a layer of charred sediment throughout North America that dates to the Younger Dryas period.

According to the theory, these spherules are organic matter subjected to intense heat after debris from an exploded meteor rained down on Earth, sparking massive wildfires.

The new research, however, detected carbon spherules in soil layers from before, during, and after the Younger Dryas, making it hard to argue that the particles are products of a sudden impact.

What's more, Scott's team found that most of the spherules are similar to tightly packed balls of fungus found in modern soils that have been exposed to low to moderate heat during wildfires. Plant and soil fungi are known to create these balls of material to help them survive extreme conditions.

Other elongated forms of the spherules match modern fecal pellets from insects.

"All these particles are of natural biological origin and are not related to either intense wildfires or cosmic impacts," Scott said in an email.

"The press and public are very interested in catastrophic explanations," he added. "But it is important that when evidence stacks up to show the theory does not work, then it should be abandoned."

(Related: "Comets Didn't Wipe Out Sabertooths, Early Americans?")

What About the Nanodiamonds?

In fact, most experts acknowledge that carbon spherules are found throughout the geological record, including biological forms associated with wildfires, said James Kennett, an emeritus geologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who supports the cosmic-impact hypothesis.

However, the spherules are not often found in large quantities, he said, and there is "a peak in carbon spherules at the Younger Dryas boundary."

What's more, those spherules are found alongside microscopic diamonds, or nanodiamonds, which often form under the conditions caused by extraterrestrial impacts.

The new study does not report evidence of nanodiamonds, Kennett noted, which is expected, since the team wasn't directly looking for them.

"So their [reported] data is consistent," Kennett said.

Study leader Scott said that his team has studied the nanodiamond issue, but he's not yet able to discuss the results.

He did, however, hint that the particles might not be nanodiamonds at all: Fungal spores the team examined have similar microscopic features.

And, Scott said, "obviously [spores] are not nanodiamonds."

The carbon spherule study has been accepted for publication in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Creationism is 'bad science,' 'bad theology,' speaker says


Theology professor talks on Genesis and creation at annual Bible Institute

Published: June 26, 2010

By Malea Hargett Editor

Creationism is a religious theory and should not be taught as science, Dr. Pauline Viviano told 110 participants during the Bible Institute at St. John Center in Little Rock June 18-20.

The event is hosted annually by Little Rock Scripture Study to enrich Bible study participants and religious educators.

Viviano, an associate professor of theology at Loyola University in Chicago, explored creation by explaining to participants what Genesis says about creation, whether the creation accounts are history, science or myth and how evolution got a bad name. She concluded the weekend by explaining what the Vatican says about evolution and creation.

Cackie Upchurch, LRSS director, said the subject is important for Catholics to understand because "there is a lot of confusion about what the Bible really reaches about creation. The creation accounts in Scripture are there to help us understand who we are and what our relationship is to the Creator, not to tell us how and when God created the universe."

Upchurch said Viviano was able to show participants that creationism "is not science. This is not history."

Creationism is supported by many Christians who follow a literal interpretation of the Bible. It is a "school of thought that denies Darwinian evolutionary theory by denying that natural selection can explain either the origin of life or the origin of new species. Biblical creationism relies upon the authority of the Bible. Scientific creationism relies upon scientific argumentation to establish the necessity for belief in God as creator of the natural world," Viviano quoted from "Evolution from Creation to New Creation."

"Creationism is not the same thing as belief in creation," Viviano said. "All Christians believe in creation, I'm sure, or that God created the world."

The topic has been hotly debated in the public school systems in Arkansas. From 1928 to 1968 biology teachers were banned from teaching evolution. In 1981 Gov. Frank White signed into law the Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science Act, requiring that creation science and evolution are taught equally. The state was under the spotlight in 1982 when a federal judge struck down the Arkansas law, saying it "was simply and purely an effort to introduce the biblical version of creation into the public school curricula."

According to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture, state legislators and school boards around the state have continued to push the creationism theory, and half of the state's biology teachers admit that they continue to teach creationism or ignore the topic of evolution completely in order to avoid conflicts with parents.

In one session titled "Neither Science nor Theology: Creationism and Intelligent Design," Viviano said many believe that Genesis is a "scientifically accurate account."

"They believe in the inerrancy of Scripture," she said.

However, she said the Catholic Church teaches that "the Bible is inerrant in respect to what we need to know for our salvation." Catholics "tend to be 'both/and' people. We have the Bible and we also have Tradition."

Supporters of creationism are against teaching about evolution, she said.

"As far as they are concerned, they see it as a threat to faith by removing a need for God," Viviano said.

She said creationists will select only the facts they believe support their point of view and don't take into account scientific data. For example, they believe the world is about 6,000 to 10,000 years old, but scientists have been able to prove it is 4.5 billion years old.

"It's bad science," Viviano said. "They get a black and white view of religious truth ... They take scientific data and conclusions out of context and they apply it where they do not belong. ... Anything they don't agree with, they ignore. ... They ignore a lot of evidence."

"It's bad theology because they say things appear ancient because God made it that way as a way to test us. It's not giving you a good image of God."

Viviano cited two encyclicals, one from 1950 and one from 1996, and one address by Pope John Paul II in 1981, showing that the Church has not supported the use of Scripture to prove "how the heavens were made, but how to go to heaven." The documents explain that faith and evolution don't conflict.

No creationism degrees in Texas


Submitted by lubbockleft on Thu, 2010-06-24 03:00

Well, there's one governing body related to Texas education that the wingnuts have not taken over yet: the Texas Higher Education Coordination Board. Last week a District Court slapped down the appeal of The Institute for Creation Research (hilarious website), who wanted to offer a Master's degree in "science education" after relocating from Santee, California to Dallas, most likely for tax reasons. You can read more about this decision at the always-excellent Bad Astronomy blog at Discover Magazine, including this gem from the District Court's ruling:

Plaintiff is entirely unable to file a complaint which is not overly verbose, disjointed, incoherent, maundering, and full of irrelevant information.

Moral of the story: the radical right has not ruined ALL of Texas education yet.

Texas Judge Rips Creationism Group in Science Degree Suit


[Editor's note: You can get the judge's ruling here.]

June 23, 2010, 4:06 PM ET

By Clifford M. Marks

File this under things you never want a judge to write about you.

Austin federal judge Sam Sparks dismissed a suit by the Dallas-based Institute of Creation Research, which seeks the right to grant a master's degree in science from a biblical perspective. And by "dismissed," we mean the judge tore it apart.

But first, a summary of the suit, as reported today by the San Antonio Express-News. The Institute seeks to offer a masters degree that critiques evolution and champions a literal interpretation of the biblical account of creation. Texas's higher education board nixed the group's application, because of the proposed program's creationist slant. This, the Institute contended, was a violation of its First Amendment Rights.

That claim was dismissed by Sparks in an opinion that criticized the Institute's arguments as incoherent. At one point he writes that he will address the group's concerns "to the extent [he] is able to understand them." At another, he describes the group's filings as "overly verbose, disjointed, incoherent, maundering and full of irrelevant information." Click here for the judge's opinion.

