NTS LogoSkeptical News for 8 July 2010

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Huffington Post Publishes Creationist Nonsense; Touchy About Criticism


Posted by Joshua Holland at 10:43 am
July 8, 2010

Posted by Joshua Holland on @ 10:43 am

Article printed from speakeasy: http://blogs.alternet.org/speakeasyURL to article: http://blogs.alternet.org/speakeasy/2010/07/08/huffington-post-publishes-creationist-nonsense-touchy-about-criticism/

I won't blame anyone for publishing the occasional contrarian piece to stir the pot — we do it too — but this, via Alex Pareene at Salon, is ridiculous:

At the Huffington Post, popular liberal news aggregator, nipple slideshow source, and intern slave market, you can get away with writing pretty much any old nonsense you like. Especially if you're famous, or a friend of Arianna Huffington. One thing you apparently can't do, though, is criticize the Huffington Post itself for publishing nonsense.

I've long been a critic of HuffPo's "Living" section, where fake doctors peddle snake oil cures and vaccine conspiracy theorists spread their poisonous misinformation. Those who read the Huffington Post solely for its (usually good) political content often don't even realize that a couple verticals away is a den of quackery and pseudoscience…

But publishing the new agey holistic naturopath crystal-healing Beverly Hills quack-to-the-stars bullshit of Arianna's good friend's nutritionist is one (stupid, potentially dangerous) thing. Giving a platform to the anti-science creationist dingbats at The Discovery Institute is a step in a darker direction.

The Discovery Institute aims to make kids learn about "Intelligent Design," a thing evangelical Christians invented because they were sick of getting made fun of for saying out loud that they believe that Adam and Eve rode dinosaurs. "Intelligent Design" has no basis in science — indeed, it is a sick parody of science — and the motivations behind getting into classrooms are purely political.

As part of their "Religion and Science" feature (which looks to be a lot of fashionable mysticism from the usual pop-philosophy hacks — like good ol' Deepak Chopra) the HuffPo published a post from Discovery Institute Senior Fellow David Klinghoffer blaming Darwin for eugenics and the Nazis.

This is cancerous bullshit. Professional anti-science propagandists like Klinghoffer are free to write and publish it, but no one with any respect for their readers or sense of responsibility to the truth should promote it.

The 'Darwin Led To Hitler!' blather is as pathetic as the Birthers' conspiracies or claims that global warming is a liberal hoax, but there it is running on the Huffington Post.


Scientist and science writer Eric Michael Johnson responded to Klinghoffer, on the Huffington Post.

Here's how his last paragraph reads:

The Nazi policies enacted three-quarters of a century ago this month were certainly bad enough, we don't need to spread the blame onto those who had no connection with them. Creationists do a poor service to the memory of Holocaust victims by using their deaths in a politically motivated attack against science. David Klinghoffer, his fellow creationists, and those who give them a platform should be ashamed of themselves for pushing and allowing a tactic rejected by a US federal court judge as "breathtaking inanity" should be strongly criticized.

Here's how the last sentence originally read:

David Klinghoffer and his fellow creationists should be ashamed of themselves, and the decision by Huffington Post to give a platform to an organization pushing a tactic rejected by a US federal court judge as "breathtaking inanity" should be strongly criticized.

Joshua Holland is an editor and senior writer with AlterNet.

World-renowned authorities provide current perspectives on Darwin's theory of evolution


Public release date: 7-Jul-2010

Contact: Ingrid Benirschke
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

In new book, contributors describe the molecular basis of evolution as well as the relevance of evolutionary theory for sociology, culture and the economy

COLD SPRING HARBOR, N.Y. (July 7, 2010) -- A new book from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, Evolution: The Molecular Landscape, is based on presentations by world-renowned scholars who gathered at the 74th annual Cold Spring Harbor Symposium on Quantitative Biology last year to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species.

"An overarching theme of the meeting was the extent to which much of evolutionary biology can now be viewed in a molecular, and often genomic, framework and the extraordinary degree to which many of Darwin's insights remain profoundly relevant today," write the meeting organizers, Bruce Stillman, David Stewart, and Jan Witkowski, in the Foreword to the book. "Evolutionary concepts have had an impact far beyond the boundaries of science and there is hardly a field of human endeavor that has not been influenced by evolutionary thinking."

The line-up of speakers—and contributors to the new book—comprised a stellar list of preeminent scientists and thinkers such as the zoologist and prolific author E. O. Wilson; Janet Browne, a science historian and Darwin biographer; Niall Ferguson, a Harvard professor and author of The Ascent of Money; and 2009 Nobel Prize winners Venkatraman Ramakrishnan and Jack W. Szostak, to name just a few.

Topics covered in the book include the appearance of the first genetic material, the origins of cellular life, evolution and development, selection and adaptation, and genome evolution. Human origins, cognition, and cultural evolution are also covered, along with social interactions.


This volume and other recent proceedings from the Cold Spring Harbor Symposia on Quantitative Biology are available online at http://symposium.cshlp.org. Each chapter can be purchased on a pay-per-view basis from the website. Additionally, libraries or individuals that purchase the hardcover edition are entitled to unlimited web access to it and a number of past volumes. Interviews with various speakers from the symposium are at http://meetings.cshl.edu/Chats/symposium09/index.htm.

About the book: Evolution: The Molecular Landscape (Cold Spring Harbor Symposia on Quantitative Biology LXXIV) was edited by Bruce Stillman, David Stewart, and Jan Witkowski (Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory). The book is 485 pp. in length (7 3/4" × 10 3/4"; illus., indexes; © 2010 Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press). Hardcover (ISBN 978-087969870-5) and paperback (978-087969871-3) editions are available. For more information, see http://www.cshlpress.com/link/evoML.htm.

About Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press is an internationally renowned publisher of books, journals, and electronic media, located on Long Island, New York. Since 1933, it has furthered the advance and spread of scientific knowledge in all areas of genetics and molecular biology, including cancer biology, plant science, bioinformatics, and neurobiology. It is a division of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, an innovator in life science research and the education of scientists, students, and the public. For more information, visit www.cshlpress.com.

Evolution: Striving to find a more compatible common ground between science and religion


Laramie, WY, July 6, 2010 - Religion versus Science: Where Both Sides go Wrong in The Great Evolution Debate (O-Books), by Ron Frost, is a comprehensive, unbiased view of evolution that bridges the apparently unbridgeable gap between creationism (an Intelligent Design) and the scientific view of evolution. Having studied and practiced Shambhala Buddhism for over twenty-five years, Frost became aware there were aspects of his mind that occurred from outside his ego. He realized that if one posits a transcendent aspect of consciousness it has a major implication on how one interprets the scientific evidence for evolution.

Ron Frost wrote his in-depth and well-researched book on the premise that the great debate over evolution is driven more by misconceptions held by proponents on both sides of the debate than by the actual facts of evolution itself. The basic facts of evolution – that the Earth is immensely old, that all life can be traced to one ancient progenitor, and that natural selection causes species to change - are indisputable. The error that materialistic scientists make is to assume that evolution is a random, pointless process and that the only value to human life is to act as a carrier for all-important genes. It is this interpretation of evolution, more than the actual facts themselves, which has long irritated Evangelical Christians.

Frost believes the mistake that Creationists and advocates of Intelligent Design make is in attacking the facts of evolution rather than the materialistic manner in which the facts are presented. Frost's goal in writing Religion Versus Science is to present a view of evolution that is compatible with both the scientific evidence for evolution and with the core teachings of all but the most fundamentalist of the world's religions. Science deals with the objective, material aspects of reality and religion deals with the subjective way we relate to the outer world – two different yet complementary ways of viewing the world.

Knowing that many Christians disagree with the atheistic lens through which evolution is presented yet also have misgivings about a solely Creationist's view, the idea that evolution and Darwinism can be compatible with faith in a transcendent reality will be very appealing. For the secular, technical population this book will provide answers to why Creationists hate science. Because Frost's book is not written from a purely Christian point of view, he can discuss the role of consciousness in evolution without having to worry about the problem of a Creator – resulting in a theory of evolution that is applicable to both theistic and non-theistic religious traditions.

Ron Frost has been an editor for two major scientific journals and a professor of Geology at the University of Wyoming for many years, and has studied the chemical composition of rocks, the minerals they contain, and what they tell us about ancient geologic processes. This, together with his twenty-five years as a practicing Buddhist, makes the perfect combination in a writer to find a common ground between science and religion.

For information on this fascinating subject, please visit Ron's website at: www.ronfrost.com and watch him on a live interview: http://geology.uwyo.edu/?q=node/281.



Karl Giberson, Ph.D., author of Saving Darwin: How to be a Christian and Believe in Evolution, and Oracles of Science: Celebrity Scientists Versus God and Religion with Mariano Artigas: "Frost's remarkably wide-ranging volume offers the reader a helpful survey of the troubled road that led to the current controversy over scientific theories of origins. More than just another book on creation versus evolution, Science vs. Spirituality locates the controversy in the inability of science to deal effectively with the realm of consciousness and mind, where our deepest needs and most profound experiences reside. Writing from an eastern, Buddhist perspective, Frost offers a fresh perspective on one of the deepest questions of our time."

A Disturbing Look At What Teaching Creationism Is Doing To Education


July 7th, 2010
By ARDem

This is down right frightening to watch:


These students are simply expressing uninformed incredulity — they can't imagine how anything could have evolved. And the incompetent apologist of a teacher, who is sympathetic to creationism himself, isn't doing his job, which is to explain to them exactly how biology explains these phenomena. Instead, he makes excuses: "How could I say to a student, 'your ideas are trash'?"

It's not hard. One student at the end says this:

How can like an African-American person evolve from a white person? We're different skin.

Couldn't have said it better myself. Seriously, and we wonder why public education is failing? If someone wants to believe this stuff, fine. But it's not science-it's religion, and it has no more place in a science classroom than any other religious belief. What's more, these kids are exhibit A for how forcing this stuff into education is depriving our youth of the ability to think critically, and that last kid offered a pretty telling comment that shows why creationists can't be indulged in their little hissy fit any longer. And yes, it's just that-a hissy fit. Facts are stubborn things, and they don't bare the creationist argument out. What they're pushing isn't science, it's religious dogma that can't stand up to the test of the scientific method. Still, they insist they are some sort of oppressed minority and that that merits putting their religious tenants into a biology classroom. If members of any other religion tried that, how mad do you think they'd be?

