Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings
The UK government's rejection of a damning Commons report on homeopathy leaves Martin Robbins baffled and depressed
Martin Robbins guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 28 July 2010 08.28 BST
The government has released its eagerly anticipated response to the Science and Technology Committee's Evidence Check on Homeopathy and, incredibly, it's even worse than I thought it would be. The verdict is "business as usual", with the main recommendations of the committee ignored in a fog of confusion and double-think.
You get a sense of this confusion very early on, with lines like: "given the geographical, socioeconomic and cultural diversity in England, [policy on homeopathy] involves a whole range of considerations including, but not limited to, efficacy." I actually have no idea what this means – do medicines work differently in Norfolk from the way they work in Hampshire? The report doesn't elaborate.
As expected, the word "choice" features heavily in the government's response:
There naturally will be an assumption that if the NHS is offering homeopathic treatments then they will be efficacious, whereas the overriding reason for NHS provision is that homeopathy is available to provide patient choice ... if regulation was applied to homeopathic medicines as understood in the context of conventional pharmaceutical medicines, these products would have to be withdrawn from the market as medicines. This would constrain consumer choice and, more importantly, risk the introduction of unregulated, poor quality and potentially unsafe products on the market to satisfy consumer demand."
So we can't regulate these products as medicines because they'd end up being banned, but we'll let them be called medicines anyway? It gives me a headache just trying to think down to the level of the person who wrote this stuff.
The report accepts that there's no evidence that homeopathy works, but apparently this shouldn't be a barrier to it being distributed via the NHS because not handing out medicines that don't work might infringe the freedom of patients to choose things that don't work. What makes this even more absurd is that they concede that:
In order for the public to make informed choices, it is therefore vitally important that the scientific evidence base for homeopathy is clearly explained and available. He [the government's chief scientific adviser] will therefore engage further with the Department of Health to ensure communication to the public is addressed."
So the government is planning to launch a public information campaign against homeopathic treatments at the same time as it continues to fund those treatments through the NHS. In this glorious mess of a policy the government has come up with something so brain-meltingly stupid that even the satirical brain of Armando Iannucci (The Thick of It, In the Loop) would struggle to match it.
What I find so frustrating is this dedication to a form of "consumer choice" that is absolutely anything but. If I walk into a pharmacist looking for a packet of condoms, and I'm given the choice between a packet of Durex and a sock, it isn't a choice, it's just a pointless piece of confusion that's going to lead to lots of people having really uncomfortable sex, and a localised population explosion.
Another feature worth picking up on is the way in which responsibility for these decisions has been passed down the line, allowing alternative medicine to fall conveniently into various regulatory gaps. The government doesn't believe that the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) has time to waste on a review of homeopathy, while the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has made its guidelines flexible enough to allow many homeopathic products a free pass, for reasons that are still unfathomable to me.
In this regulatory vacuum the government's response repeatedly delegates responsibility for making decisions on the use of homeopathy to primary care trusts, yet these are set to be abolished in the next few years, which will dump responsibility onto individual GPs.
The General Medical Council's guidance to GPs on the issue of alternative medicine is woolly at best (and the the council has ignored my requests to clarify it). The GMC states that "we are not in a position to advise doctors about the suitability or otherwise of particular treatments as our remit does not extend to collecting, analysing or disseminating clinical information" and basically leaves it to GPs' own judgement about whether or not a treatment is in the best interests of a patient.
Given that some GPs are practising homeopaths, this is a not a thrilling prospect.
Before the election I put questions on science policy to all the main parties on behalf of the Guardian. The Conservatives told me that it would be "wholly irresponsible to spend public money on treatments that have no evidence to support their claims". The Liberal Democrats stated that they would actively seek a full review of complementary and alternative therapies and that, "[if] Nice's advice was that the treatment did not perform better than placebo, then of course it should not be supported by the NHS."
Both parties made a commitment to evidence-based medicine on the NHS. Both parties have performed screeching U-turns on the subject at the first hurdle, ignoring pledges made in writing only three months ago.
What should they do now? As a near namesake of mine once said, I'd make a suggestion, but they wouldn't listen. No one ever does. It's all very depressing.
Some people balk at restrictions on selling unprocessed milk and other foods. 'How can we not have the freedom to choose what we eat?' one says. Regulators say the rules exist for safety and fairness.
July 25, 2010|By P.J. Huffstutter, Los Angeles Times
With no warning one weekday morning, investigators entered an organic grocery with a search warrant and ordered the hemp-clad workers to put down their buckets of mashed coconut cream and to step away from the nuts.
Then, guns drawn, four officers fanned out across Rawesome Foods in Venice. Skirting past the arugula and peering under crates of zucchini, they found the raid's target inside a walk-in refrigerator: unmarked jugs of raw milk.
Raw Milk Conspiracy
Cartons of raw goat and cow milk and blocks of unpasteurized goat cheese were among the groceries seized in the June 30 raid by federal, state and local authorities — the latest salvo in the heated food fight over what people can put in their mouths.