ICR is reviewing the ruling and considering appeal, the Express-News reports.

"Religious belief is not science," Texas Commissioner of Higher Education Raymund Paredes said. "Science and religious belief are surely reconcilable, but they are not the same thing."

All, however, is not lost for would-be grad students in science through a biblical lens. Students can still get the Institute's masters in science degree in California, where the Institute has regulatory approval.

Uncensoring and Simplifying the Scientific Case for Intelligent Design


Intelligent Design Uncensored: An Easy-to-Understand Guide to the Controversy is a book I've long hoped that someone would write. Don't get me wrong -- there are other good books out there that explain the fundamentals of intelligent design (ID) in plain language. But with clarity, elegance, and accuracy, Intelligent Design Uncensored fills this niche better than most. The authors, Dr. William Dembski (an expert in the technical arguments for ID) and Dr. Jonathan Witt (a writer with a strong grasp of the relevant science) -- both Discovery Institute senior fellows -- make an ideal team.

After taking the reader on a tour of molecular machines and cellular complexity, Dembski and Witt condense the scientific thinking behind the design inference into "easy-to-understand" terms, just as advertised:

When we attribute intelligent design to complex biological machines that need all of their parts to work, we're doing what historical scientists do generally. Think of it as a three-step process: (1) locate a type of cause active in the present that routinely produces the thing in question; (2) make a thorough search to determine if it is the only known cause of this type of thing; and (3) if it is, offer it as the best explanation for the thing in question.

(William Dembski and Jonathan Witt, Intelligent Design Uncensored: An Easy-to-Understand Guide to the Controversy, p. 53 (InterVarsity Press, 2010).)

Of course, in order to knock down step (2) in this logical argument for design, critics have offered various speculative and outlandish evolutionary explanations for the origin of complex biological features. For example, ID critics often claim that blind and unguided evolutionary processes can borrow, or "co-opt," multiple parts in the cell and suddenly reorganize them into functional, irreducibly complex molecular machines.

Does this explanation deserve our credence? Not if, in other contexts, we don't observe blind and unguided processes spontaneously re-organizing parts into machines. Dembski's technical expertise and Witt's masterly prose shine through in a knockdown argument against co-option: "What is the one thing in our experience that co-opts irreducibly complex machines and uses their parts to build a new and more intricate machine? Intelligent agents." (p. 54)

In addition to summarizing the case for design, ID Uncensored also contributes to ID thinking. For example, it explains how Dembski's method of detecting design using the explanatory filter, and Stephen Meyer's method of using an argument from our positive uniform experience, combine in pointing to design:

[T]here remains one and only one type of cause that has shown itself able to create functional information like we find in cells, books and software programs -- intelligent design. We know this from our uniform experience and from the design filter -- a mathematically rigorous method of detecting design. Both yield the same answer.

(William Dembski and Jonathan Witt, Intelligent Design Uncensored: An Easy-to-Understand Guide to the Controversy, p. 90 (InterVarsity Press, 2010).)

If you haven't already figured this out, the greatest strength of ID Uncensored is the way its explains the details of ID in a way that virtually any reader can grasp. One more example will suffice.

I often get e-mails from people making vague appeals to vast eons of time and vast unseen probabilistic resources in the universe to claim that the naturalistic origin of life's complexity is possible. ID proponents have responded by noting that we should not assume that the material causes have the ability to produce life. Instead, we should treat that hypothesis scientifically and test it.

As a result, ID proponents have often discussed a complicated technical concept called the "universal probability bound," which is basically a measure of the probabilistic resources available over the history of the universe. In books including No Free Lunch, Dembski has elsewhere given technical explanations for his conservative calculation of the universal probability bound. Jonathan Witt now translates what was daunting scientific language in remarkably lucid prose:

Scientists have learned that within the known physical universe there are about 1080 elementary particles … Scientists also have learned that a change from one state of matter to another can't happen faster than what physicists call the Planck time. … The Planck time is 1 second divided by 1045 (1 followed by forty-five zeroes). … Finally, scientists estimate that the universe is about fourteen billion years old, meaning the universe is itself millions of times younger than 1025 seconds. If we now assume that any physical event in the universe requires the transition of at least one elementary particle (most events require far more, of course), then these limits on the universe suggest that the total number of events throughout cosmic history could not have exceeded 1080 x 1045 x 1025 = 10150.

This means that any specified event whose probability is less than 1 chance in 10150 will remain improbable even if we let every corner and every moment of the universe roll the proverbial dice. The universe isn't big enough, fast enough or old enough to roll the dice enough times to have a realistic chance of randomly generating specified events that are this improbable.

(William Dembski and Jonathan Witt, Intelligent Design Uncensored: An Easy-to-Understand Guide to the Controversy, pp. 68-69 (InterVarsity Press, 2010).)

Now that you understand a bit about the universal probability bound, read the book to further see why material causes could not produce life's complexity unless the available probabilistic resources vastly exceeded this bound.

But ID Uncensored doesn't stop at explaining the science -- it also delves into the respective sociological and theological implications of Darwinism and ID. Aware of common fallacious objections to ID, Dembski and Witt explain why broaching these topics does not imply that Darwinism or ID isn't science: "Another argument Darwinists sometimes use is to assert that ID isn't science because it has religious, philosophical, and political implications. The problem is that this standard also disqualifies Darwinism." (p. 38) Instead, they take the higher road, acknowledging that both Darwinism and ID are legitimate scientific projects: "Although Darwinism and intelligent design are both based on physical evidence and standard methods of scientific reasoning, both have profound implications beyond science." (p. 95)

What's revealing about their chapter on theology is that it doesn't try to argue affirmatively for design. Rather, it focuses on addressing theological objections to ID, blowing them out-of-the-water by exposing logical fallacies and self-contradictory logic. But the interesting point is this: Increasingly we see critics of ID arguing on the basis not of science but of theology. As I observed recently, this is amusing since ID's opponents are "openly and unashamedly letting theology stand in the way of scientific investigation--the very charge they constantly levy against [proponents of] ID."

One charge that won't stick against Intelligent Design Uncensored is that it's unclear. This makes the book all the more important, as it will undoubtedly fall into the hands of many students who will quickly find answers to many of the most common objections to ID they are being taught by their largely uninformed professors. This book would make a great graduation present.

Yet it is a book for any reader -- student or otherwise -- who seeks a compelling, accurate, accessible case for intelligent design. It closes with a variety of tips and helpful pieces of advice for anyone seeking to make an impact on this debate. This makes Intelligent Design Uncensored a welcome and badly needed contribution to the literature of ID. Whether you're an ID-guru or an ID-newbie, you will learn something and gain insight from reading this book.

Posted by Casey Luskin on June 22, 2010 5:31 AM | Permalink

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

AIDS researcher cleared of misconduct


Published online 22 June 2010 | Nature | doi:10.1038/news.2010.310

Berkeley cites academic freedom and lack of evidence as it wraps up investigation over contentious paper.

Zoë Corbyn

Peter Duesberg has been cleared of wrongdoing.Controversial researcher Peter Duesberg has been cleared of wrongdoing following formal complaints made after he and others published a paper arguing that there is "as yet no proof that HIV causes AIDS".