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Salon v. Huffington Post


Category: Kooks
Posted on: July 7, 2010 1:11 PM, by PZ Myers

Alex Pareene jumps on the anti-HuffPo bandwagon:

Giving a space to quacks to sell vitamin supplements to morons is insulting enough, but actually allowing a shameless asshole like Klinghoffer to use the Holocaust to promote his right-wing crusade to teach children lies is beyond the pale. Platform or no, there's no reason for anyone rational or even anyone with a sense of shame to continue giving Huffington free content.

Orac is going to be peeved that his jeremiads against quackery at the HuffPo didn't prompt this response, but what can I say? Jenny McCarthy killing kids with bad advice is small potatoes against stupidity, Nazism, and the Discovery Institute.

Well, not really. The anti-science is just the last straw that broke the back of a camel groaning under a load of Newage garbage.

Making the rounds with Randy Moore


July 6th, 2010

In 2009, Randy Moore began to write a regular column for Reports of the NCSE in which he introduced the people and places of the creationism/evolution controversy. Now the first year of his "People & Places" column is available on-line. Moore visits Siccar Point, "arguably the most important geological site in the world"; the Temple of Serapis, which appears on the frontispiece of Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology; Dayton, Tennessee, which hosted the Scopes trial in 1925; William Paley, whose Natural Theology influenced Darwin's thought; and the Creation Evidence Museum in Glen Rose, Texas — both before and after its remodel.

A long-time member of NCSE and a recipient of its Friend of Darwin award, Moore is Professor of Biology at the University of Minnesota. If you like his "People & Places" column, you'll be sure to love More than Darwin: An Encyclopedia of the People and Places of the Evolution-Creationism Controversy (Greenwood Press, 2008; University of California Press, 2009), coauthored with Mark Decker. NCSE's Glenn Branch praised it as "[a] marvelous trove for the curious browser, who will be constantly tempted to pull the book off the shelf to read a random entry and discover a new fact or two." And you'll also want to subscribe to Reports of the NCSE!

History, Religious beliefs should be taught from all possible viewpoints


By Thomas Lott


Published: Tuesday, July 6, 2010
Updated: Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A few weeks ago, a federal judge rejected a Dallas-based institute's lawsuit against the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. The lawsuit was meant to force the board to allow the institute to teach young earth creationism. Had they won, they would have been able to offer students master's degrees in the subject.

I can understand why the board would not allow this to be taught as a master's degree program. It is not a science.

But people do believe in it. For people to truly understand each other, I believe we need to understand one another's beliefs. If schools do not teach why people believe in young earth creationism, their students are not getting the whole story.

The only place I know of that teaches young earth creationism with the possibility of getting a degree is Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. This is Jerry Falwell's Baptist university. Falwell was the man that accused the ACLU, among others, of being responsible for the terrorist attacks of September 11, citing their sin as the root cause.

I am not sure if this is true. In fact, I know it is not true. If he knew anything, he is just as sinful as any of these people he was accusing. But I believe he had every right to say what he said. It may not have been true, but he had the right.

He also had the right to have his school teach young earth creationism. He took a long time to get his school fully accredited so it could be taught, and I admire him for teaching what he believes.

Personally, I do not know for sure whether the earth was created in six days. I know in Genesis the Hebrew word used for day meant a literal 24-hour day, but the fact is I was not there. I do not know whether the earth was created in that time.

I do believe the language used in Genesis has a very poetic base to it, and I know poetry is not always to be taken literally, so I really do not know how literal the book was supposed to be.

However, I do believe above all else that God created the world. I do not know how he did it, or how long it took, but I cannot see the order of this world being possible without a creator.

That being said, young earth creationism is not a science. I believe it may be backed up by science, I really do not know because I have not studied it myself, but creationism is based solely on faith.

But schools teach classes on religion every day. When I was in high school I learned a general history of all the major religions, and the key figures of each.

Some of the biggest leaders of the Christian church were the leaders of the Protestant Reformation. Schools put the reformation into the history books that are used in their curriculum. They clearly teach why these men were so upset with the way the church was being run at the time. These men all had their core beliefs, one of which being the notion that God created the world. I could say with confidence as well that they believed he did it in six days.

I really believe this should be researched. Why did these men believe this? What made them so positive about their faith? They were some of the most articulate men of their time. All you have to do is read their writing.

If these men believed in their God so strongly, there must have been some sort of merit to their faith.

I believe all sides of history should be taught. I think that the theory of evolution should be taught in schools. I also believe the teachers need to emphasize that it is a theory and not a law.

The fact is, all over the world people believe in some sort of deity. Whether they believe the god of the Jews, Muslims and Christians is the same god, or that they are all separate from each other, people still worship the god of creation.

If people all over the world believe something, then all sides of that story should be taught. If that means a school starts preaching young earth creationism alongside evolution, then so be it. History is one big story, and it does not make a whole lot of sense if you skip a few chapters.

Creationist weaseling over the age of the earth


Category: Creationism
Posted on: July 6, 2010 11:13 AM, by PZ Myers

Last week, the hilarity was that Rand Paul refused to say how old he thought the earth was. The new chew toys are creationist apologists for ignorance trying to justify it, while also refusing to state how old they think the earth is. The amusement lies in the way these guys puff themselves up into a state of moral superiority while claiming that scientists are dogmatists…because, you know, they know stuff.

I don't know the age of the earth, but I know that someone who thinks that someone who doesn't know the age of the earth should have a position on the age of the earth anyway is a dogmatist. What else could he be?

This is the curious thing about people who hold to Darwinism: they demand that people with no scientific expertise hold scientific opinions. But on what basis? Many people can't hold them on a basis of scientific knowledge, since they don't have sufficient scientific knowledge to hold them. There is only one basis upon which they can hold them, and it is the basis upon which Darwinists demand they hold them: on the basis of authority.

Nah, it's simpler than that. We read the books — even the simple books for the lay public — and they describe the evidence for the age of the earth, and they also explain how the data is used to explore deeper into geology. I'm not a physicist or geologist, but it's relatively easy to get an overview of the host of data used to support estimates of the age of the earth, to see the degree of detail geologists have at hand, and it's also even easier to see that working geologists and physicists, people with in-depth training in their fields, are not arguing over whether the earth is 6000 or 4.6 billion years old; the issue is settled.

It's not dogmatism, it's pragmatism. The depth of science is so great that no one brain can even grasp the whole of a single subfield, so we trust our colleagues — at least, we trust them as far as they demonstrate cooperation with the tacit rules of the institution of science, which safeguard to some extent the reliability of a scientific claim. The relevant scientists say the earth is 4.6 billion years old, and they are all willing to show their work, so I'll provisionally accept it until I see a reliable source provide cantrary evidence. A cowardly creationist who won't even set a rough date is not a reliable source.

It's fine if someone doesn't know how old the earth is, if it's not at all relevant to what they do. I don't do spot checks on plumbers and carpenters and electricians who come by my house, making sure they know the date of the Permian extinction before I let them do their job. But there are a couple of situations where I think it is appropriate to insist on some basic understanding.

If you are a scientist of any kind, you'd better be aware of the general location in space and time of your planet. It's not too much to ask, most of us went through a nerdy phase (lasting practically our entire life) in which we devoured all kinds of general knowledge, and we kind of figured out how old the earth is in 4th grade. If we were a bit slow. We also puzzled out that the planet was a rough spheroid in an elliptical orbit approximately 8 light-minutes from our sun. Other kids might have been accumulating baseball knowledge or memorizing the lyrics to pop songs, but Our People learned other things.

If you are a politician, you don't need to know the scientific data directly, but you'd better be competent to delegate, and you'd better know who in the scientific and engineering community, and that means it's a good idea to have some information about the scientific consensus. You don't want to appoint somebody to head the department of energy who thinks the power grid taps into electricity from the sun, or that oil was created in situ in the last 6000 years. It matters when Rand Paul runs away from a basic scientific question, because it means he doesn't have the competence to judge who will be a good advisor or not. It also tells us that he does not have the political courage to fight for good science-based policy.

The third category is most appropriate here: if you are a creationist who regularly complains about "Darwinists" and promotes intelligent design creationism, yet declaims at length that you are so abysmally ignorant that you can't even make up your mind whether to trust elementary geology, then nothing you can say about any science is trustworthy. It's fine to admit that you are an empty-headed goober who hasn't bothered to look up any relevant science at all, but when you set up a soapbox and pontificate about the insupportability of "Darwinism" from your platform of self-admitted lack of knowledge, you've upgraded yourself from silly schlemiel to arrogant putz.

One other hilarious addition: this inane creationist has posted a citation that he thinks supports his agnosticism on the age of the earth: it's an articled describing how astronomers are revising the estimated age of the solar system — between 4.566 billion and 4.567 billion years old. Oh, yeah, baby — a little more uncertainty, and 0.000006 billion years will look reasonable!

Liberal Creationists Are Not Very Intelligent


A comment below about intelligent people who believe in dumb ideas made me want to revisit the Creationism demographics in the GSS. More on point I wanted to look at the relationship between IQ and Creationism crossed with demographic variables. I used the WORDSUM variable as a proxy for IQ (the correlation is ~0.70). WORDSUM scores range from 0 to 10; 10 being a perfect and 0 being not so perfect. To get a sense of the range, here are mean WORDSUM scores by highest degree attained, constrained for the years 2004 and later:

No High School Diploma       4.57
High School Diploma          5.91
Junior College               6.29
Bachelor                     6.82
Graduate                     7.73

I decided to limit the year to 2004 and later because to explore Creationism I want to use the variable EVOLVED, which was asked in 2004 and 2008. I selected EVOLVED because the sample size was not that small, nearly 1,500, and, the response is dichotomous. Here's what EVOLVED asked:

Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals. (Is that true or false?)

Querying Americans about human descent from animals primes them to be a bit on the Creationist side. True and false come at at about 50:50 for the above question. Below is a table where the columns have mean WORDSUM scores for non-Creationists and Creationists, and the rows indicate the particular demographic. I have put in bold those variables where the horizontally adjacent cells are outside each other's 95% confidence interval. Additionally I constrained the sample to non-Hispanic whites (so the N is closer to 1,350).