On one side are government regulators, who say they are enforcing rules designed to protect consumers from unsafe foods and to provide a level playing field for producers. On the other side are " healthy food" consumers — a faction of foodies who challenge government science and seek food in its most pure form.
They want almonds cracked fresh from the shell, not those run through a federally mandated pasteurization process that uses either heat or a chemical to kill off salmonella and other possible contaminants. They hunger for meat slaughtered on the farm. And they're willing to pay a premium — $6, $8 or more — for a gallon of milk straight from the cow.
So despite research outlining the dangers of consuming raw milk and other unprocessed foods, they're finding ways to circumnavigate federal, state and local laws that seek to control what they can serve at the dinner table. Such defiance, they said, comes from growing distrust of a food sector that has become more industrialized and consolidated — and whose products have been at the root of some of the country's deadliest food contamination cases.
"This is about control and profit, not our health," said Aajonus Vonderplanitz, co-founder of Rawesome Foods. "How can we not have the freedom to choose what we eat?"
Scientists and regulators point to epidemiological evidence linking disease outbreaks to raw milk: The milk can transmit bacteria such as E. coli O157:H7, salmonella, campylobacter and listeria, which can result in diarrhea, kidney failure or death.
July 26th, 2010
The History News Network commemorated the eighty-fifth anniversary of the Scopes trial — which ended on July 21, 1925 — by commissioning two essays to mark the occasion.
In his essay, David N. Reznick, a professor of biology at the University of California, Riverside, and author of The Origin Then and Now: An Interpretive Guide to the Origin of Species (Princeton University Press, 2009), reflects on the persistence of public controversy about evolution. He writes, "the theory of evolution has been a consistent target of religiously motivated propaganda campaigns. ... The arguments against evolution have changed little over the decades. ... All of these arguments have been refuted, but they persist." He concluded by encouraging his colleagues in the humanities to expand their efforts "dealing with the relationship between science and religion as a topic for the humanities classroom, rather than the science classroom."
Responding to Reznick, Everett Hamner, a professor of English at Western Illinois University, enthusiastically endorsed the thought that "alongside scientific colleagues, we humanists can do a major service when we directly engage the relationship between science and religion." His suggestions for doing so: carefully distinguish between science and scientism; humanize Darwin and other scientists; question bifurcations of the religious and the secular; and cultivate more careful readings of scriptures, not their dismissal. His essay ended with a list of suggested readings, including NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction (second edition: University of California Press, 2009).
The History News Network is a project of the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, featuring essays offering historical perspective on current events.
July 26th, 2010 Louisiana
Creationism is stirring in Louisiana, with a proposal to teach creationism in Livingston Parish and a call for creationists to scrutinize textbooks proposed for adoption by the state in the headlines.
"The Livingston Parish School Board will begin exploring the possibility of incorporating the teaching of 'creationism' in the public school system's science classes," reported the Baton Rouge Advocate (July 24, 2010). The director of curriculum for the district reportedly told the board that, under the Louisiana Science Education Act, schools are allowed to present "critical thinking and creationism" in science classes. The response from the board was enthusiastic, with David Tate asking, "Why can't we get someone with religious beliefs to teach creationism?" and Clint Mitchell adding, "Teachers should have the freedom to look at creationism and find a way to get it into the classroom." Keith Martin, the president of the board, agreed, "Maybe it's time that we look at this," and proposed the formation of a committee to study the possibility.
Meanwhile, as the state is receiving input from citizens about science textbooks proposed for state adoption, creationist activists are urging their followers to object to the coverage of evolution. In a letter published in the Hammond Daily Star (July 26, 2010), Barbara Forrest debunks a series of misleading claims about the so-called Santorum Amendment, the state of public opinion about evolution, and the scientific accuracy of leading biology textbooks. After reviewing the all-too-successful recent history of antievolutionist efforts in Louisiana, she concludes, "Throughout it all, the citizens of Louisiana have remained almost completely silent. With a few commendable exceptions, the scientific community has done the same. Will they finally do something this time to stop the assault on science and public education?
Louisiana, it will be remembered, was on the losing side of the last legal case involving the teaching of evolution in the public schools to be decided by the Supreme Court, Edwards v. Aguillard (1987).
By Everett Hamner
Everett Hamner is Assistant Professor of English at Western Illinois University.
Editor's Note: The so-called Scopes Monkey Trial concluded on July 21, 1925, making this year the trial's eighty-fifth anniversary. HNN is pleased to present two articles, one by an evolutionary biologist, the other by a humanist, to mark the occasion.
As a whole, David Reznick's piece is right on. I have a few small reservations: the history of the evolution debates is more complex than his quick summary suggests, and there are real distinctions between the current climate and that of the 1920s. Antievolutionists today, for instance, are torn between appealing to postmodern notions of pluralism and modern ideas of objective truth. However, Reznick's main point is that alongside scientific colleagues, we humanists can do a major service when we directly engage the relationship between science and religion. As an English professor who wrote a dissertation on this conjunction and teaches an interdisciplinary course on evolution, I enthusiastically agree, and would offer several suggestions about how best to proceed.