Duesberg, who is well known for denying the link between HIV and AIDS, escaped censure from the University of California, Berkeley, after an investigation upheld his academic freedom and found no clear evidence that he broke faculty rules in publishing the paper.

A letter dated 28 May from Sheldon Zedeck, vice-provost for academic affairs and faculty welfare, to Duesberg effectively clears him of any wrongdoing. It states that there was "insufficient evidence" available to pursue any disciplinary action against him, although it stresses that the investigation was not concerned with the "accuracy or validity of the article".

Duesberg told Nature that he felt "officially exonerated" by the outcome but was disappointed that Berkeley had not dismissed the allegations sooner. "There was no basis for a misconduct charge," he says.

The professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, who won international acclaim for his work on cancer genes in the 1970s before focusing on AIDS, says that his detractors will now find it more difficult to make a case against him. "Now they will have to find something else ... maybe my parking permits," he suggests.

Contentious hypothesis

Berkeley launched an investigation last November, questioning whether Duesberg had violated the university's code of conduct when submitting an article to the journal Medical Hypotheses, which at the time did not peer review its papers.

The article argued that there is "as yet no proof that HIV causes AIDS" and described claims that the virus had killed millions as "unconfirmed". Duesberg had previously submitted the manuscript to the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes, where one reviewer warned that he could face misconduct charges were the paper to be published.

The warning concerned the alleged cherry picking of results and the failure to declare a conflict of interest for co-author David Rasnick, previously an employee of Matthias Rath. Rath sells vitamin pills as remedies for AIDS. Rasnick has denied any conflict of interest and says that he has had no connection with Rath since 2006 (see: AIDS contrarian ignored warnings of scientific misconduct).

The paper's publication led to a storm of protest from scientists, and retrospective peer review later led to its being permanently withdrawn. The journal's editor was sacked and publisher Elsevier vowed to make changes to Medical Hypotheses, including introducing peer review.

Two formal complaints were also lodged with Berkeley, between them alleging that Duesberg had made false claims in the paper and accusing him of failing to declare Rasnick's alleged conflict of interest. One complaint came from Nathan Geffen, treasurer of the South Africa-based Treatment Action Campaign — which campaigns for the rights of people with HIV/AIDS. The other complainant has remained anonymous.

Geffen told Nature that he submitted his complaint because he believed Duesberg had behaved unethically. "I would like them to have taken action against him but I understand their position. I am willing to accept that this is a grey area in terms of their code," he says.

He adds that having "insufficient evidence" to proceed is not the same as exoneration. "This is anything but an exoneration."

Berkeley spokesman Robert Sanders confirmed that the investigation into Duesberg had now concluded.

"Academic freedom protects a professor's right to engage in scholarly research, even if it is controversial. The university relies on the scholarly peer-review process, rather than disciplinary procedures, for evaluating the value of scientific work," he says.

A timely warning from Louisiana


June 22nd, 2010
Louisiana General 2010

As the environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico worsens, a columnist finds it ironic that the state's politicians are now "seeking the brightest minds in science and engineering to help" when they "have built their careers by pandering to large anti-science constituencies in our state." Writing in the Shreveport Times (June 19, 2010), Charles Kincade argues that such pandering "will condemn our students to instruction in junk science and dumb down public school curricula. It already has brought our state national ridicule. And, most importantly, it will, unless changed, render us and future generations unable to deal with future challenges, which will increasingly be more scientific and technical in nature."

Kincade's targets are Louisiana's governor Bobby Jindal, who in 2008 supported and signed the Louisiana Science Education Act, which opened the door for creationism to be taught in the state's public schools, and Louisiana's junior senator, David Vitter, who in 2007 attempted to earmark $100,000 of federal funds to the Louisiana Family Forum — a religious right group with a long history of promoting creationism and attacking evolution — "to develop a plan to promote better science education." That plan would have involved a study of the Ouachita Parish School Board's antievolution policy, which was adopted with the LFF's support in 2006, and which subsequently provided the basis for the LSEA.

Quoting NCSE's Glenn Branch and Eugenie C. Scott's "The latest face of creationism" (which appeared in the January 2009 issue of Scientific American) as warning that "scientific literacy will be indispensable for workers, consumers, and policymakers in a future dominated by medical, biotechnological, and environmental concerns", Kincade adds, "That future is now. The current Gulf disaster implicates all these concerns. And Jindal's educational policy handicaps future generations' ability to deal with inevitable future crises." He concludes, "unless the anti-science policies of Jindal, Vitter, et al[.] are corrected, and soon, future generations will be unable to function in the modern world."

Federal judge rules against Dallas creationist group


4:03 PM Tue, Jun 22, 2010 Wayne Slater/Reporter

A federal judge has ruled against the Dallas-based Institute for Creation Research in its lawsuit seeking permission to offer a master's degree in science education. The institute doesn't believe in evolution. And it accused the state's Higher Education Coordinating Board of discrimination for not certifying its program for a master's degree in science education. Institute leaders have said they would teach both creationist and evolutionist views, despite favoring creationism.

When the Institute for Creation Research moved its headquarters from California to Dallas in 2007, it applied for accreditation for a master's degree in science education. But the coordinating board denied accreditation. Federal Judge Sam Sparks affirmed that decision in a sharply worded rejection of the creationists' case.

In his ruling against the group, Sparks wrote:

"It appears that although the court has twice required plaintiffs to re-plead and set forth a short and plain statement of the relief requested, plaintiff is entirely unable to file a complaint which is not overly verbose, disjointed, incoherent, maundering and full of irrelevant information."

Judge tosses creationists' effort to offer master's degrees


June 22, 2010, 11:31PM

A federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit by a creationism think tank and school that attempted to force the state of Texas to allow it to offer master's degrees in science education.

In 2008, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board rejected the Dallas-based Institute for Creation Research's application to offer master's degrees, which taught science from a biblical perspective. The institute's graduate school sued in 2009, claiming the board violated its constitutional right to free speech and religion.

'Disjointed, incoherent'

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks of Austin found no merit in the institute's claims and criticized its legal documents as "overly verbose, disjointed, incoherent, maundering and full of irrelevant information."

In an e-mailed statement, school representatives said they were reviewing the decision and may appeal.

The National Center for Science Education, an Oakland, Calif.-based nonprofit that defends the teaching of evolution, cheered the decision.

"The Coordinating Board made a principled decision in the first place, and it is good to see it was upheld in a court of law," said Glenn Branch, the center's deputy director.

The Institute for Creation Research's graduate school, which is based in California, has been offering master's degrees in that state since 1981, according to its website. Aimed at aspiring Christian schoolteachers, the curriculum critiques evolution and champions a literal interpretation of the biblical account of creation.

Accredited in California

In California, the school is accredited by the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools, an agency that is not recognized in Texas.

To operate its graduate school in Texas, the institute needed preliminary approval from the Coordinating Board and accreditation from a regional body, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

The institute never got past its first hurdle.

After heated meetings packed with public speakers, board members denied the application.