                              Accepts Human Evolution    Creationist
No College Degree                                6.14           5.95
College Degree                                   7.43           6.96

Liberal                                          7.36           5.84
Moderate                                         6.25           5.78
Conservative                                     6.42           6.48

Democrat                                         6.9            5.84
Independent 6.13 5.92
Republican 6.54 6.35

Bible is….
Word of God                                      5.03           5.93
Inspired Word                                    6.71           6.45
Book of Fables                                   7.11           5.88

Protestant                                       6.61           6.21
Catholic                                         6.35           6.08
No Religion                                      6.8            5.31

Confidence in existence of God….
Atheist and Agnostic                             7.13           6.87
Higher Power                                     6.74           5.66
Believe Sometimes                                6.8            6.06
Believe With Doubts                              6.52           6.06
Know God Exists                                  6.49           6.18

Male                                             6.51           5.8
Female                                           6.82           6.4

18-34                                            6.1            6.03
35-64                                            6.79           6.29
65 and older                                     7.25           5.89
First, I have no explanation for the age differences. Second, notice that liberals and Democrats who are Creationists tend to be kind of unintelligent. It's not surprising to me that those who believe that the Bible is the Word of God but are not Creationists are less intelligent than those who are (the two ranges were almost outside of the 95% confidence interval). I suspect these are individuals lacking in the faculties with which to make any inferences at all from their putative beliefs, or, those who regularly get confused on questions because they have minimal comprehension of complex grammatical constructions. In my opinion something similar is going on with liberals and Democrats who are Creationist, though there is a subtle difference. In this case their social-political milieu would tolerate acceptance of the scientific consensus, but they go with their common sense gut. I have minimal experience with politically liberal Creationists of late, but when I was younger I knew a few, and their opinions were generally inchoate and vague due to an indistinct comprehension of the basic abstract issues. In other words, these were just not the sharpest tools in the shed.

July 7th, 2010 Tags: Creationism, Creationist, GSS by Razib Khan in Data Analysis

Jesus and the Evolution of the Species


Stanley Knick, Ph.D..Posted: July 6, 2010 02:02 AM

This is not about whether you believe in God, or whether you believe in evolution. It is not about whether you believe that Jesus is the Son of God. If you believe in God, fine. If not, fine. If you believe evolution is real, fine. If not, fine. This is not about what you believe, or what I believe. It is about the idea of Jesus, and the idea of evolution, and what these two ideas might have to say about each other and about us.

I was raised in the fundamental Baptist tradition. Both of my grandfathers were preachers. I have four uncles and a cousin who are preachers. As a boy I went to church every time the doors opened. It was assumed that every child in the family would grow up as a Christian. Any debate about the fundamentalist belief system was disallowed.

One of the principal elements of that system was that the Bible had to be taken literally. The meaning of each word, and the interpretation of each passage, had been handed down in the oral tradition of my family. At that time, none of them had been a special student of Hebrew or Greek, nor of the many translations and manuscripts that went into the making of the King James Version. I was simply taught what my elders had been taught. Everything that it was necessary to know was already known.

One interpretation given to us very early was that it was impossible to believe in Jesus and, at the same time, "believe in evolution." The two were mutually exclusive ways of viewing the world. Anyone who "believed in evolution" -- which meant, following the popular misconception, that humans had descended from monkeys -- could not really believe in Jesus. If anyone thought he could hold such a dichotomy in his mind, he must be fooling himself about his relationship with Jesus. Such a person was lumped with heathens, modernists, liberals, college professors and all other reprobates.

At the same time, there was in America the widespread notion that anyone who accepted the theory of evolution surely could not take the Bible very seriously. The creation of the world in Genesis could only be a pleasant story, not greatly different from the origin myths of so-called "primitive" people. Similarly, most of the Bible was little more than an oral tradition of the Hebrews, without application to the scientific world.

From within, each of these two is a comfortable worldview. Everything is laid out clearly in both. In the language of an anthropologist (which is what I grew up to be), each is a culture that serves its people effectively. Despite the apparent differences, there are also obvious similarities. Each is a system of learned and shared ideas that functions well, is adaptable to local environments, is durable. Each has inherent value.

In anthropological terms, the central hero of fundamentalist culture is Jesus. He entered the human realm from the metaphysical plane, bringing salvation from a sinful life. Lesser cultural heroes -- prophets who foretold His mission, and apostles who spread the news of His first and second advents -- became His agents of enlightenment among the humans.

His message seems reasonable, one that most humans can appreciate on some level. Its explicit theme is Love, something all humans want. The idea of Jesus calls humans to change from their selfish ways, to allow God's Love to rule their lives. The idea of Jesus is itself a metaphor for the most unselfish kind of Love.

The symbolism in scriptures is plain. Jesus assumed human form, endured temptation, suffered and died, was resurrected and ascended back from whence He had come. He transformed Himself in order to change the world, and especially the human beings. His essence -- His blood -- changes human beings one individual at a time, and consequently changes whole communities. The human assignment is to convert -- literally to change ("be ye transformed"). But does Jesus have anything to say about the idea of evolution?

If we strip evolution of all the baggage added to it by detractors and adherents, it is a very simple philosophical idea: Things Change. This seems a reasonable enough notion -- change is something all humans do. Whatever works best in any given situation or environment has an improved likelihood of surviving. Occasionally accidents shake things up for a while, but generally speaking life tends to move toward some kind of balance. Things can get out of balance for a time, and some enigmatic forms can arise and persist, but things in general swing toward some new kind of balance eventually. Whatever works is passed along in the essence -- the genes -- of individual members of each group, and this changes whole communities.

The idea of evolution does not necessarily assume any particular First Cause for things. Evolution also does not necessarily assume a need for random causes -- it allows for them, because often things seem to happen randomly, but it doesn't demand randomness because change can be caused by all sorts of things (genetic drift, sexual selection, etc.).

Evolution does not hold that humans evolved from monkeys, as it has been accused of doing. Monkeys and humans, and most all species, have been changing through time. The idea of evolution merely tries to embrace all the known scientific evidence in an effort to understand the process of change. In a way, the idea of evolution is itself a metaphor for a very comprehensive kind of change.

Fossils found all over the world are the nuts and bolts of the evidence. The idea of evolution is a way to explain them. Evolution is neither "Just A Theory" (as some detractors say), nor is it an "Explanation Of Everything" (as some adherents say). Evolution is a process, an apparently on-going body of changes. Almost anyone who has been alive for very long will attest that, surely enough, things do seem to change. But does evolution have anything to say about the idea of Jesus?

One of Christianity's heroes is Moses. He is credited in fundamentalist culture with having written the first five books of the Bible. (Most progressive scholars now think that several writers are responsible, but for this discussion I prefer to lump them together as the idea of "Moses" -- the frequently accepted, if possibly nominal, author.) Seen in this light, "Moses" is the human delivery agent for the Genesis account of the beginning of the universe. "Moses" is also seen as God's delivery agent for the children of Israel, and he has also been described as a human "type" of Jesus, the deliverer of humanity. "Moses" is very much in God's delivery business -- his account is basic to the creation beliefs of traditional Judaism and Islam as well.

In Archbishop Ussher's widely debated chronology of the Old Testament, "Moses" lived around 2500 years after the creation, and 1500 years before Jesus. It is from Moses' Genesis account that we learn the order of earthly creation: first the "heavens", then earth itself; then water and air (vapor); dry land; plant life (grass, herbs and then trees); animal life (aquatic animals and airborne animals, then land animals and eventually humans).

Isn't it interesting that a similar order of developing biological life -- the earth, then water and air; plants before animals; aquatic creatures before land creatures; humans later on; basically, moving from simpler forms to more complex ones -- is what is reflected in the fossil record? Could the fossil record be a message from God?

"Moses" gave exhaustive details of the things he saw first hand -- daily journeys of the children of Israel, ordinances from God, the land and people of the time. He gave less detail of what happened in the centuries of history before his time: the stories of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. He gave even less detail (with the notable exception of the Noah story) of what happened in more distant history -- the centuries between Seth (son of Adam) and Abraham. Much of this Seth-to-Abraham period he described only in a catalog of names (the "begats").

"Moses" employed the ideas available at his time to describe creation. He gave almost no details about the process of creation. He merely wrote that God spoke, and things got underway -- not much about what God did or didn't do in the creative act; not much about how God did or didn't do all that creating.

Fifteen centuries after "Moses," another hero of Christianity was also inspired to write about creation. John used the ideas available in his day, and added to the "Moses" account the perspective that God's Son, Jesus, had been involved in creation: "All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made (John 1:2)." John's contemporary, Paul, echoed the same perspective: "For by Him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible (Colossians 1:16)."

"Moses" didn't explicitly write about Jesus, because Jesus hadn't been explicitly manifested to the human beings yet. Jesus was an idea not yet expressly available. But John knew Jesus personally, and saw Him as God in human form. In John's account of creation, Jesus became the central character.

So it is with human beings. Seeking to understand things, we write using the ideas available to us. We can do no more. Moses could not have written of the creation as John did, because Jesus had not been explicitly revealed yet. It could be said that "Moses" saw "through a glass darkly" what John came to see "face to face" as more information was revealed (I Corinthians 13:12). The apostles taught that Christ had been there all along, even before "Moses." Perhaps "Moses" simply had not been shown that part of the "mysteries of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 13:11)."

As it turns out, the proponents of evolution teach that the fossils were there all along, too. These thousands of pieces of evidence -- the bones of ancient animals, the components of ancient plants -- had been preserved in stone for thousands (millions) of years. They were there in the Middle East at the time of "Moses" and at the time of John, but the fossil part of the universe hadn't been revealed yet. The plants and animals those fossils represent had lived and died, and had been changed into fossils by natural processes, but they remained invisible for all practical purposes in the days of "Moses" and John.

Some detractors of evolution have attempted to disallow those ancient species. But what if each of those animals and plants was part of God's creation? What if the extinct species which anthropologists call Australopithecines and the early forms of our own genus (Homo) were just as much a part of God's creation as the woolly mammoth and the modern lion? If there were such a thing as a Creator (and I believe there is), and if the universe by definition includes everything, wouldn't that mean that everything in the universe is part of the Creator's creation, even those troublesome fossils? Even troublesome ideas?