1.Carefully distinguish between science and scientism. When I ask my Midwestern, largely middle-class students about their attitudes toward evolution, not surprisingly the way I frame the question has a major impact on the results. If I present evolution as the theoretical foundation of modern biology, and by extension, medicine, there is relatively little resistance. It makes sense as a paradigm emerging from a rigorous pursuit of testable, falsifiable knowledge. However, if I shade the question so that the overwhelming evidence for common descent and natural selection seems to slide into a metaphysical claim, one that rejects religious faith but ironically cannot be confirmed by the scientific method, there is much greater disagreement. My students smell scientism: the assumption that since the natural order of things can be productively examined via objective, empirical means, there can be nothing outside science's purview. Scientism makes science into its handmaiden, targeting whatever claims about reality or values that it perceives as threats. Thus evolution has been co-opted historically by social Darwinism and eugenics, wherein accurate natural descriptions are twisted into dangerous moral prescriptions. And thus more recently the New Atheism represented by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens has marketed a reductive determinism in the name of science, in the process occluding the scientific method's openness to change, unpredictability, nuance, and variety. Keeping this difference sharp is critical to productive discussions.
2.Humanize Darwin and other scientists. It is well known in advertising that a white lab coat raises an actress's credibility with many viewers. For all its prestige, though, this symbol also connotes an objectification that treats patients as statistics. The wearer may become a trustworthy paragon of knowledge, but she may also seem to embody creaturely hubris in the face of divine will. Neither image says much about most scientists, people who would peel back the unknown out of personal fascination and so that others might enjoy better lives. Yes, they make questionable ethical decisions and serve institutions that prioritize image over substance, but it never fails to impress me how different my students find the real scientists they meet from their pop-culture-instilled visions of nerds and narcissists. In Darwin's case, exposing students to portrayals like those of the PBS Evolution series or last year's Paul Bettany-Jennifer Connelly film Creation can help them look beyond the bitter old skeptic and sense his curiosity, patience, and very human timidity. Darwin was no saint, but neither was he the ardently anti-religious man that much propaganda imagines. Sensing his complexity helps many students begin to take his ideas seriously.
3.Question bifurcations of the religious and the secular. If our culture fails to distinguish between science and scientism, it is prone to distinguish too absolutely between the religious and the secular. This is only comfortable. We bracket politics and religion from polite conversation, letting us pretend our ideas about race, gender, and other topics proceed from the purportedly neutral standpoint of secularism. But where is this secular no-place? Isn't what counts as secular defined in relation to particular traditions and practices we call religious, and vice versa? The boundaries here are hardly unyielding: our "secular" friends express religious devotion to sporting events and national defense, while "religious" ones routinely champion popular media and political parties. Even more importantly, as Tracy Fessenden and Michael Kaufmann have argued, we need to see how the term "religious" indicates a very specific form of American Protestantism, while "secular" pretends neutrality, but is really only a reaction. Why does this matter for understanding science? Because many people will only consider the evidence for evolution after understanding how their confusion derives from a relatively recent form of Christianity. This is not to disparage that tradition as a whole or to discount other religions' mixed responses to evolution; as detailed by Salman Hameed, many predominantly Muslim nations also evince serious tensions about evolution and creationism. But in the U.S., the leaders behind efforts like Cincinnati's new $27 million Creation Museum have been mostly fundamentalist Christians, and a secularism that exists only to thwart them is unlikely to serve anyone very well.
4.Cultivate more careful readings of scriptures, not their dismissal. Blanket statements about the Bible and other scriptures remain frequent in our culture, even among academics. A still-common assumption among those outside religious studies is that the purpose of discussing Genesis or the Gospels is either to do theology or to debunk it. To be sure, this mistake has become less prevalent over the last decade than it once was, but I suspect it remains even where unstated. I mention this not as a plea for greater tolerance, but as an invitation to more extensive engagement with the world's scriptures, which can prove a very significant step toward the open-mindedness Reznick seeks. Too often Americans refuse to read from the library we call the Bible with as much attention to genre, historical context, and intertextual relationships as they extend to popular fiction, news radio, and Facebook postings. Challenging this inconsistency does not require a choice between biblical literalism and raging heresy, but only a willingness to become wiser believers, doubters, and knowers. To encourage this shift is merely to appreciate that setting the writings of an amazingly resilient ancient Near Eastern tribe or of a sixth-century Meccan revolutionary against a product of Victorian science is to compare apples and oranges. When people grasp the differences in purpose between the Bible, the Qur'an, and The Origin of Species, major stumbling blocks on the path to consilience begin to dissolve.