"Religious belief is not science," Texas Commissioner of Higher Education Raymund Paredes said at the time. "Science and religious belief are surely reconcilable, but they are not the same thing."


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

'Godless communists' embrace creationism


16:25 15 June 2010
Science In Society Andy Coghlan, reporter

Enthusiasts of creationism on the fringes of the American evangelical movement now have the strangest new allies - in a nation that made atheism its state religion.

Yes, creationism has now reared its ugly and evolving head in Russia, the heart of the "Godless communism" that prevailed in the Soviet Union.

And, as pointed out in a superb blog by Michael Zimmerman in the Huffington Post, the Russian rhetoric sounds strangely familiar.

After giving a lecture last week in Moscow, Hilarion Alfeyev, Archbishop of the Russian Orthodox Church, was reported by Reuters saying:

"The time has come for the monopoly of Darwinism and the deceptive idea that science in general contradicts religion. These ideas should be left in the past... Darwin's theory remains a theory. This means it should be taught to children as one of several theories, but children should know of other theories too."

This is a pretty clear inference that creationism should be taught alongside evolution in school. American creationists could have written the script for him, as they've been pushing the same tactic now for years under different guises, most recently as intelligent design.

Their attempts to get this taught in school were shot down through a momentous court case in 2005 in Dover, Pennsylvania, although more recently they've successfully tinkered with curricula in Texas to leave open loopholes for creationist teaching.

Just like his American counterparts, Alfeyev is keen to denounce evolution, declaring that the theory that one species could evolve into another has never been proved.

The fightback has already begun, and the Reuters item reports Lyudmila Alexeyeva, a veteran Russian dissident, as saying that Russian liberals would fight all attempts to introduce religious teaching into classrooms, especially science. She says:

"It's a dangerous idea and we will do all we can to stop it. We overcame communism as the state ideology and certain forces want to replace it with Orthodox Christianity."

Orthodox Christianity is, however, Russia's dominant religion, and services are attended by the country's leaders, prime minister Vladimir Putin and president Dmitry Medvedev.

With pressure from evangelicals for the US to abandon the division between church and state insisted upon by Thomas Jefferson and the founding fathers, and the growing influence of the Orthodox church within Russia, we could see an unlikely alliance forged between former enemies. Jefferson and Lenin would be spinning in their tombs.

To be clever or stupid, that is the question


Category: Prime Stream
Posted on: June 22, 2010 4:20 AM, by Selva

So, the Archbishop of the Russian Orthodox Church wants "the monopoly of Darwinism and the deceptive idea that science in general contradicts religion" to end, just as his friends in the US. [New Scientist blog]

This is like saying we can't let cleverness have a monopoly, stupidity must have an equal saying in our lives. Excuse me while I knock my head on my desk so I can get stupid enough to understand this.

Let us be clear. There is no relativism in some things: Creationism is stupid. Evolution is clever.

However this Universe came into being, I would think that it was by some clever stuff rather than the stupid stuff. It takes a religious mind to turn a fine and clever universe to a stupid one.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Faith and medication


Written by Kehinde Oyetimi Sunday, 20 June 2010

Illnesses are part of human experiences, irrespective of sectarian affiliation within christendom. While some hold that faith only is required for healing, others insist that it must be a combination of faith and drugs. KEHINDE OYETIMI writes.

EUNICE had trained as a nurse and had excelled even above expectation. Employment at one of the prestigious medical firms came easily. She had a disarming smile for every patient in the wards. Her empathetic nature, her compassionate look endeared her to everyone. Individuals with ailing patients usually received doses of scriptural words of encouragement from Eunice. She had them and she generously doled them out. Indeed, she was the ideal nurse.

As time passed, she began to have internal wrangling within her conscience. While observing her one year mandatory National Youth Service Corps, she came in contact with a Christian religious body which emphasised absolute faith in the blood and power of the Lord Jesus Christ. The church had a moral and spiritual appeal to her. There, she got married. This internal wrangling continued for a while. It was against her faith to use medications; the application to patients clearly indicated a hypocritical lifestyle. The conflict raged; it was between her faith and her job. She resigned and decided to look for another job that would accommodate her faith. Though, she was queried by many, she insisted that it was against her faith to administer drugs to patients.

The case was told of another family which insisted that it was better that the life of their child be forfeited when it was apparent that what could save the life of the child was blood transfusion. The Christian family claimed that the transfusion of blood was obviously against their Christian faith.

Apparently, within the most recent engagement in topical issues, nothing seems to take more prominence than the discourse on faith. Both strands of Christendom today appear to occupy two large divides: orthodoxy and Pentecostalism. Ironically, while their outlook to issues are mostly opposed one to the other, usually on the bases of proceedings, yet both seems to come to terms when the issue of faith is involved. Orthodox fundamentalism and Pentecostal Protestantism both share a firm belief in the supreme power inherent in the creative and healing power of God.

Unarguably today, the most easily recited and, perhaps, applied verse of the Bible is the 1st verse of the 12th chapter of the book of Hebrews where it states succinctly that "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." It is not the verse that appears to be out of interpretive ease but its application that has created various camps; while some take it in its most literal form, others take it at its connotative level. The Christian faith teaches, and when occasion demands, demonstrates absolute confidence in God.

Medication has taken different dimensions right from its contact with man. Conventional or orthodox medicine implies the use of pills or drugs for effecting treatments against ailments; herbal medicine includes the application of any plant or plant part used for its medicinal, flavouring, or fragrant properties. The constituents of herbal medicines may include flowers, stems, seeds, fruit and bark.

Alternative medicine, supported by others, encapsulates therapeutic practices, beliefs, and techniques that are outside the borders of Western healthcare.

It is chiefly used to cure chronic back pain and certain cancers.

It is, however, interesting to note that while some insist that administering medication to ailments can be accommodated, some argue that such do not find Biblical bases. The former, therefore, recommend drugs: conventional or herbal medicine. Still some others give preference to alternative medicine.

Another claim that orthodox medicine is appropriate while discarding herbal remedies. Some Christian theologians argue that herbal remedies date back to Biblical days, and so maintain that God created these herbs for the medical benefit of mankind. They point to such scriptural references both in the Old and New Testaments such as Exodus 12:8, Numbers 9:11, Hebrews 6:7, among many others where man is encouraged to harness the curative potentials in these herbs. Of note is Hebrews 6:7 where it is stated thus: "For the earth which drinks in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and brings forth herbs, meet for them by whom it is dressed, receives blessing from God." Today, it is estimated that over one-third of adult Americans—about 60 million people use the therapy in herbal remedies each passing year with the approximate monetary value of $3.2 billion USD. Research also indicated that approximately 64 per cent of the world human population use herbal medicine.

The Apostolic Faith holds strongly to the efficacy of the blood of Jesus. The Christian sect believes that by reason of the blood, every ailment is curable. The use of drugs in whatever dimension is prohibited; fruits and prayers are deemed to be enough in the healing process of any ailment. In an interaction with Tribune Church, one of its members, who preferred to speak on the condition of anonymity, submitted that "We believe in healing without medicine. We rely solely on the blood of Jesus. According to the Isaiah 53 verse 5 which says 'But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed', we hold that when Jesus was beaten, the blood that came out from him is enough to heal us.