Humans, even extraordinary ones like "Moses" and John, don't see and know everything in the universe. Omniscience is not in the human prerogative. We try to understand only as we have light to see. Early church fathers thought the earth was flat, at the center of the solar system. The church was a strong champion of the flat-world idea. But that doesn't mean that the church fathers did not genuinely have the essence of the idea of God in their hearts, even though they were mistaken about some details.

Eventually the evidence that contradicts the flat-world idea became so extensive that even the church fathers admitted a round and moveable earth into their philosophy. This did not, as many had feared it might, reduce the wonder and majesty -- the power and glory -- inherent in the idea of God. God was still God! The earth was just round instead of flat.

In fact, it revealed a way of seeing God as even more powerful, one who could set celestial and earthly processes in motion just by willing it.

What if the Creator were also powerful enough to have set the process of biological evolution in motion? What if He were awesome enough to give it a special touch occasionally, whenever it needed correction to move toward the kind of balance He wants to see? What if He were wise enough to reveal His great mystery in a gradual-but-sometimes-punctuated manner, so that in our human frailty we could come to understand it more and more as time proceeds?

Among the other glorious things involved in the idea of Jesus, what if He could also be seen as a metaphor for evolution itself? What if, by His very nature -- the birth into human form, the life among the people, the sacrifice, death, resurrection and transformation back to "the heavenlies" -- what if the whole sublime idea of Jesus in itself suggests that humans change, that humans evolve? This is surely not all there is to the idea of Jesus, but what if it were a part of the picture?

And what if it works the other way round as well? What if among all the other things that evolution is, evolution can be seen as a metaphor for Jesus? What if, by its very nature, its subtle, dramatic, apparently inexorable way of changing things, the whole elaborate idea of evolution in itself suggests that spiritual change is also part of the human condition? This is surely not all there is to the idea of evolution, but what if it were part of the picture?

In a world divided on philosophical, theological and scientific notions, what if it were possible to reconcile these disparate ideas about the universe? What if such a reconciliation were part of The Good News?

And what if the idea of Jesus and the idea of evolution say something about each other, after all? Perhaps what these two ideas say about each other is that they say something about us, the human beings.

Some may say, "This idea of Jesus is too complicated." Others may say, "This idea of Jesus is too simplified." Some may say, "This idea of evolution is too complicated." Others may say, "This idea of evolution is too simplified."

We humans want to understand things. As a way toward understanding, we divide things into categories using the ideas available to us. Sometimes, it is the ideas and categories we use which become the greatest impediments to our understanding. "Moses" had his ideas and categories. John and Paul had theirs. We have ours.

I believe that God created the universe using the mechanisms we call "natural processes" (which are really God's processes, since He created them, too). If we believe there is such a thing as gravity or such a thing as climate change then we can believe that these biological processes, too, are God's processes, God's creations. Why should it be so hard to believe that biological change over time is also God's process, God's creation? God is the source, the "author and finisher," of all life, and He used and is still using the processes of change to achieve His plan and purpose: biological change as well as spiritual change.

To me, this means that God is even smarter and more powerful than I imagined as a child. God did not lie when He spoke through "Moses" about His creation of the universe. God loves us, and wants us to love Him and each other. But He does not ask us to stop using our minds, to stop inquiring and learning about His universe and all the diversity He created in it.

"Moses" told the story of creation using the ideas and concepts available to him. We can use the ideas and concepts available to us in our time to tell the story of God's wonderful creation. This does not reduce God. It magnifies His Holy Name.

HuffPo Religion and Science: the stupidest thing I've read on the internet all morning


Category: Creation Science • Creationism • Intelligent Design • Religion
Posted on: July 6, 2010 1:25 PM, by Greg Laden

Although I quickly add that I've not been reading much on the Internet this morning, but stilll ..... There is this item in HuffPo ... Jesus and the Evolution of the Species by Stanley Knick, PhD:

This is not about whether you believe in God, or whether you believe in evolution. It is not about whether you believe that Jesus is the Son of God. If you believe in God, fine. If not, fine. If you believe evolution is real, fine. If not, fine. This is not about what you believe, or what I believe. It is about the idea of Jesus, and the idea of evolution, and what these two ideas might have to say about each other and about us.

Yes it is about whether you believe in evolution or not, Stanley. First off, if you accept the scientific facts, models, theories, and other constructs that make up evolutionary biology, that's good, and it shows that you know some stuff and are not biased against science or otherwise stupid. But if you believe in that stuff then you are not thinking critically. If, on the other hand, you don't accept these things as valid (as far as we can tell, with a very high likelihood, etc. etc) than you are not paying attention. If, at the same time that you pretty much accept evolution for what it is (valid) but don't "believe" in it, then you are doing just fine.

But I think these not so subtle distinctions have been lost on Mr. Knick.

Stanley is actually trying to do something that he sees as worthwhile and that could be useful: A sort of accommodation designed to help fundies be less wrong than they currently are. But in so doing he accidentally strips Evolution of any real meaning:

If we strip evolution of all the baggage added to it by detractors and adherents, it is a very simple philosophical idea: Things Change.

Ah ... no. If you strip that "baggage" added by evolutionary biologists and other scientists, then you strip the scientific theory of evolution of its power, and its validity. Evolutionary theory is not that "Things change" but rather, that things change in a limited way and by virtue of a specific set of processes. These processes are very important in understanding that that change is.

Like for example, if one understand the nature of these processes, than one could not possibly write the following paragraph....

The idea of evolution does not necessarily assume any particular First Cause for things. Evolution also does not necessarily assume a need for random causes -- it allows for them, because often things seem to happen randomly, but it doesn't demand randomness because change can be caused by all sorts of things (genetic drift, sexual selection, etc.).

... because, for instance, "genetic drift" is ... well .... random. That's the random part.

But I don't really want to be too hard on Stanley. He's got his heart and mind in the right place, even if he could use some training.

Evolution does not hold that humans evolved from monkeys, as it has been accused of doing. Monkeys and humans, .... have been changing through time. The idea of evolution merely tries to embrace all the known scientific evidence in an effort to understand the process of change. ...

Fossils found all over the world are the nuts and bolts of the evidence. The idea of evolution is a way to explain them. Evolution is [not] "Just A Theory" (as some detractors say) ... Evolution is a process, an apparently on-going body of changes. Almost anyone who has been alive for very long will attest that, surely enough, things do seem to change.

And, when Stanly asks, "But does evolution have anything to say about the idea of Jesus?" I'll assume he means "no" and "no, and visa versa."

The original post is here.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Can Neo-Darwinian Processes Account for Complexity in Nature?


In their critique of William Dembski, Wesley Elsberry and Jeffrey Shallit write, "there is abundant circumstantial evidence that Darwinian processes can account for complexity in nature, but Dembski excludes this evidence because it does not pass his video-camera certainty test." This badly misrepresents Dembski's argument. Looking at all the theoretical work Dembski is doing to test the ability of Darwinian processes to generate specified complexity (see his papers at www.evoinfo.org) it should be clear that Dembski is NOT demanding "video-camera certainty" but rather is willing to test the ability of present-day causes to generate high CSI empirically, and theoretically, and then apply his findings to make inferences from the historical record. That's exactly how historical scientists ought to study these things.

But is their claim of "abundant circumstantial evidence that Darwinian processes can account for complexity in nature" correct?

Earlier this year I posted an article titled, "The NCSE, Judge Jones, and Bluffs About the Origin of New Functional Genetic Information," which tried to answer this question. My article looked at standard papers cited by critics of ID when trying to establish that neo-Darwinian mechanisms can produce new functional genetic information. After a lengthy analysis of claims made by those papers, I concluded the following:

The NCSE's (and Judge Jones's) citation bluffs have not explained how neo-Darwinian mechanisms produce new functional biological information. Instead, the mechanisms invoked in these papers are vague and hypothetical at best:

To reiterate, in no cases were the odds of these unlikely events taking place actually calculated. Incredibly, natural selection was repeatedly invoked in instances where the investigators did not know the function of the gene being studied and thus could not possibly have identified any known functional advantages gained through the mutations being invoked. In the case where multiple mutational steps were involved, no tests were done of the functional viability of the alleged intermediate stages. These papers offer vague stories but not viable, plausibly demonstrated explanations for the origin of new genetic information.

My article was originally posted on Evolution News & Views in a series of 8 parts, and Dr. Elsberry responded to the first part of my article, the introduction. One of his main points of contention was over my observation that a scientific paper Judge Jones cited in the Kitzmiller ruling to demonstrate "the origin of new genetic information by these evolutionary processes" did not even contain the word "information" in its body. (The paper was Manyuan Long, Esther Betrán, Kevin Thornton, and Wen Wang, "The Origin of New Genes: Glimpses from the Young and Old," Nature Reviews Genetics, Vol. 4:865-875 (November, 2003).) Dr. Elsberry calls my charge "hypocrisy" but perhaps he is not aware of the background here, which shows that it is in fact Judge Jones who is using double standards.

In his ruling, Judge Jones repeatedly (and wrongly) claimed that ID had not published peer-reviewed scientific articles. A variety of these peer-reviewed scientific articles were documented to him during the course of the trial, including a 2004 paper that Darwin-doubting scientists Michael Behe and David Snoke published in the journal Protein Science. That paper cast doubt on the ability of gene-duplication to produce new functional protein-protein interactions. But Judge Jones dismissed Behe and Snoke's article paper because "it does not mention either irreducible complexity or ID."

While Judge Jones is correct that their article does not contain those words, the article does bear directly on those topics as it tests the complexity inherent in enzyme-substrate interactions. Even an anti-ID article in Science acknowledged that the evolution of protein-protein interactions bears on the question of irreducible complexity and the ID argument (See Christoph Adami, "Reducible Complexity," Science, Vol. 312;61–63 (Apr. 7, 2006).) By Judge Jones's standards, the lack of the exact phrases "intelligent design" or "irreducible complexity" should preclude one from arguing that the paper supports ID or irreducible complexity. But Judge Jones doesn't hold evolutionists to the same standard.