These suggestions are no more exhaustive than the brief list of books on evolution and religion that I'll close by recommending. For one of the most compelling overviews of this relationship, I like Karl Giberson's Saving Darwin (its subtitle, How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution, unnecessarily limits its audience). Also providing excellent broad treatments are books by Eugenie Scott, Kenneth Miller, Michael Ruse, and David Sloan Wilson. For good examples of the historical work in this area to which Reznick alludes, see Michael Lienesch's analysis of the Scopes Trial and Adrian Desmond and James Moore's look at Darwin and slavery. Those interested in biblical studies will appreciate William P. Brown's latest volume. And to begin imagining how better understandings of evolution could reshape my own discipline of English, Brian Boyd's new contribution to Darwinian literary criticism is worthwhile reading—even if many will be more provoked than convinced—and the science novels of Richard Powers are simply stellar.
26 July 2010 | by Simone Roberts
More than half of pharmacy customers think pharmacies should employ a natural medicine practitioner with many feeling pharmacists are ill-equipped to counsel them about complementary medicines, a new survey reveals.
The survey, published in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, found that consumers more often turn to doctors, friends and family, naturopaths, health food staff and pharmacy assistants for complementary medicines advice than pharmacists.
The study's authors say that while customers want more engagement with pharmacists regarding CM issues, some currently feel that pharmacists are ill-equipped to counsel them on the medicines.
"This correlates with pharmacists' own discomfort dealing with CM queries and feeling insufficiently informed about CMs. It is possible that customer's interest in having access to a natural medicine practitioner within the pharmacy premises is a consequence of their current dissatisfaction with pharmacy practice, however this remains to be further investigated," the authors wrote.
Of the 1,121 consumers surveyed, 92 per cent indicated that pharmacists should provide safety information about CMs, 90 per cent though they should routinely check whether CMs interact with prescription medicines, and 78 per cent thought pharmacists should record CMs taken by customers in their medication profile.
Close to nine out of 10 consumers thought CMs should have a 'tick of approval' from a recognised government body with CM expertise and 82 per cent wanted more detailed product information similar to prescription medicines for all CMs.
"Overall, people using CMs are satisfied with the results obtained from these products and see them as effective therapeutic agents. The challenge now remains for pharmacy practice to meet the needs of the community by up-skilling pharmacists to enable them to provide the guidance about CMs that customers seek," the authors wrote.
The study also found that the vast majority of consumers did not display the same reticence disclosing their CM use to a pharmacist than they did with a doctor.
"This presents pharmacists with an opportunity to step up and take on a greater advisory role which would be welcomed by customers and improve patient safety," the authors concluded.
By David N. Reznick
David N. Reznick is professor of biology at the University of California, Riverside. His latest book is "The Origin Then and Now: An Interpretive Guide to the Origin of Species."
Editor's Note: The so-called Scopes Monkey Trial concluded on July 21, 1925, making this year the trial's eighty-fifth anniversary. HNN is pleased to present two articles, one by an evolutionary biologist, the other by a humanist, to mark the occasion.
On weekend mornings I get up at sunrise and run up the Box Springs Mountains. Lately there has been a marine layer of clouds that lock in cold, moist air at lower elevations. As I run up through the cloud layer I can feel the clouds dissipate and see them break up into a fine, particulate mist as the sun shines through, then I emerge into a warm, sunny day at higher elevations. Since the valleys are completely obscured by the cloud layer, I can run along the crest line and imagine that I am in a remote wilderness, rather than on an island surrounded by suburbs. Two Sundays ago, as I descended back into the clouds, I saw a man ahead of me wearing a black t-shirt with "Science Rules!" printed on the back in bold, white letters. I don't like to stop, but I could not resist asking about him or the t-shirt. He explained that he was a member of the Skeptic Society and that they occasional met on Sunday mornings to take hikes together. When I mentioned that I was an evolutionary biologist, he replied that, while he was a fan of science, he had problems with evolution. That was the end of my run. I asked him about his doubts and tried to answer his questions as we walked down together. Answering all his questions was easy since they were mostly familiar—"If evolution is gradual, then why are species so distinct?" or "How can a gradual process explain the origin of complex traits?" A peculiar attribute of evolutionary biology is that, even though it is an arcane science, many people have opinions about it, much more so, I think, than any other science. Why?
The occasion of the eighty-fifth anniversary of the Scopes trial offers some basis for reflection on the peculiar status of evolution. The trial was neither the beginning nor the end of the public debate over Darwin's theory. We could place the beginning at the British Association for the Advancement of Science meeting that took place in Oxford in 1860, where Thomas Huxley and Bishop Samuel Wilberforce squared off on a public debate of the newborn theory of evolution by natural selection. The end of the debate is not in sight. The Scopes trial instead stands out as a benchmark that adds an American flavor to the controversy, which is to blur the division between science and religion in the public classroom. The near-term impact was for evolution to recede from science textbooks. Evolution did not come back in force until the post-Sputnik era, when the U.S. enhanced science and math education. This renaissance was short-lived and we have returned to the conditions that surrounded the Scopes trial.