"When we have cases of people with protracted illness, we still believe that the blood of Jesus is enough to perform the desired healing. We've had cases of people battling with several and severe illness. I know of a sister who had cancer of the breast. She never attended any hospital. She relied on the blood of Jesus and continued in prayer. After a while, she testified that the symptoms she earlier saw were no longer there. Even my father was ill for over four years and never did he take any drug.

"For me since it is our doctrine and I've practiced it and it has worked for me, I see no reason why one has to study medicine or pharmacy. I am yet to see anybody in our congregation who studied medicine or pharmacy. We take fruits and vegetables instead." A pastor from the Apostolic Faith equally added that the use of herbal medicine is frowned at.

The Jehovah's Witnesses, another Christian sect, prohibits the transfusion of blood to effect treatment. In November, 2007, the case of a pregnant woman who died at childbirth was reported.

She preferred to part with her life rather than breach the church rule prohibiting blood transfusion.

Yet in 2008, another such case was reported. Olga Lindberg's grandson, Dennis, 14, was diagnosed of leukaemia. His chance of survival was 70 per cent if he had undergone blood transfusion, which of course was refused, following the sect's proscription. Although, in 2004 the Watchtower Society, the officially body representing Jehovah's Witnesses told its members that fractions of red blood cells without membranes can be used according to a Witness's conscience.

Speaking with the Sunday Tribune, a member of the sect, who would not have his name in print, claimed that it is based on what the church holds as sacrosanct. Citing Genesis 9 verse 3-4 where the Bible states that: "Every moving thing that lives shall be meat for you...But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat" and Leviticus 17 verse 14: "For it is the life of all flesh; the blood of it is for the life thereof: therefore I said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall eat the blood of no manner of flesh: for the life of all flesh is the blood thereof; whosoever eats it shall be cut," as part of the bases for it, he details some of the incidences that have occurred based on the adherence to the belief that prohibits blood transfusion as held by the Jehovah's Witnesses.

"In one instance, a cousin of mine who was terribly sick in 1995 refused to take blood transfusion, insisting that she would rather die than do so. At a point, the doctors attending to her got angry. Yet she refused to take it. Another incidence was when my friend's father, who equally was a Witness, died in 1998. I was not there when he died but his son, who is my friend, informed me that when blood transfusion was the last option, his father declined," he narrated.

What one Christian sect believes, another may condemn and find outrageous, yet these are matters of faith. The Bible sums it up in Romans 14:2-3: "For one believes that he may eat all things; another, who is weak, eats herbs. Let not him that eats despise him that eats not; and let not him which does not eat judge him that eats: for God has received him.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Is evolution compatible with a belief in God?


The Ottawa Citizen June 18, 2010

BALPREET SINGH BOPARAI works in legal counsel for the World Sikh Organization of Canada.

Evolution, or the change over time in the genetic composition of populations, is a scientific reality. The process has been observed and studied and there is no doubt it occurs. For people of faith, God is also an undeniable reality that is felt and observed every day. For Sikhs, science is a way of celebrating and appreciating the magnificence of God and no conflict need exist between the two. Therefore, a belief in God and a belief in evolution can be completely compatible.

In the Sikh faith, God is the ultimate creator and all creation is through his will. The Sikh faith, although having respect for people of all faiths, does not accept or subscribe to the Semitic story of creation and does not believe that Adam and Eve were the first humans. The process by which God creates is exclusively his will and therefore evolution is compatible with Sikh beliefs. Evolution is a process that can be understood to be a part of God's divine will.

The Sikh scripture, Sri Guru Granth Sahib, speaks specifically about the process of creation. Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh faith, wrote, "from the True One came the air, from the air came water. From water, the three worlds (sea, earth and sky) were formed, with God's light placed in every being." (ang 18). Sri Guru Granth Sahib also states that there are countless galaxies and planets and only God can know the extent of his creation.

So beyond a belief that God is the creator and resides within his creation, Sikhs are open to scientific inquiries into the specific processes through which creation has evolved and exists now. Evolution and a belief in God are not incompatible for Sikhs.

RADHIKA SEKAR has a PhD in Religious Studies and taught Hinduism at Carleton University for several years. She is a disciple of the Sri Ramakrishna Mission.

Religions like Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism are primarily concerned with achieving enlightenment. Therefore belief in a creator god is a non-issue and discussions regarding origins fall under the 14 unanswerable questions, which, as the Buddha maintained, do not help achieve enlightenment. They are therefore not particularly meaningful or relevant.

A philosophical speculation on the origin of the universe first occurs in an early Rig Vedic verse. First there was neither existence or non-existence. No realm of air, or sky beyond it. What covered it, and where? Who knows whence it first came into being? He, the first origin of this creation, whether he formed it all or did not form it, Verily he knows, or perhaps he too knows not. (Rig Veda: Book 10 v 129).

Later Upanishad literature identifies Purusha (or Brahman) as the primordial "intelligence" (citta) from which arises matter (Prakriti or Shakti). The result of their reunion results in genesis, and creation proceeds in continuous cycles of birth, life and death.

The process is personified in the Puranas. Lord Brahma is the Creator, who, with his consort the goddess Saraswati, propagates the universe in its myriad forms. Lord Vishnu oversees progression from birth to death and the final dissolution is represented by Lord Shiva. The process then begins again.

Creation is thus seen, not as a single linear event, but rather as a dynamic and cyclical process, which Swami Vivekananda found compatible with Darwinian evolution. But with one essential difference.

While modern scientists argue that matter evolves before intelligence, Indian philosophy puts intelligence first, and then goes on to suggest that all intelligence is derived or borrowed from a single source, regarded by Hindus as divine. Hence the Vedantic claim that all beings are divine and interconnected.

Rabbi REUVEN BULKA is head of Congregation Machzikei Hadas in Ottawa and host of Sunday night with Rabbi Bulka on 580 CFRA.

Why not? Leaving aside whether evolution really holds up under scientific scrutiny, the question can be rephrased in the following way — is it possible that God created the world in an evolutionary pattern? This question has an entirely different ring and spin.

And of course, once we accept that God created the world, then the "how" of creation is a relatively minor issue. God can create in any way that God sees fit, and assuming that the way of creation follows an evolutionary path, there is no problem with attributing this manner of creation to God.

There is a significant difference between evolutionary creation and creative evolution; the first admits God into the picture, the second eliminates God from the picture.

So, assuming evolution is a "fact," it is certainly compatible with belief in God, even if you find people whose belief in evolution precludes their believing in God. This impacts on the biblical chronicle of creation. We can see an evolutionary pattern in creation, culminating in the creation of the human being. What science presumes to be evolution is biblically presented as God's way of developing the world and its inhabitants, animal and human. Even the age of the world is not necessarily a problem. The six days of creation are God days, as is clear from Genesis. Human days start after the human is created. And God's days are not of the hard-and-fast, 24-hour variety. They could very well be epochs, long epochs.