What makes this ironic is that Judge Jones claimed that the review paper by Long et al., "The Origin of New Genes: Glimpses From the Young and Old," accounted for "the origin of new genetic information by evolutionary processes" in a peer-reviewed scientific publication. Yet the body of this article does not even contain the word "information," much less the phrase "new genetic information." The word "information" appears once in the entire article -- in the title of note 103. This reveals a double standard applied by Judge Jones to pro-evolution versus pro-ID papers as regards peer review.

I'm perfectly comfortable with someone citing Long et al. regarding the origin of new genetic information, even though it doesn't contain the word 'information." Consistently, I think that Judge Jones' accusation against Behe and Snoke's paper is fallacious. I'm trying to be fair, and the fact that Long et al. does not contain the word "information" should NOT preclude it from bearing on the topic. Thus, I didn't dismiss Long et al. but posted a lengthy 10,000+ word analysis of the paper. Wesley Elsberry attacks me for allegedly committing what he considers to be a hasty dismissal of this paper -- but why doesn't he jump on Judge Jones for wrongly dismissing Behe's paper?

Instead, Wesley Elsberry writes:

Luskin hasn't even gotten around to much more than a quote-mine, some projection, and a double dollop of hypocrisy. Nor do I have any expectation that the parts yet to be published will do any better than Luskin's initial poor showing.

As of the posting of my response, Dr. Elsberry has responded to none of the rest of my substantive critique of Long et al. But I would encourage readers to my critique of Long et al. and decide for themselves whether Elsberry's premature criticisms are fair or charitable. In fact, when facing criticisms like these, perhaps now I better understand why William Dembski never felt compelled to write a lengthy response to Elsberry and Shallit's old critique of his work in the first place. Were it not for the occasional inquiries I receive about their paper, I would not have written my response myself.

Posted by Casey Luskin on July 6, 2010 7:37 AM | Permalink

Creationism at the Huffington Post


Charles Johnson
The Lizard Annex

The Huffington Post has always been friendly toward "new age" quack medicine, but I have to admit I was a little surprised to see them actually publishing the work of Discovery Institute shill David Klinghoffer: David Klinghoffer: The Dark Side of Darwinism.

If you've ever read an article by this clown, you already know the drill; Charles Darwin was a "sinister" racist, his ideas inspired eugenics and the Third Reich, blah blah, yadda yadda.

Klinghoffer's rancid, dishonest piece is filed under "Religion and Science," but it should have been filed in the trash. What a disgrace.

Here's an LGF search for our articles on Klinghoffer's long history of shilling for creationism.

Alternative Medicine Becomes A Blooming Career Option For Today's Students


Published on July 05, 2010

by Mr. Uttam Mondal


With the ever-growing dangers and side effects of Conventional medicine, the use of alternate medicine is starting to spread its wings and is now fast being the preferred form of treatment for the people suffering from disease. It is a natural way of curing people's diseases and hence has no side effects associated with it. The conventional treatments prices are growing rapidly and hence alternate cost efficient medicines are luring people towards themselves. There are various kinds of alternative medicines most famous of which are Alternative Medical Systems like Homeopathy and Naturopathy, Mind-Body interventions like Cognitive-Behavioral therapy, biologically based Therapies like herbal products and dietary supplement, Manipulative and body-based methods like Acupressure, and Energy Therapies like Reiki.

Since, the increasing preference of the alternative medicines by the mass, the role of an alternative medicine school is becoming more popular with time. Estimation suggests that with-in the next decade it will be a staggering trillion-dollar industry. One of the greatest benefits of learning this type of stuff is that besides having a financially rewarding career, its rather inexpensive to obtain alternate medicinal degrees compared to the normal conventional degree which takes a lot more and it is not even necessary to attend an actual university. Distance learning has been growing exponentially in the recent times and an alternative medicine school is best known for it.

Many alternative medicine institutes worldwide are now offering distance education courses for alternative medicines, so a degree can be obtained right from home and hence will cost not a lot, still providing a lot of opportunities for making a bright career. Online colleges are increasingly enhancing the chances for people to take up this option seriously and make the most of the large potential market for the people there waiting with its hands wide open for people to come and exploit it.

India has been forever a home to alternative medicine, the most famous of all being the age old Ayurveda, which, is reviving after years of being in shadow of allopathy. With the surge in demands for such alternative medicines in India, it is soon becoming a mouth-watering career option. Training centers, treatment centers, hospitals, resorts with Ayurvedic treatment facilities are the places, which seek alternative medicinal professionals. Independent trainers and doctors also have a lot of scope in this field. Distance education courses for alternative medicine offered by alternative medicine schools in India thus do the required job of training such people. There are many such alternative medicine schools in India offering such courses and the best option can be selected.

International Centre for Holistic Healing and Allied Research
Mr. Uttam Mondal
Tel: +919477013562

Humanists announce formation of new institute dedicated to ethics


Brandishing a statement of "Neo-Humanist" values, a group of leaders in the humanist movement has established a new non-profit aiming to re-humanize secularism.

"We aim to be inclusive and to work with religious and non-religious groups to help solve common problems facing the Planetary community," Paul Kurtz, chairman of the new Institute for Science and Human Values (ISHV), said.

Kurtz also said the group will promote scientific inquiry and critical thinking in evaluating claims and "develop values that are naturalistic and humanistic in character and appropriate to the 21st century." He said religion is often at the root of society's ethical values, and that ISHV wants to reevaluate them on rational grounds.

"We're going to enlist the brightest scientists and scholars, and not just in the United States but everywhere there are humanists," Kurtz said. "We want to find out how to better develop the common moral virtues that we share as human beings."

Kurtz is an emeritus professor of philosophy and has been involved in humanist, skeptical, and secularist movements for more than 30 years. In 1991 he brought together two organizations, one focused on skepticism and the other on humanism, to form the Center for Inquiry (CFI). Kurtz resigned from CFI's board in May of this year.

"The secularist garden doesn't necessarily produce humanist blooms," Kurtz said. "The questions we want to answer are, how do you develop among secularists a personal morality? How does one develop empathy? How can we motivate morality? It's a common belief that morality can only come from religion. Well, I have known scores of excellent human beings who behave very morally and yet do not subscribe to religious belief systems."

Kurtz, with input from other prominent humanists, has composed a "Neo-Humanist Statement of Secular Principles and Values" that will help guide the new organization's activities. It is the latest public declaration of a humanist movement that has been punctuated by similar documents in 1933, 1973, and 2003. The Statement is signed by more than 100 prominent Humanists including Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker, former Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder, and writer Ann Druyan, wife of the late Carl Sagan.

The Statement lays out 16 "recommendations" that emphasize the development of a positive ethical system in order to help the humanist movement better understand and express what it is for.

"We've never had a problem expressing what we're against," Kurtz said. "Humanists have always been critical of theism. But as our movement matures politically and socially, it will be beneficial to express our positive values, like ethical values based on reason and support for critical thinking as a way to solve public problems."

The Statement also includes some decidedly liberal ideas, including support for the rights of "women, racial, ethnic, and sexual minorities," and for "education, health care, gainful employment, and other social benefits."

Other recommendations support democracy, a "green economy," population restraint, and "progressive positions on the economy."

Toni Van Pelt, former director of CFI's lobbying arm the Office of Public Policy, said that humanism had significant accomplishments petitioning Congress over the last several years.

"We had great success, to the point where several members accepted our Science and Reason award and even spoke in our D.C. office, which was just a short walk from the Capitol," Van Pelt said.

Van Pelt, who signed the new Statement, said part of ISHV's mission would be to fill the lobbying gap left by the effective closure of CFI's Office of Public Policy.

Retired NASA astrophysicist Stuart Jordan is also among ISHV's organizers. He said ethics would take priority in ISHV's activities. "Science and reason are the means to achieving the ethical goals, which were and are the ultimate goals of the Enlightenment that helped jump start our country," he said. "The overriding goal was and still is a better world for all humanity."

Kurtz said what he sees as a crisis in secularism prompted him to form the ISHV. "It is becoming obvious to an increasing number of secularists that to be disaffected from religion doesn't bestow moral or ethical superiority," he said. "For example, Ayn Rand and her ideological heirs promote freedom, but don't consider the virtue in selflessness and cooperation. We want to investigate whether there is a moral framework reinforced by reason that non-theists can embrace."

Paul Kurtz is the author of more than 50 books and is a Professor Emeritus at the State University of New York at Buffalo. To schedule an interview with him, please contact Jesse Christopherson at (480) 882-8370 or jchristopherson@ishv.net.

Monday, July 05, 2010



ROBERT SCOTT, Commissioner, Texas Education Agency, in his official capacity; TEXAS EDUCATION AGENCY, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 09-50401.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit.

Filed: July 2, 2010.

Before: BENAVIDES, STEWART, and SOUTHWICK, Circuit Judges.


In the present case, this Court is presented with the question of whether the Texas Education Agency's ("TEA") neutrality policy constitutes an establishment of religion, in violation of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause. Because we find no evidence to support the conclusion that the principal or primary effect of TEA's policy is one that either advances or inhibits religion, we conclude that the policy does not violate the Establishment Clause. As such, we affirm the decision of the district court.

This case arises out of TEA's decision to terminate Plaintiff Christina Castillo Comer ("Comer") after she violated TEA's neutrality policy— a policy requiring staff to remain neutral and refrain from expressing any opinions on any curricular matter subject to the Texas State Board of Education's ("Board") jurisdiction.

The Board and TEA are independent state actors, with distinct but overlapping responsibilities for administering public education in Texas. The Board is statutorily tasked with "establish[ing] curriculum and graduation requirements" and determining which textbooks shall be purchased by the state for school use. Tex. Educ. Code §§ 7.102(c)(4), 31.022, 31.023. TEA is led by the Commissioner of Education (in this case, Defendant Robert Scott), who is appointed by the Governor subject to Senate confirmation. Id. §§ 7.051, .055.

Because the Board has no staff of its own, the Commissioner provides TEA staff that assist the Board with the administrative, procedural, and clerical tasks necessary to develop the curriculum and specific requirements for graduation. Id. §§ 7.055(b)(2)-(3), (5). TEA's role during the curriculum development process is to facilitate the curriculum review meetings, provide resources for the Board's advisors, and to accurately draft and neutrally compile all of the recommendations to the Board and the Board's resulting decisions.