So why is there such persistent controversy about evolution? At one level, we always hear that evolution is "just a theory." This descriptor reveals a misunderstanding of the word "theory." An unabridged dictionary offers several definitions of the word, with the appropriate one being dependent on context. In colloquial use, theory means speculation, but when used by scientists it means something like the articulation of a general principle that unites a diversity of phenomena under a single explanatory framework, such as Newton's theory of universal gravitation. Darwin's evolution by natural selection fulfills this goal. But the source of skepticism cannot be this simple. We all have heard of the theory of relativity, but we never see headlines like "Relativity—fact or fiction?" No one debates how the theory of relativity is taught in physics classes, nor is a physicist ever likely to bump into some stranger who expresses doubts about relativity. Some argue that skepticism about evolution is instead a measure of the inadequacy of science education. We can certainly do better in teaching science in our public schools, but this is not a good answer either, since all science can be better taught but no other area of science attracts such scrutiny.
A better answer, for which the Scopes trial is a symbol, is that the theory of evolution has been a consistent target of religiously motivated propaganda campaigns. Two well-funded institutes—the Creation Science Institute and the Discovery Institute—are devoted to churning out anti-evolution literature. The former arose in the 1960s and was built on "creation science," while the latter arose to promote "intelligent design" after creation science was discredited by repeated court battles. The Dover trial revealed that intelligent design is just thinly disguised creation science. A product of the efforts of these institutes and those who support their views is that most people have heard dozens of times that there is something wrong with the theory of evolution, so it is natural to be skeptical about evolution.
The arguments against evolution have changed little over the decades. A persistent favorite is the mystery of the origin of complex, seemingly perfect structures like the eye. The argument today is very much the one made by Archdeacon William Paley in his Natural Theology (1802), which is that when we see evidence of design in nature, then we also see evidence for the existence of the designer. Now that the genetic basis of eye development is emerging from the fog, some have shifted instead to the mystery of the bacterial flagellum. Otherwise, the argument is the same. These arguments are reinforced by occasional scientists or philosophers and historians of science who argue that natural selection is the product of circular reasoning. All of these arguments have been refuted, but they persist.
A consequence of the controversy is that every time I step in front of a lecture hall full of students, I can count on many of them being doubters of the theory. It also means that evolutionary biologists will often encounter people who have thought about and are skeptical of evolution, so evolutionary biologists feel more of a need to explain themselves in a way than those who represent any other branch of science. One response was to write books that counter the arguments against evolution, to little effect. The bicentennial of Darwin's birth has brought on a different wave of books. Evolutionary biologists are now more inclined to just write about evolution and to present it in a light that makes it more accessible to a general public. We are all wondering who the silent majority really is and how to reach them. Our hope is that some of them are skeptics who are willing to read a well-crafted presentation of science and evaluate its virtues with an open mind. Some historians and philosophers have helped by articulating how evolution fits in to the development of science, but also by dealing with the relationship between science and religion as a topic for the humanities classroom, rather than the science classroom. We need the help, so I encourage my colleagues in the humanities to expand these efforts.
By Kashif Ahmed and Eric Miller, For The Calgary Herald July 24, 2010
Federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq recently had the opportunity to prevent the sale of potentially dangerous health products to unwitting consumers. Canadians should ask why she let it pass by.
This June, the Harper government introduced Bill C-36 with respect to consumer product safety. When compared to legislation offered in 2008, the planned bill fails to provide much-needed regulation of Canada's burgeoning natural health product (NHP) industry.
The proposed Canada Consumer Product Safety Act would prohibit the sale of poisonous or dangerous products to consumers. Yet, NHPs, no matter how hazardous they may be, receive a blanket exception.
One of the motivations behind this exception is the NHP industry's ceaseless lobbying against any form of public oversight.
The industry has painted legislation which attempts to provide regulation of NHPs as government tyranny. They won in 2008 when federal elections prevented a stronger bill from going forward.
Are so many NHPs dangerous enough that they would be taken off of the shelves if they were treated like every other product?
The natural health product industry remains suspiciously inconsistent in its opposition to regulatory measures. On the one hand, it demands formal recognition from government and desires that its products be licensed like pharmaceuticals. However, along with recognition and licensing comes oversight -- something the industry simply cannot abide.
Shawn Buckley of the Natural Health Products Protection Association wrote that Bill C-36 "represents an unprecedented change in the powers of the state vis-a-vis the citizen. The rule of law and private property rights are all but extinguished in the area of consumer products."
Beneath the veneer of free market arguments, the crux of the matter underlying the NHP industry's anti-regulation fury remains its fear of evidence-based medicine.
The practice of medicine and health care, like any other science-based paradigm, is predicated on empirical verification. In particular, the presented evidence should demonstrate the usefulness, safety and value of a certain medical procedure or pharmaceutical.
Alternative medicine supporters maintain that some NHPs are low risk, and should not be treated like pharmaceuticals. They seemingly want the prestige of medical authority without the responsibility of actually benefiting -- or simply not harming -- Canadians.