And if they could be epochs, why not welcome that possibility and avoid an unwelcome clash between religion and science? Each gains much from working together in a co-operative spirit. Science gains a much needed humility as it strives to understand existence. And religion is more likely to be respected if it accepts the wisdom of science, both looking back and going forward.

Father JOHN JILLIONS is a professor in the Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies at Saint Paul University.

Of course. Increasing numbers of prominent scientists are working with full scientific integrity, following the trail of the evidence, while being faithful believers at the same time.

Among them is Dr. Gayle Woloschak, an Orthodox Christian who specializes in molecular and cell biology at Northwestern University in Chicago. She also directs the Zygon Center, which seeks to relate religious traditions and the best scientific knowledge in order to gain insight into the origins, nature, and destiny of humans and their environment.

According to Woloschak, evolution is "a logically self-consistent theory that explains observable facts." She stresses that a scientific theory is not just a hunch. Gravity is also a "theory," but like evolution it is backed up by vast amounts of evidence. For her, the DNA evidence, comparing the genomic maps of various species, shows that evolution does occur. In fact, evolution is now the unifying theory of biology. Christianity is committed to true descriptions of reality and denying evolution is just not truthful, she says. It is also a misunderstanding of God. Science is limited to the study of nature, but God is beyond nature. To read the book of Genesis, for example, as a scientific textbook on nature is to miss its main point.

But scientists who ignore the spiritual dimension of creation are similarly closing themselves off from a huge arena of reality. Science can describe how we got here (evolution), but it can't say much about what it means to be human or why we exist. What a tiny slice of the universe we human beings inhabit, yet what a creative legacy we have of culture, art, music, language and "hunger for the infinite" (Dostoevsky). There is so much more to the wonder of the cosmos and life than science can describe.

Paradoxically, believers who oppose evolution also keep the conversation from going beyond biology. This much the creationists and atheists have in common.

Rev. KEVIN FLYNN is an Anglican priest and director of the Anglican studies program at Saint Paul University.

Anglicans understand the Scriptures to "contain all things necessary to salvation." This does not mean that we understand them to be a compendium of scientific facts. Christians who oppose the theory of evolution hold that it is contrary to the opening book of the Bible.

Anglicans take the Scriptures so seriously that we take them as they are, not as we might wish them to be. In large measure, chapter one of Genesis, with its account of the seven days of creation, is more a liturgy than a text book, with its repeated refrain "God saw that it was good."

Interestingly, its vision of development and species differentiation does share some commonalities with contemporary cosmologies.

Genesis 1 was likely written during the exile of the Jewish people in Babylon. Their captors worshipped sun, moon, stars and so forth as deities in their own right. Genesis 1 is a great hymn that declares that all those heavenly bodies are not gods, but rather creatures of the one true God. Further, it affirms that the created order is neither random nor indifferent, but is ordered to its author and maker. Genesis goes on to describe the role of humankind in relation to God and to the created order: that we are its stewards, intended to serve and tend it.

From this perspective, Anglicans by and large did not have a great deal of difficulty in receiving the insights of Darwin's theory of evolution.

With increasing precision, good science can make clear the how. Genesis is about the why.

The worldwide Anglican communion takes as its motto Jesus' words from the gospel of John: "The truth shall make you free." This is a bold motto for a Church to hold since it challenges us to receive truth from any source as coming ultimately from God.

Rev. GEOFFREY KERSLAKE is a priest of the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Ottawa.

For Catholic Christians, the short answer to this question is: yes. The longer answer looks like this: there is not a conflict between faith and reason (or science).

Three years ago Pope Benedict's book on Creation and Evolution was published in Germany and in the subsequent stories in the secular press the Holy Father was quoted several times. What seemed to surprise many people was his assertion about the false dichotomy some people have made between evolution and faith.

He said: "The question is not to either make a decision for a creationism that fundamentally excludes science, or for an evolutionary theory that covers over its own gaps and does not want to see the questions that reach beyond the methodological possibilities of natural science."

He went on to add: "I find it important to underline that the theory of evolution implies questions that must be assigned to philosophy and which themselves lead beyond the realms of science." (CTV News, April 11, 2007)

Science is very good at investigating "how" questions — how does life change and evolve over time —, for example, but it is unable to answer many important "why" or "what" questions — why are we here and what is the meaning of life? But faith and reason, working together, help us to come to a more complete understanding of not only the origins of human life, but also its meaning and ultimate purpose and we cannot exclude either one of them from the investigation.

Rev. RICK REED is senior pastor at the Metropolitan Bible Church in Ottawa.

The word evolution refers to change. Specifically to "change in the properties of populations of organisms that transcend the lifetime of a single individual" (Douglas Futuyma, Evolutionary Biology). Change within a species is sometimes called microevolution. Change that results in an entirely new species could be classified as macroevolution.

Microevolution is both observable and uncontested; species do change over time. Macroevolution, however, is not universally accepted. The scientific evidence for this kind of change is still debated.

Most proponents of macroevolution also hold to a naturalistic world view. They believe the world is a closed system. As a result, they conclude that belief in God is either unnecessary or untenable. There are some Christians who subscribe to macroevolution but reject a naturalistic worldview. They maintain God was involved in starting the evolutionary process. This viewpoint, called theistic evolution, argues that believing in macroevolution is compatible with faith in God.

All Christians agree that naturalistic evolution is incompatible with faith and with true scientific inquiry. After all, naturalistic evolution begins with the unproven, a priori assumption that all events have a purely natural explanation. This understanding arbitrarily excludes the possibility of God's involvement in the world.

My view is that microevolution (changes within a species) is a proven reality but macroevolution is an unproven theory. Further, I see theistic evolution as standing on shaky scientific and theological ground. Scientifically, the ample evidence of design in our world points to the existence of a wise Designer. Theologically, it's difficult to align theories of macroevolution with the teachings of Scripture. For example, Romans 5:12 asserts that that death entered the world only after Adam's sin.

The opening line of the Bible points Christians to the most reliable explanation of life's origins: "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth."

KEVIN SMITH is on the board of directors for the Centre for Inquiry, Canada's premier venue for humanists, skeptics and freethinkers.

With his discovery of natural selection, Charles Darwin effectively tore out the first chapter of his Christian Bible, leaving the belief system of millions of people in shreds.

This evolution revolution caused many to contemplate that perhaps the rationalization of gods to explain our beginnings was false — the simplest explanation is the most accurate.

Darwin had his own personal evolution. He had achieved a degree in divinity, but by the time his book, The Origin of Species, was written, he claimed to be agnostic.

While 22 per cent of Canadians still have their heads buried in the Garden of Eden, most accept that evolution is a fact — with or without a designer God. Some have been able to adapt their faith to believe that the hands of God molded us out of primordial ooze but I disagree — humanity's creation story, our cosmic evolutionary genesis, is a majestic poetry of life. Evolution without God is not just more credible, it is incredible.

The seed that created the tree of life began in the warm ocean waters thousands of millions of years ago. It developed many branches, producing billions of species that have existed on Earth. Everything that lived before us or shares our planet today is special in its own right — yet we are all connected by our shared ancestry. Darwin so clearly articulated that "from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful have been, and are being, evolved."