As a result of the function TEA serves in relation to the Board, TEA staff are "directed not to advocate a particular position on [curriculum] issues under deliberation, or participate in any way that could compromise the agency's ability to fairly and accurately implement the policy choices made by the Board." Thus the record reflects, and Comer does not dispute, that TEA maintains a "neutrality policy." In accordance with this neutrality policy, TEA staff can describe the contents of Board policy to others in neutral terms, if their jobs call for it, but they may not express opinions on the wisdom of any particular policy option in their capacity as TEA employees. The record also reflects that the neutrality policy has been enforced across a variety of different curriculum issues subject to decision by the Board.

Comer was employed as TEA's Director of Science for the Curriculum Division from May 1998 to November 7, 2007. As a part of her duties as Director of Science, Comer directed the kindergarten through twelfth grade science program in Texas public schools. More specifically, Comer was charged with providing "non-regulatory guidance" concerning the state curriculum and "support and guidance" regarding the Board's Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills ("TEKS") compliance. On October 26, 2007, Comer received an email from Glenn Branch ("Branch email"), addressed to her TEA account, advising her about an upcoming event in Austin entitled "Inside Creationism's Trojan Horse." The email explained that the featured speaker would give a presentation critical of teaching creationism in public schools. Comer responded to the email by promising to "help get the word out," and on that same day, Comer forwarded the Branch email from her TEA email account to thirty-six science teachers in the Austin area and leaders of science teacher organizations.

Comer's direct supervisor, Monica Martinez, determined that forwarding the Branch email violated TEA's neutrality policy, in addition to a directive Martinez had previously issued to Comer based on her past misconduct. Martinez's previous directive to Comer had prohibited Comer from communicating with anyone outside TEA in any way that could imply endorsement of a position on any curriculum issue that may be considered by the Board.[ 1 ] Thus, on November 7, 2007, in response to Comer's act of forwarding the Branch email, Martinez drafted a memorandum recommending Comer's termination. After receiving this memorandum, Comer was told to "resign or be fired." The next day she resigned.

On June 30, 2008, Comer filed a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief in the United States District Court, Western District of Texas, asserting two claims under the First Amendment's Establishment Clause as well as one claim under the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause. In her complaint, Comer averred that TEA's termination of her employment violated her Due Process rights. Additionally, she asserted that TEA's neutrality policy violates the Establishment Clause because it has the "effect of endorsing religion." According to Comer, terminating her employment deprived her of her right to carry out her duties free of a state policy that has the effect of promoting religion.

Both sides filed motions for summary judgment. The district court heard oral argument on the motions on December 17, 2008, and on March 31, 2009, the court issued its order and judgment dismissing all of Comer's claims. Specifically as to Comer's Establishment Clause claims, the district court found that "Comer provide[d] no summary-judgment proof raising an issue of material fact regarding whether [TEA's] neutrality policy has a primary effect of advancing or endorsing religion."

Comer timely filed her notice of appeal.[ 2 ]

"We review a grant of summary judgment de novo, applying the same legal standard as the district court." Croft v. Governor of Tex., 562 F.3d 735, 742 (5th Cir. 2009) (internal quotations omitted). Summary judgment should be rendered if the record demonstrates that "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). "An issue is material if its resolution could affect the outcome of the action." Daniels v. City of Arlington, Tex., 246 F.3d 500, 502 (5th Cir. 2001). "In deciding whether a fact issue has been created, the court must view the facts and the inferences to be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Id.

The First Amendment's Establishment Clause provides: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . . ." "As is plain from its text, the First Amendment was adopted to curtail the power of Congress to interfere with the individual's freedom to believe, to worship, and to express him self in accordance with the dictates of his own conscience." Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U.S. 38, 49 (1985).[ 3 ] Accordingly, the First Amendment's Establishment Clause dictates that:

Government in our democracy, state and national, must be neutral in matters of religious theory, doctrine, and practice. It may not be hostile to any religion or to the advocacy of noreligion; and it may not aid, foster, or promote one religion or religious theory against another or even against the militant opposite. The First Amendment mandates governmental neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion.
Epperson v. State of Ark., 393 U.S. 97, 103-04 (1968).

With this constitutional orientation in mind, we also note the particular context in which Comer's appeal arises. "The Court's inquiry is shaped by the educational context in which it arises: `First Amendment rights must be analyzed in light of the special characteristics of the school environment.'" Christian Legal Soc. Chapter of the Univ. of Ca., Hastings Coll. of the Law v. Martinez, __ S.Ct. __, 2010 WL 2555187, *3 (Jun. 28, 2010) (quoting Widmar v. Vincent, 454 U.S. 263, 268 n.5 (1981)). The Supreme Court has recognized that although state schools must abide by the constitutional restraints imposed by the First Amendment, "[s]tates and local school boards are generally afforded considerable discretion in operating public schools." Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578, 583 (1987). Further, this Court has previously held that "[s]tates and their duly authorized boards of education have the right to prescribe the academic curricula of their public school systems." Freiler v. Tangipahoa Parish Bd. of Educ., 185 F.3d 337, 342 (5th Cir. 1999). Accordingly, the Supreme Court has "cautioned courts to resist `substitut[ing] their own notions of sound educational policy for those of school authorities,' for judges lack the on-the-ground expertise and experience of school administrators.'" Martinez, 2010 WL 2555187 at *3 (quoting Bd. of Ed. of Hendrick Hudson Cent. Sch. Dist., Westchester City. v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176, 206 (1982)).

The Supreme Court established a general framework for analyzing Establishment Clause challenges in Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971). To survive an Establishment Clause challenge, the statute or policy must survive all three of Lemon's prongs: (1) "the statute must have a secular legislative purpose;" (2) "its principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion;" and (3) "the statute must not foster an excessive government entanglement with religion." Id. at 612-13.

Before the district court and now on appeal, Comer has focused her argument exclusively on Lemon's second prong.[ 4 ] That is, Comer contends that TEA's neutrality policy's principal and/or primary effect is to advance and/or endorse religion. Comer bases her argument largely on the Supreme Court's decision in Edwards v. Aguillard, where the Court held that a Louisiana law proscribing the teaching of evolution as part of the public school curriculum, unless accompanied by a lesson on creationism, violated the Establishment Clause. See 482 U.S. at 596-97. By relying on the Supreme Court's decision in Edwards, Comer attempts to equate TEA's neutrality policy with the Louisiana law at issue in Edwards, arguing that both are unconstitutionally "neutral" and "balanced" in their treatment of evolution and creationism in the classrooms of public schools. According to Comer, the Supreme Court has held that neutrally requiring creationism to be taught with evolution in public schools is unconstitutional, and therefore, TEA's neutrality policy prohibiting her from speaking out against creationism must be in contravention of the Supreme Court's decision in Edwards. Thus, argues Comer, the neutrality policy considers creationism to be a legitimate subject matter for the Board to consider in the curriculum, and consequently, the policy constitutes an establishment of religion in violation of her rights under the First Amendment.[ 5 ]

Comer's aforementioned interpretation and application of Edwards' precedent fails for two reasons. First, Comer exclusively argues that TEA's neutrality policy violates Lemon's second prong. The Supreme Court in Edwards, however, only found Louisiana's law to be in violation of Lemon's first prong, and consequently, Edwards's analysis is inapposite to this case. Second, when we do consider the argument Comer has raised on appeal—specifically, that TEA's neutrality policy violates Lemon's second prong—we find no evidence in the record to indicate that the neutrality policy's "principal or primary effect" is to advance religion.

In Edwards, the Supreme Court considered only whether Louisiana's law violated the first prong of the Lemon test, noting that "[t]he purpose prong of the Lemon test asks whether government's actual purpose is to endorse or disapprove of religion." Edwards, 482 U.S. at 585 (quotation marks and citation omitted). Thus, the Supreme Court reasoned that "[a] governmental intention to promote religion is clear when the State enacts a law to serve a religious purpose." Id. In considering the challenged law, the Edwards Court noted that the State "identified no clear secular purpose for the Louisiana Act." Id. Consequently, the Supreme Court's extensive review of the legislative history led the Court to conclude that the Louisiana law served the religious "purpose of discrediting evolution by counterbalancing its teaching at every turn with the teaching of creationism." Id. at 589 (quotation marks and citation omitted). Because the Edwards Court concluded that the purpose of the law was to promote religion, the Court did not consider the second and third prongs of Lemon. See id. at 585 ("If the law was enacted for the purpose of endorsing religion, no consideration of the second or third criteria of Lemon is necessary.") (internal brackets, quotation marks, and citation omitted).

Yet Comer does not argue that the purpose behind TEA's creation of the neutrality policy was to promote religion.[ 6 ] And despite Comer's assertions otherwise, we do not read Edwards as declaring that the State's balanced and neutral treatment of religion will always violate the First Amendment. Cf. Epperson, 393 U.S. at 104 ("The First Amendment mandates governmental neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion."). Instead, we read Edwards as declaring that any law labeled as "neutral" or "balanced" violates the Establishment Clause if it was "enact[ed] . . . to serve a religious purpose." Edwards, 482 U.S. at 585.

Comer, however, argues only that the TEA policy has the "principal or primary effect" of advancing religion. The purpose behind a law or statute's enactment is not synonymous with its effect. Consequently, Comer's attempt to equate purpose with effect fails, and we decline to conflate Lemon's first prong with the second.

Furthermore, we do not find ourselves persuaded by Comer's arguments that TEA's policy fails under Lemon's second prong. " Lemon's second prong asks whether, irrespective of [the policy's] actual purpose, the practice under review in fact conveys a message of endorsement or disapproval." Freiler, 185 F.3d at 346. That is, "a government practice may not aid one religion, aid all religions, or favor one religion over another." Id.; cf. Ingebretsen ex rel. Ingebretsen v. Jackson Pub. Sch. Dist., 88 F.3d 274, 279 (5th Cir. 1996) (reasoning that a "statute's effect is to advance religion [when]. . . it gives a preferential, exceptional benefit to religion that it does not extend to anything else."). "Nonetheless, where the benefit to religion or to a church is no more than indirect, remote, or incidental, the Supreme Court has advised that `no realistic danger [exists] that the community would think that the [contested government practice] was endorsing religion or any particular creed.'" Freiler, 185 F.3d at 346 (quoting Lamb's Chapel v. Ctr. Moriches Union Free Sch. Dist., 508 U.S. 384, 395 (1993)).