The reality remains that drugs are chemicals and NHPs with any biological effects are drugs. Hence, the benchmark for regulating alternative medicines must be similar to pharmaceuticals and should accordingly meet the requirements by health regulators for public safety.
Indeed, some proponents of alternative medicine assert brilliant claims about the efficacy of their products while allying with anti-vaccine conspiracy theorists. Although they attack one of the most firmly established aspects of modern medicine, these NHP proponents rail against any effort to require the industry to prove the safety of their products.
NHPs can, and have been proven to, pose a very real threat to human safety. Homeopathic nasal spray Zicam, which was subject to a 2009 warning by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, was found to permanently destroy the user's sense of taste and smell. This resulted in a recent multi-million dollar class-action lawsuit against the NHP manufacturer.
A 2006 Johns Hopkins medical study attempting to verify the claims made about the NHP supplement L-arginine was ended early, because of an extremely high mortality among the treatment group.
These incidents are in no way isolated and clearly indicate the need for regulatory oversight of NHPs.
This brings us back to Bill C-36: the proposed law gives Health Canada the ability to recall hazardous consumer products, request tests or study results from producers, and prohibits the packaging and selling of consumer products that represent a danger to human health.
Ultimately, the bill's exclusion of NHPs from such regulations is an unwarranted omission. Parliament needs to amend the planned law to include them or present a similar bill that would provide equal oversight of alternative medicines.
If NHPs are as reliable and beneficial as their advocates suggest, then the industry should have no fear of necessary legal protections that only strengthen consumer confidence in the system.
The Canadian public needs the guarantee that alternative medicines are similarly safe for consumption and are not treated differently than other drugs and health-oriented consumer goods. The Conservative government owes us that much.
Kashif Ahmed and Eric Miller are graduates of the University of Saskatchewan Law School.
© Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald
Read more: http://www.calgaryherald.com/health/Natural+health+products+should+better+controlled/3318168/story.html#ixzz0uixXuFHw
Pete Enns, Ph.D..Senior Fellow in Biblical Studies, The BioLogos Foundation
Posted: July 23, 2010 11:16 PM
Recently, Jerry Coyne posted his comments on the results of a telephone poll commissioned by the Center for Public Policy of Virginia Commonwealth University and published in May of this year. The study polled 1001 American adults on matters of science, and one line of questioning pertained to matters of faith. This is the portion of the poll Coyne seems most interested in, and I share that interest.
The poll reveals that one's thoughts on evolution depend on "the nature and extent of religious belief," as Coyne laments. I agree, the two are most definitely connected. Coyne also argues against "the accommodationist technique ... to accept that people are religious but to convince them that evolution really doesn't violate their faith." I agree that simply tacking evolution onto Christian faith minimizes the theological challenges. For many Christians, that theological challenge has involved a thoughtful re-examination of assumptions about the Bible.
Many Christians have been actively doing just that ever since Darwin. As I read the poll and Coyne's comments, however, I am struck by how the pollsters themselves, and likely those answering, seem wholly oblivious to that fact. At the end of his comments, Coyne complains of scientific ignorance and the importance of educating "people about what evolution is and how much evidence supports it." I agree that this is important, but theological ignorance is as much a problem as anything in the evolution/Christianity debate.
Let me give two illustrations.
On the question of how biological life originated, 43 percent said, "God directly created life," and 24 percent said, "Life developed over time, God guided the process." Coyne laments that 67 percent are "either creationists or believe that God directed evolution." Coyne lumps the two together, which is very unfortunate, but given how the poll is worded, I don't blame him. The phrase "God guided the process" suggests that God is pushing the buttons behind the scenes to "guide" evolution every step of the way.
Those two options don't reflect current discussions among theologically aware Christians. The pollsters should have given another option, something like: "Life developed over time, and that is God's chosen mechanism." This won't satisfy Coyne, I'm sure, but it describes what many Christians think. The third option is just as bad as the second: "Life developed over time, God didn't guide it" (18 percent). The problem is that "not guiding" implies that "guiding" is the only way that God and evolution can be reconciled, which is simplistic and fails to reflect what many thoughtful Christians actually think.
There are other problems with the poll, some of which Coyne addresses. What concerned me most is their question about the Bible. The choices offered are indicative of the fundamentally flawed notions about the Bible that contribute to the polarized discussion over evolution and Christianity:
Which of these statements comes closest to describing your feelings about the Bible?
Here is my beef: the first three options are not mutually exclusive. To present them as such is, to put it gently, misguided -- and I dare say any first-year seminarian could point out the problem. Yes, there are people who think like this, but they are as wrong as are people who believe in a flat, 6,000-year-old earth that sits in the middle of the solar system. Faulty notions of the Bible may reign in some fundamentalist circles, but what this poll presents is not even a remotely accurate description of what Christians across the spectrum have believed about the Bible for two millennia.