We can thank evolution for the improbable gift of being alive. All who inhabit the Earth, each with their unique qualities, are part of one brief phase within the evolutionary process. Our collective destiny is infinite, we are from the past and of the future.

JACK MCLEAN is a Baha'i scholar, teacher, essayist and poet published in the fields of spirituality, Baha'i theology and poetry.

The Bahá'í sacred writings endorse a qualified "evolution" as being compatible with belief in God, but important distinctions are made with current evolutionary theory, which generally excludes God and divine endowment.

It should be noted that this question is debated mainly between literal-fundamentalists and more "liberal" symbolic readers of the Bible, causing deep divisions. Regrettably, it has also put science and religion at odds. The Bahá'í sacred writings aim to harmonize religious beliefs with scientific knowledge.

Here is the gist of the answer: while Bahá'í scripture recognizes that the human species did evolve over millions of years, adapting to and changing the environment, the distinctive, divine nature of our race cannot be explained by Darwinian natural selection. The divine endowments of intellect, soul, imagination, faith, reason, insight, and the beautiful human form itself, were all designed potentially and originally by God, but these capacities appeared gradually over eons, from more primitive to more sophisticated forms.

Early in the first trimester of human embryonic development, an individual seems to resemble a fish or a seahorse. But the species was distinctly human from conception. A human being is born nine months later, not an animal. Our species is distinct and divine in origin. Likewise, although we may have resembled and behaved like animals throughout the earlier stages of our development, we were destined to acquire our present form.

'Abdu'l-Bahá is clear on this point. In a talk on evolution he said: "To recapitulate: as man in the womb of the mother passes from form to form, from shape to shape, changes and develops, and is still the human species from the beginning of the embryonic period — in the same way man, from the beginning of his existence in the matrix of the world, is also a distinct species, that is, man, and has gradually evolved from one form to another" (Some Answered Questions, p. 192). By accepting this reasonable explanation, religion does not stand in opposition to science and reason, nor is the divine endowment of humans denied.

RAY INNEN PARCHELO is a novice Tendai priest and founder of the Red Maple Sangha, the first lay Buddhist community in Eastern Ontario.

There are a couple of questions here, I think. The first is one about science, proof and an alleged "irrationality" of religious belief. The second deals with creationism, especially the kind endorsed in certain Abrahamic faiths, as a theory.

First off, unlike Western faiths, Buddhism does not depend on any coherent historical narrative. The Buddha would say, "I come to teach the fact of suffering, its cause and cessation." This is not a matter of belief, it is a proposal about our existential plight and how to escape it. One need not believe, one only needs to test it out with discipline and sincerity. To borrow a phrase, "the proof is in the pudding."

Buddhism is not so much interested in explaining the origins of humanity as it is in exposing the mechanisms that keep us bound in cycles of dissatisfaction and suffering. This allows the presentation of the means of ending suffering, the Eightfold Path. Buddhists don't need to align our teaching with any religious text, on the one hand, or scientific principles, on the other. The priority is always on religious practices rather than religious beliefs.

The second question here is the relationship between evolution and creationism, the so-called competing theory that proposes that the universe was created in ways that support the Christian Bible narrative. Buddhism is not in any way concerned with theories of creation, the origin of the world or the role of any deity. Shakyamuni Buddha always declined such questions as irrelevant, maintaining his "noble silence." He would suggest that if a soldier were struck with a poisonous arrow in battle, there is no value in debating what kind of feathers were on the arrow, the type of tree that produced the arrow shaft, the nationality or motive of the shooter, and so on. He insisted what we need to know is how to remove the arrow and reclaim life. Such debate, while captivating, is far from useful.

ABDUL RASHID is a member of the Ottawa Muslim community, the Christian-Muslim Dialogue and the Capital Region Interfaith Council.

If by "evolution" you mean that humanity is the result of a series of natural events without an intelligent design, it is entirely incompatible to a belief in God.

A learned Muslim once said that the first time he truly believed in God Almighty was when he witnessed an open-heart surgery. He marvelled at the design and efficiency of that small piece of flesh that pumped many times its own weight with regularity every minute of every hour of every day for many years of a person's life.

There are scores of references in the Muslim scripture, the Holy Koran, that draw our attention to the law and order in the universe. The objective of these references is not to teach us "science" but to guide us to the belief in Our Merciful Creator. "Behold! In the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of night and day are indeed Signs for people of understanding" (3:190).

Islam asks us to study these and many other signs in the universe to strengthen our faith in our Unique Creator. It is awe-inspiring to realize that a small reduction in the earth's orbit around the sun will burn our world and a small increase in it would freeze it solid (36:40). Again, any random changes in the orbits of various planets would lead to destructive collisions and end of the known world. That this mind-boggling order is without design by a Designer is unbelievable. The development of human life itself in successive stages from conception to birth, childhood, adulthood, old age and death point to the glorious creation of Almighty (22:5, 23:12-14).

The proposition that the origin of life was an accident that occurred without any preconception, plan or purpose defies ordinary reason.

Ask the Religion Experts is compiled by Stephanie Murphy. Write to Ask the Religion Experts, c/o The Ottawa Citizen, 1101 Baxter Rd., Ottawa, Ont., K2C 3M4. E-mail submissions to experts@thecitizen.canwest.com

© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen

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Charles Kincade: Jindal's and Vitter's anti-science policies


June 19, 2010

It is indeed ironic that Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and U.S. Sen. David Vitter, of Louisiana, are seeking the brightest minds in science and engineering to help extricate our state from the impending environmental disaster that has resulted from the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill.

The irony is because Jindal and Vitter have built their careers by pandering to large anti-science constituencies in our state. And while this pandering has brought political and electoral success to both Jindal and Vitter, it will condemn our students to instruction in junk science and dumb down public school curricula.

It already has brought our state national ridicule. And, most importantly, it will, unless changed, render us and future generations unable to deal with future challenges, which will increasingly be more scientific and technical in nature.

In 2008, Jindal supported and signed an anti-science bill that many believed to be a stealth creationism bill. That bill, which became the Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA), was a thinly veiled effort to permit the teaching of religious creationism in the science classroom alongside evolution. The bill was roundly criticized by the scientific community.

In fact, one of the nation's most respected scientific groups, the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB), took the unusual step and boycotted Louisiana due to the anti-science measure and held its annual convention in Utah instead of New Orleans.

The LSEA was condemned in a cover story in the January 2009 edition of Scientific American by Glenn Branch and Eugenie C. Scott. In that article, the authors conclude that because of the Jindal-backed bill, Louisiana students will be scientifically illiterate. They go on to note that "scientific literacy will be indispensable for workers, consumers and policymakers in a future dominated by medical, biotechnological and environmental concerns."

That future is now. The current Gulf disaster implicates all these concerns. And Jindal's educational policy handicaps future generations' ability to deal with inevitable future crises.

In 2007, Vitter quietly earmarked $100,000 in a federal spending bill for Louisiana Family Forum, a Christian group that had opposed the teaching of evolution in public schools. Louisiana Family Forum was the prime mover and primary proponent of the Louisiana Science Education Act.