Upon review of the record and applicable law, we cannot conclude that TEA's neutrality policy has the "primary effect" of advancing religion. The fact that Comer and other TEA employees cannot speak out for or against possible subjects to be included in the curriculum—whether the considered subjects relate to the study of mathematics, Islamic art, creationism, chemistry, or the history of the Christian Crusades—their silence does not primarily advance religion, but rather, serves to preserve TEA's administrative role in facilitating the curriculum review process for the Board. That is, we have before us no evidence that ordinary Texas citizens look to TEA employees for authoritative statements on what the fifteen elected Board members might or may not one day endorse. Common sense dictates that Texas citizens would look to the fifteen Board members they elected, and not the TEA staff hired to work for the Board. And appropriately so, since TEA's sole role during the curriculum development process is to facilitate the curriculum review meetings, provide resources for the Board's advisors, and accurately draft and neutrally compile all of the recommendations to the Board and the Board's resulting decisions.

Thus, we find it hard to imagine circumstances in which a TEA employee's inability to publicly speak out for or against a potential subject for the Texas curriculum would be construed or perceived as the State's endorsement of a particular religion. Comer has presented no evidence that disputes the district court's conclusion in this regard, and accordingly, we find "no realistic danger . . . that the community would think that [TEA's neutrality policy] . . . [i]s endorsing religion or any particular creed." Freiler, 185 F.3d at 346. We find that TEA's neutrality policy does not violate Lemon's second prong.[ 7 ]

For the aforementioned reasons, we conclude that TEA's neutrality policy does not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Accordingly, the decision of the district court is AFFIRMED.

1. In November of 2006, Martinez asked Comer not to communicate with anyone outside TEA regarding the Board's science curriculum deliberations in order to ensure that TEA was not releasing premature or inaccurate information. Just a few hours later, Comer forwarded an email to a group of science educators disclosing the very information Martinez asked her not to disclose. As a result of this act, and other acts considered to be "misconduct," Martinez issued a "Letter of Counseling" to Comer in February 2007. The letter provided Comer with a list of directives to follow, including a requirement that she must not "communicate in writing or otherwise with anyone outside the agency in any way that might compromise the transparency and/or integrity of the upcoming TEKS development and revision process."
2. On appeal, Comer focuses her argument exclusively on the district court's decision that TEA's neutrality policy does not violate the Establishment Clause. She does not argue that the district court erred in dismissing her Due Process claim. Consequently, we address only the arguments she has raised on appeal, and we do not reach any conclusions regarding the district court's decision to dismiss her Due Process claim. See Sherman v. United States, 356 U.S. 369, 376 (1958) ("We do not ordinarily decide issues not presented by the parties . .. .").
3. "This prohibition is applicable to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment." Abington School Dist. v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203, 215-16 (1963).
4. Notably, Comer's counsel writes in her brief to this Court: "Comer relied on the Agency's violation of the second prong in the court below, and does so on appeal."
5. We note that Comer has not contested the conclusion that her forwarding of the Branch email actually constitutes a violation of TEA's neutrality policy. Instead, she wholeheartedly accepts, and even asserts, that her conduct constitutes a violation of TEA's policy. Accordingly, we accept it as such. Comer, however, asserts that TEA's application of the policy to her forwarding of the Branch email is evidence that TEA's "neutrality policy" considers creationism to be "substantive curriculum" and consequently, Comer argues, the policy violates the Establishment Clause. We do not agree. Whether TEA considers creationism to be real science or a religion is of no moment and entirely irrelevant to the necessary constitutional analysis at hand. No matter whether TEA considers creationism to be religion or science, nothing in the Establishment Clause forbids a State from considering it as substantive curriculum. See Freiler, 185 F.3d at 342 ("States and their duly authorized boards of education have the right to prescribe the academic curricula of their public school systems."). Quite to the contrary, the Establishment Clause is invoked when a State takes an action, either through a policy or a statute, that "require[s] that teaching and learning be tailored to the principles or prohibitions of any religious sect or dogma." Id. at 343. Mere consideration of such a requirement does not trigger the Establishment Clause.
6. Comer has not directed the Court to anything in the evidentiary record from which the Court could conclude that TEA created its neutrality policy purposefully to promote or endorse a particular religion.
7. Noticeably absent from the present case are the common elements that ordinarily implicate a violation of the Establishment Clause. In First Amendment constitutional jurisprudence, TEA's neutrality policy is much more akin to a policy regulating speech than a policy advancing any specific religion. We note that the First Amendment's Free Speech Clause protects public employees who exercise their free speech rights. See Garcetti v. Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410, 413 (2006) ("It is well settled that a State cannot condition public employment on a basis that infringes the employee's constitutionally protected interest in freedom of expression."); Charles v. Grief, 522 F.3d 508, 511 (5th Cir. 2008) ("Terminating an employee for engaging in protected speech . . . is an objectively unreasonable violation of such an employee's First Amendment rights."). As a public employee, Comer's "speech is protected by the First Amendment when [her] interests . . . `as a citizen commenting upon matters of public concern' outweigh the interests of the state `as an employer, in promoting the efficiency of the services it performs through its employees.'" Charles, 522 F.3d at 512 (quoting Williams v. Dallas Indep. Sch. Dist., 480 F.3d 689, 692 (5th Cir. 2007)). Comer, however, has raised no free speech claims, and consequently, we decline the occasion to surmise her chances of succeeding on claims she has not raised.

This copy provided by Leagle, Inc.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

We Hold Some Truths To Be Self Evident


[Editor's note: If you were wondering whether Intelligent Design is a movement seeking to improve understanding the science of evolution or if it has a religious motivation, perhaps this recent item on the Discovery Institutes Evolution News site by creationist Stephen C. Meyer can help you make up your mind.]

When we celebrate our country's independence on July 4th, the day may resonate with many Americans more powerfully than in other recent years. The nation's political mood is increasingly, well, independent. Voters are fed up with incumbent politicians and reigning political parties.

This accounts for the unlikely bestselling books that keep shooting up out of what might seem like nowhere—previously obscure biographies of the Founders that pose fundamental questions about the role of our government and what direction the nation is headed. In a welcome development, Americans want to refresh their acquaintance with the sources of our rights as citizens.

Yet there is one source, more basic than any other, that so far has not received the attention it deserves. I refer to the idea that there is an intelligent creator who can be known by reason from nature, a key tenet underlying both the Declaration of Independence—and, curiously, the modern and controversial theory of intelligent design.

The birth of our republic was announced in the Declaration through the pen of Thomas Jefferson. He and the other Founders based their vision on a belief in an intrinsic human dignity, bestowed by virtue of our having been made according to the design and in the image of a purposeful creator.

As Jefferson wrote in the Declaration, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights." If we had received our rights only from the government, then the government could justifiably take them away.

Jefferson himself thought that there was scientific evidence for design in nature. In 1823, he insisted so in a letter to John Adams:

"I hold (without appeal to revelation) that when we take a view of the Universe, in its parts general or particular, it is impossible for the human mind not to perceive and feel a conviction of design, consummate skill, and indefinite power in every atom of its composition."

Contemplating everything from the heavenly bodies down to the creaturely bodies of men and animals, he argued:

"It is impossible, I say, for the human mind not to believe that there is, in all this, design, cause and effect, up to an ultimate cause, a fabricator of all things from matter and motion."

With such thoughts in mind, he wrote the Declaration, asserting the inalienable rights of human beings derived from "the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God."

Is Jefferson's belief still credible in light of current science? The decades following Darwin's publication of Origin of Species saw the rise of "social" Darwinism and eugenics, which suggested that the Jeffersonian principle of intrinsic dignity had been overturned.

Taken to heart, Darwin's view of man does undermine the vision of the Founders. As evolutionary biologist George Gaylord Simpson explained, Darwinism denies evidence of design and shows instead that man is the product of a "purposeless process that did not have him mind." Fortunately, discoveries in modern biology have challenged this perspective and vindicated Jefferson's thinking.

Since 1953, when Watson and Crick elucidated the structure of the DNA molecule, biologists have increasingly come to recognize the importance of information to living cells. The structure of DNA allows it to store information in the form of a four-character digital code, similar to a computer code. As Bill Gates has noted, "DNA is like a computer program, but far, far more advanced than any software we've ever created."

No theory of undirected chemical evolution has explained the origin of the digital information in DNA needed to build the first living cell on earth. Yet we know from repeated experience—the basis of all scientific reasoning—that information invariably arises from minds rather than from material processes.

Software programs come from programmers. Information—whether inscribed in hieroglyphics, written in a book, or encoded in radio signals—always comes from a designing intelligence. So the discovery of digital code in DNA points decisively back to an intelligent cause as the ultimate source of the information in living cells.

The growing evidence of design in life has stunning and gratifying implications for our understanding of America's political history—and for our country's future. On the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, the evidence for "Nature's God," and thus for the reality of our rights, is stronger than ever.

Posted by Stephen C. Meyer on July 4, 2010 12:35 AM | Permalink

Is Messenger RNA Regulation Controlled by an Irreducibly Complex Pathway?


What we know about the complexity of the cellular information storage, processing and retrieval mechanisms continues to increase exponentially, and at an unprecedented rate. Almost on a daily basis, new papers are published revealing the ingenuity of the elaborate mechanisms by which the cell processes information -- processes and mechanisms that bespeak design and continue to elude explanation by Darwinian means. For how exactly could such a system - apparently, an irreducibly complex one - be accounted for in terms of traditional Darwinian selective pressure?

A new paper has just been published in Molecular Cell, in which the researchers, Karginov et al. reported their discovery that messenger RNA (mRNA) can be targeted for destruction by several different molecules.