For the Bible to be the "actual Word of God," that means that "not everything is to be taken literally" and that it is "written by men." These are not separate options. All three belong in one positive statement of what the Bible is. Coming to grips with this historic Christian conviction about the Bible will not end the debate, but it will surely help insure that the discussion won't be hijacked by extreme voices on either side.
The options given in the poll about evolution, science, and the Bible are unwittingly set up to give the very results that neither Coyne nor I are terribly excited about. Coyne feels the poll gives clear reasons why the entire discussion is fruitless. I am more miffed at how these superficial poll questions set the entire discussion down a tedious and dead-end path. No one should be surprised by the results when questions are asked that way.
Only something slightly less than a mass theological education is needed in order for all sides to move beyond a superficial, either/or grasp of the issues. That sounds harsh, but we are dealing with matters that require a scalpel, not a sledgehammer, and neither extreme in this debate seems to be aware of it -- and neither are the pollsters.
Posted by Bruce Barry on Fri, Jul 23, 2010 at 9:20 AM
Reporter Bob Smietana's article on evolution and creationism in this morning's Tennessean begins innocently enough with the charming story of a woman named Rachel Evans who grew up in Dayton, Tenn., where the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial took place. But by the fifth paragraph Smietana quickly loses interest in cruising down the highway of journalism, taking an exit to religious Crazytown:
Evans is part of a movement of mostly Protestant writers and scientists trying to reconcile faith and science, 85 years after the trial ended. Instead of choosing sides, some prefer the middle ground of intelligent design, which claims God designed how life evolved. Tennessee gubernatorial candidates Ron Ramsey, Zach Wamp and Mike McWherter all advocate teaching intelligent design in schools.
Earth to Bob: Intelligent design is not "a middle ground" between science and faith. That is the propaganda that creationists would like feckless school boards and undereducated science teachers (not to mention gullible journalists) to believe. In fact, ID is no less pure religiosity than good old Genesis-flavored creationism. The well-known biologist and evolutionary geneticist Jerry Coyne sums it up (these are snippets from a lengthy essay detailing the scientific case against intelligent design):
Intelligent design is simply the third attempt of creationists to proselytize our children at the expense of good science and clear thinking. Having failed to ban evolution from schools, and later to get equal classroom time for scientific creationism, they have made a few adjustments designed to sneak Christian cosmogony past the First Amendment. And these adjustments have given ID a popularity never enjoyed by earlier forms of creationism....Insofar as intelligent-design theory can be tested scientifically, it has been falsified. Organisms simply do not look as if they had been intelligently designed....The reliance of ID on supernatural intervention means that the enterprise cannot be seen, strictly speaking, as scientific....Intelligent design did not arise because of some long-standing problems with evolutionary theory, or because new facts have called neoDarwinism into question. ID is here for only one reason - to act as a Trojan horse poised before the public schools: a seemingly secular vessel ready to inject its religious message into the science curriculum.
The fatal flaw in Smietana's piece in the Tennessean is use of the reporter's voice to frame intelligent design as a mainstream scientific alternative, a position that carries significant weight only among true-believer creationists. A piece of genuine journalism would accurately reflect scientific experts' views of the proper role of ID in science education (that role being nil) rather than legitimize the perspective of religious zealots (and gubernatorial candidates!) who seem to neither understand nor value science.
July 23rd, 2010
It is wrong to teach creation science or intelligent design in the science classroom, according to the American Academy of Religion. In its "Guidelines for Teaching About Religion in K-12 Public Schools in the United States," issued in April 2010, the Academy poses the question "Can creation science or intelligent design be taught in schools?" and answers (PDF, p. 21, emphasis in the original):
Yes, but not in science classes. Creation science and intelligent design represent worldviews that fall outside of the realm of science that is defined as (and limited to) a method of inquiry based on gathering observable and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning. Creation science, intelligent design, and other worldviews that focus on speculation regarding the origins of life represent another important and relevant form of human inquiry that is appropriately studied in literature or social sciences courses. Such study, however, must include a diversity of worldviews representing a variety of religious and philosophical perspectives and must avoid privileging one view as more legitimate than others.
The American Academy of Religion is a learned society and professional association of teachers and research scholars, with over 10,000 members who teach in over 1000 colleges, universities, seminaries, and schools in North America and abroad. The Academy is dedicated to furthering knowledge of religion and religious institutions in all their forms and manifestations.
Posted on: July 23, 2010 2:57 PM, by PZ Myers
There is a zoo near Bristol called — you'll see there are already problems right from the name — Noah's Ark Zoo. It is unambguously proud of its status as a blatantly creationist institution.
After looking at the current explanations for origins and evolution; it is our view that the evidence available points to widespread evolution after an initial Creation by God. This is viewed as controversial by some and welcomed by others; but whether currently popular or not we believe the evidence supports a world-view somewhere between Darwinism and 6000BC Creationism and we encourage interested readers to look into the claims being made.
They are disavowing the strictly young earth creationist approach, so they reassure us that the world really is older than 6,000 years old. Ha ha, how silly — 6,000 years is far too short. Aren't those dogmatic creationists absurd?