Vitter's earmark, which specified payment of $100,000 of federal tax dollars to the anti-evolution Louisiana Family Forum "to develop a plan to promote better science education," drew national outrage when it came to light. Vitter withdrew his earmark to Louisiana Family Forum amid media suggestions that the earmark was payback by Vitter to his political allies for the political cover the group had provided Vitter following the revelation of Vitter's involvement with the D.C. Madam.

The national education report card compiled by American Legislative Exchange Council ranked Louisiana 47th in the nation for education in 2008. Similar surveys have placed Louisiana in similar position, at or near the bottom. The efforts of Jindal and Vitter only make matters worse.

Our dismal education system has and will continue to have obvious effects on our economic viability. But more freighting is the inescapable conclusion that unless the anti-science policies of Jindal, Vitter, et al are corrected, and soon, future generations will be unable to function in the modern world.

Charles Kincade is an attorney in Monroe.

Creationist claims in Northern Ireland


Sophia Deboick guardian.co.uk, Saturday 19 June 2010 11.00 BST

Supporters of creationism in Northern Ireland are abusing the language of rights and equality in order to gain a foothold

Nelson McCausland, DUP assembly member and Northern Ireland culture minister, wrote to the trustees of National Museums Northern Ireland about how "to ensure that museums are reflective of the views, beliefs and cultural traditions" of the region. This included a more specific stipulation – referring explicitly to the Ulster Museum, the letter called for alternative views of the origin of the universe to be accommodated. In other words, creationism was to be incorporated into the museum's natural history displays. That an elected minister should make such a suggestion is a development that should be taken seriously.

McCausland claimed that a third of the Northern Irish population believe in creationism, and said that "the diversity of views" on this should be reflected in the region's museums. Calling it "a human rights issue and an equality issue", this could have been viewed as an honest, but seriously misguided attempt to improve diversity in museums. However, shortly after the letter was made public, the Caleb Foundation, a group which "promotes the fundamentals of the historic evangelical Protestant faith", revealed that it had previously met the minister to discuss the presentation of evolution in the Ulster Museum's nature zone exhibits. They called this "wholly misleading propaganda" and claimed they were responsible for the content of the minister's letter. As a fellow DUP member, Mervyn Storey, sits on the Caleb Foundation Council, this seemed plausible. McCausland himself is a Protestant fundamentalist, and what began to emerge was the pushing of a personal, religiously-informed viewpoint rather than the expression of a minister's opinion formed on the basis of expert knowledge of the heritage and culture sector.

In an attempt to intensify the controversy, the Caleb Foundation announced last week that they had met with tourism minister Arlene Foster to discuss the new visitor centre proposed for the Giant's Causeway. Mervyn Storey had already criticised the information boards at the Causeway, which state that the rock formation is 60m years old, conflicting with the creationist belief that the Earth was created 6,000 years ago, and the chairman of the foundation, Wallace Thompson, said "All we are asking for is that the views that we hold, which are based on the word of God, are at least respected and taken on board". McCausland, meanwhile, has gone very quiet about the issue on his blog, only discussing his views about greater prominence for the history of Ulster Scots and the Orange Order that were also expressed in his original letter. But with elected politicians and a lobbying group working so closely together, the idea of presenting evolution and creationism alongside each other in Northern Ireland's museums could become a reality.

The proponents of creationism in this row have used the language of balance, free speech and human rights to defend their views. The Caleb Foundation has spoken of its "campaign for equality', while a letter to the Belfast Telegraph stated that the public were being denied the right to hear the "Christian position". But these calls for equal treatment of views miss the point. Science isn't about "views", it is about demonstrable fact. Creationism is manifestly false, perverting good scientific principles by taking a foregone conclusion (that God created the world in six days), and working backwards from it. The museum is a place where the expert-agreed consensus is represented, and faith-based ideas of history and science, with no root in the practice of those disciplines, cannot be incorporated without fundamentally undermining that principle. While an exhibition on the history of creationism as an idea would be entirely valid, creationism-informed natural history has no place in our museums until the majority of scientists agree with it. This is not a denial of anyone's rights, but a position based on the simple idea that if you want to know about natural history, ask a natural historian, not a cleric or a random person on the street.

While the allegedly level-headed British have derided Kentucky's Creation Museum, where dinosaurs are shown with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the idea of incorporating creationism into our heritage sites is now getting a foothold here. We shouldn't be complacent about attacks on humankind's scientific achievements and the integrity of our cultural institutions, and the situation is all the more alarming when those who criticise secular values do so in its own language of hard fought-for rights. Despite the rhetoric, the Caleb Foundation and its proponents seem to have little investment in the public understanding of history and science. This is nothing more than an attempt to abuse the language of rights to go beyond the religious respect they are already accorded and secure religious privilege. It should be recognised as such.

Citizen's Voice: Rejecting evolution could mark the end of the West


Ronald w. Howard
Knoxville News Sentinel
Posted June 19, 2010 at midnight

The recent controversy over the teaching of evolution represents a small skirmish in a conflict between two world views that has been raging in the West since the time of Galileo.

One view proposes that anytime there is a disagreement between scripture and science, scripture must prevail.

The other view holds that when a preponderance of scientific evidence contradicts scripture, scripture should be viewed as symbolic.

This second view has a long lineage going back to St. Augustine (A.D. 354-430), who warned Christian proselytizers against appearing foolish and weakening their religious message by using the authority of scripture to explain nature.

Opponents of evolution argue that evolution is not a process that can be studied scientifically because it is not directly observable. John Dalton's atomic theory of matter faced the same criticism 200 years ago. Atoms could not be observed, but indirect evidence called for their existence. The amount of indirect evidence calling for the acceptance of the reality of evolution is probably as great as, if not greater than, the amount of evidence for the reality of atoms was during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The process of evolution by natural selection is for biology, like the assumed existence of invisible atoms was for chemistry and physics, the unifying principle that drives research and enables scientists to systematically explain their observations. Driven by the theory of evolution, biology has been progressing from a descriptive science into a quantitative science based on biochemistry and biophysics.

The great advances in chemistry and nuclear physics in the West during the 19th and 20th centuries came about because scientists accepted the reality of invisible atoms. By continuing the line of research prompted by the acceptance of the reality of evolution, the 21st century has the potential of seeing similar advances in biology and medicine.

But not if religious fundamentalists have their way. Christian, Islamic and Jewish fundamentalists all share an opposition to evolution, insist on the inerrancy of a literal interpretation of their scriptures and reject any evidence that conflicts with scripture. They, along with secular postmodernists, constitute the most vocal opposition to the spirit of the scientific revolution and of the Enlightenment, which has enabled the West to be the dominant influence in the world for the past 400 years. If they prevail, the world may witness the decline of Western civilization and the rise of the Far East, which, unfettered by religious fundamentalism and secular postmodernism, will be free to pursue the scientific world view.

Ronald W. Howard is a retired chemistry and physics teacher. He's also a U.S. Army veteran. He may be contacted at ronniehoward30@yahoo.com.

© 2010 Knoxville News Sentinel