According to the paper's summary,

The life span of a mammalian mRNA is determined, in part, by the binding of regulatory proteins and small RNA-guided complexes. The conserved endonuclease activity of Argonaute2 requires extensive complementarity between a small RNA and its target and is not used by animal microRNAs, which pair with their targets imperfectly. Here we investigate the endonucleolytic function of Ago2 and other nucleases by transcriptome-wide profiling of mRNA cleavage products retaining 5' phosphate groups in mouse embryonic stem cells (mESCs). We detect a prominent signature of Ago2-dependent cleavage events and validate several such targets. Unexpectedly, a broader class of Ago2-independent cleavage sites is also observed, indicating participation of additional nucleases in site-specific mRNA cleavage. Within this class, we identify a cohort of Drosha-dependent mRNA cleavage events that functionally regulate mRNA levels in mESCs, including one in the Dgcr8 mRNA. Together, these results highlight the underappreciated role of endonucleolytic cleavage in controlling mRNA fates in mammals.

Translated into English, the paper makes the following points:

So, how exactly can these things be explained by traditional Darwinian selective pressure?

Consider, for example, the enzyme Dicer, which is responsible for activating the RNAi pathway. The pathway is initiated when Dicer cleaves long double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) molecules into shorter fragments, consisting of roughly 20 nucleotides each. Each fragment possesses two strands, one of which (called the "guide strand") is subsequently incorporated into the "RISC complex" (RNA-induced silencing complex). When the guide strand base pairs with a complementary mRNA sequence, it induces the cleavage by the enzyme Argonaute.

One has to wonder whether there is any significant biological system that, in fact, can be accounted for in a Darwinian step-wise fashion. The adequacy of Darwinian selection to account for the features of biodiversity is never demonstrated. Rather, it is merely assumed that Darwinism can account for these systems, in the almost complete absence of corroborative data.

It might be asked of the Darwinian advocates what kind of system, in principle, could not be explained in Darwinian fashion. In the absence of such testable statements, Darwinism cannot be regarded as good falsifiable science. Posted by Jonathan McLatchie on July 2, 2010 9:42 AM | Permalink

Saturday, July 03, 2010

How Science Can Solve the Puzzle of God


Clay Farris Naff.Science Writer, Editor, Broadcaster, and Blogger
Posted: July 2, 2010 05:57 PM

"God offers to every mind its choice between truth and repose. Take which you please -- you can never have both."
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Nearly 500 years after science and religion parted company over Galileo's demeaning challenge to a church invested in geocentricity, we have come to a moment when reunification may be possible -- on scientific grounds. But before we go on, you must make the choice Emerson presents.

If repose, turn back.

You will find far greater comfort in the myths of the traditional religions, or the newly minted ones of the New Age mystics, than in anything that science has to offer. But Emerson was right: What you will not find there is much that conforms to reality as science has illuminated it. This problem goes way beyond the pathetic attempts of "Creation Science" to make the Grand Canyon fit into the Noah's flood tale. There is a fundamental error in any religious narrative that portrays the world as designed by an all-powerful, all-knowing, and beneficent God. The world just ain't built that way.

Ever since Galileo turned his telescope on the sun and found it blemished with spots, the myth of a handmade Universe has been crumbling. (For one of countless instances of why the intelligent design hypothesis fails, see my HuffPost essay "Rocks in Our Heads.") Today, it is held together with baling wire of apologetics and indifference to the evidence of probable truth. Far more Americans believe in creationism than understand and accept evolution. Yet, every one of us has the stump of a tailbone within easy reach.

Those who seek repose rather than truth have an endless appetite for apologetics -- the sillier the better. Check out this one-minute video. I know it will seem like satire, but it's the real McCoy:


The banana, of course, is intelligently designed -- by farmers, who have selectively bred it from its wild cousin to be the fruit of choice on supermarket shelves everywhere. Uber-atheist Richard Dawkins is fond of showing this little snippet on his speaking tours. And who can blame him? If it weren't a national tragedy, Creationism would make great comedy.

In part, this indifference stems from the widespread perception that if God didn't create the Universe, brick by brick, according to his Grand Blueprint, then He must not exist. This formula has been gleefully grasped by the "New Atheists." While most of them are careful to maintain a little patch of agnostic "to be sure" territory, hectoring heretics like PZ Myers get their jollies by stomping all over sacred ground in the hobnailed boots of rationality. Whew! After a sentence like that, you deserve a breather. Here's PZ in a spot satirizing the above video:


Bring on the Scientific Method!

Whether you find such attempts at shock-jock atheism bracing, offensive, or just lame-o is irrelevant. The real harm, I believe, is that it reduces the entire discourse to an unscientific debate: God either is what traditional religions claim, or God is not, full stop. This is not the way of science. Science examines phenomena by generating multiple working hypotheses about questions that can, in principle, be answered by empirical data..

The real question, then, is not "Does God exist?" That question can only be answered in the negative for some formulations of what we mean by God, or left open. (Based on the evidence, we can safely say that God is not a burning bush who helps certain selected tribes conquer others.)

What we need here is a better question and at least one more working hypothesis. How's this? "Was the Universe created with the intention that life like us would evolve within it?" Once we pose that question, we find that we have two less-than-satisfactory answers. The affirmative answer comes from various intelligent design advocates. The worst of them rely on already refuted claims about irreducible biological complexity. The best ponder the exquisite combination of fundamental constants, such as the strength of gravity or the weak nuclear force, that make life possible. This is known as the fine-tuning argument, and nothing is more finely tuned than the cosmic constant, lambda, the tiny speck of dark energy in Einstein's equations that keeps the Universe from collapsing. Fine tuners make an important point: if we assume that the constants fell into place at random, the favorable arrangement of each constant is staggeringly improbable.

However, as I pointed out above, the case for the intentional, hands-on design of the Universe with us as its goal is fatally flawed. It can be propped up with various "God moves in mysterious ways His wonders to perform" arguments, but a standing corpse is a stiff all the same. The only mystery, to my mind, is why anyone would believe that a world plagued with earthquakes, tornadoes, and HIV is the product of a divine being.

Even falling branches have to be reckoned in the grand scheme of things. After a limb fell from a tree in Central Park and killed a six-month-old baby girl recently, Mike Bloomberg, mayor of New York, suggested that it had been "an act of God." Hizzoner undoubtedly meant that as a legalism rather than theology, but even if you just assume that an omnipotent, omniscient being created the Universe and then left it to unfold, you'd still have to hold Him morally responsible for that baby's death. Being God means always having to say you're sorry.

On the other hand, the null hypothesis relies on an argument so extravagant, so mind-flippingly outrageous that it should only be pondered after two or three stiff Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters. Ready? The answer to the fine-tuning problem is this: our Universe is a bubble, one among an infinite (or nearly infinite) number of bubbles, each of which has a random combination of constants. In any lottery, if you print enough tickets one of them has to pay off. The implication of this is not only that we're here by pure luck, but that there are many other worlds that are either just like ours or just very slightly different. There is a world out there where Hitler triumphed, and another where Roosevelt never got polio, and another where Flight 93 crashed into the White House on 9/11 and killed President George W. Bush. That way madness lies!

The clearest formulation of this idea comes from physicist and string theorist Leonard Susskind. He speaks of a cosmic landscape of at least 10^500 pocket Universes. It's an idea that's been pummeled by critics from within his profession, not because it's wrong but because it's a stymie. If we accept it, we have to abandon all hope of a rational understanding of the world. Years ago, I proposed a rational principle to deal with ideas like this. It's called "Clay's Clipper," and it states that if a proposition tends to impair reason, and if there is no compelling evidence for it, then we are entitled to reject it. This is such a case.

So, where can we turn for an answer to the puzzle of God? I humbly suggest we look to evolution. The creative power of Darwinian evolution is, evidently, almost without limit. Let's suppose there's a Creator out there with limited power. If the Creator wanted to bring about a result like us -- life, that is, capable of contemplating, appreciating, and sustaining life -- he, she, or they surely might have done worse than to create a Universe with just enough scope and variation to let evolution do all the labor of design. What sort of Creator might do that? One in our own image, of course: An intelligent life seeking to pass the torch of life across the cosmos to a new generation.

There is more to ponder, here, of course, and I'm the first to admit that there is no evidence to tip the balance. But let me stake my claim here: the just-good-enough Universe we inhabit is more consistent with my view than any other rationally acceptable explanation proffered so far. If I'm right, we are the children of loving cosmic parents, and we are charged with becoming what they once were. How cool is that?

Follow Clay Farris Naff on Twitter: www.twitter.com/claynaff

Appeals court refuses to reinstate lawsuit


© 2010 The Associated Press
July 2, 2010, 5:12PM

AUSTIN, Texas — A federal appeals court has refused to reinstate a lawsuit against the Texas Education Agency by a former state science curriculum director who said she was illegally fired and that the agency's neutral position on the teaching of creationism was unconstitutional.

The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday upheld a lower court's decision to dismiss the lawsuit by Christina Comer.

Comer's lawsuit alleged that her firing by state Education Commissioner Robert Scott in November 2007 was improper because she was accused of violating an "unconstitutional" policy.

Creationism is based on real science, more valid theory


[Editor's note: I was bound to print this letter. Is this a product of today's educational system?]

Letter to the Editor
Published: 7/3/2010 12:00 AM

I'm writing in response to the recent article featuring Susan Mule searching for a non-creation science textbook for her home-schooled daughter. I'm also home-schooled, and I love studying science. I believe in creation; however, I enjoy learning about evolution too. Knowing both sides of science is important to me because that's the only way to decide what I believe.

The reason you find so many creation science books for home-schoolers is because many home-schoolers believe the Bible. They want to learn a Biblical/creationist's worldview, not only an evolutionist's worldview.

Although evolution is often referred to as proven, it's the theory of evolution - which means that it's not 100 percent correct. It assumes many important things, such as the formation of the world, how geological formations were formed, millions of years for the formation of life, etc.

Darwin has often been proven wrong. One example is Darwin's observation of the Galapagos finches that led to many of his theories about evolution by natural selection has been proven wrong. Many of his later theories depended upon that observation. How many of those theories are also wrong.

If you choose to believe in evolution, you're forced to believe that everything - humans, animals, all the amazing processes in creation, the solar system, etc.- is a result of a random accident caused by a big explosion.

In many ways, creation is a more valid theory. Creation fits much of the evidence better, such as a worldwide (Noah's) flood being responsible for forming and distributing many fossils we find, many geological structures being formed in short periods of time by catastrophes, a young earth, etc.

I would encourage you to read both sides of science (yes, creation is real science). Don't judge without knowing what something is really about - you might be surprised.

Lindsey Stevens

Age 14