So, you might wonder, how old do they think the earth is? And they cagily hem and haw and refuse to answer, although they do suggest that 4.5 billion years is just way too old, ha ha, goofy evolutionists. They do reference a creationist site that invents a new geology, and which argues, for instance, that the Cretaceous was a period that was actually 4,000 years long.
Real geologists, the ones who actually understand the science, say the Cretaceous was 80 million years long. So they're only off by about 4 orders of magnitude. I guess that means they think the earth is tens of millions of years old instead of a few billion, which makes them what? Adolescent Earth Creationists, instead of Young Earth Creationists? Maybe we can call them Tweenie Creationists. They're still wrong, though.
Anyway, this joke of a zoo that miseducates children (but apparently cheerfully and with colorful and interactive exhibits and stories!) has won an award from the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom. It's a peculiar gift — they're basically rewarding them for good, effective teaching of lies.
You can read about the award here. Apparently, one of the qualifications is supposed to be about providing "accurate information"; shouldn't this zoo have been instantly disqualified on that basis alone?
By VIC COUVILLION
Special to The Advocate
Published: Jul 24, 2010 - Page: 4B
LIVINGSTON — The Livingston Parish School Board will begin exploring the possibility of incorporating the teaching of "creationism" in the public school system's science classes.
During the board's meeting Thursday, several board members expressed an interest in the teaching of creationism, an alternative to the study of the theory of evolution, in Livingston Parish public school classrooms.
The discussion came up during a report on the pupil progression plan for the 2010-11 school year, delivered by Jan Benton, director of curriculum.
Benton said that under provisions of the Science Education Act enacted last year by the Louisiana Legislature, schools can present what she termed "critical thinking and creationism" in science classes.
Board Member David Tate quickly responded: "We let them teach evolution to our children, but I think all of us sitting up here on this School Board believe in creationism. Why can't we get someone with religious beliefs to teach creationism?"
Fellow board member Clint Mitchell responded, "I agree &hellip you don't have to be afraid to point out some of the fallacies with the theory of evolution. Teachers should have the freedom to look at creationism and find a way to get it into the classroom."
Board President Keith Martin, while reminding the members that a decision had been made in the past not to teach creationism, suggested that now might be the time to re-examine the issue.
Martin said that one problem with the teaching of creationism versus evolution is that, "You don't want two different teachers teaching two different things."
Martin, noting that discipline of young people is constantly becoming more of a challenge for parents and teachers, agreed: "Maybe it's time that we look at this."
When Martin suggested that the board appoint a committee to study the possibility of introducing creationism into the classroom, his opinion met with general, if unofficial approval.
"We shouldn't just jump into this thing, but we do need to look at it," Martin said. "The American Civil Liberties Union and even some of our principals would not be pleased with us, but we shouldn't worry about the ACLU. It's more important that we do the correct thing for the children we educate."
The board then unanimously endorsed Benton's Progression Plan.
FORREST BLASTS THE LSEA
Writing in the Shreveport Times (July 18, 2010), Barbara Forrest blasted the Louisiana Science Education Act, which opened the door for creationism to be taught in the state's public schools. Responding to the executive director of the Louisiana Family Forum, who in a previous column praised "the courage of our policy writers," she replied, "The LFF announced on their website that they wrote the bill. They were assisted by the Discovery Institute (DI), a creationist think tank in Seattle that has hawked 'intelligent design' for almost two decades." She also noted the anomaly of the bill's including a disclaimer prohibiting "discrimination for or against religion or non-religion": "But legislation that is about real science education need not include religion disclaimers," she explained. "Disclaimers are typically included in creationist laws, which are precisely about promoting religion." Additionally, she observed, it was creationists who were foremost in pushing for the bill. "Public school science teachers did not request this law. On the contrary, they opposed it." Forrest, a member of NCSE's board of directors and of Louisiana Coalition for Science's board of directors, is Professor of Philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University and the coauthor with Paul R. Gross of Creationism's Trojan Horse (revised edition: Oxford University Press, 2007).
For Forrest's column, visit:
For information on Louisiana Coalition for Science, visit:
For information about Creationism's Trojan Horse, visit:
And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Louisiana, visit:
WHAT'S NEW ON NCSE'S YOUTUBE CHANNEL
NCSE is pleased to announce that a further batch of videos featuring NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott is now available at NCSE's YouTube channel. Featured is "The Evolution of Creationism" (in three parts), recorded at North Dakota State University in February 2010. In addition, there's "God, Darwin, or Both" (in five parts), featuring Scott in a panel discussion with old-earth creationist Hugh Ross and young-earth creationist Duane Gish, filmed at Santa Clara First Baptist Church in Santa Clara, California, in September 2001; "Reinventing Evolution," delivered to the Skeptics Society in Pasadena, California in 1998; and a radio discussion with young-earth creationist Kent Hovind recorded in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1993. Plus there's Kevin Padian, the president of NCSE's board of directors, appearing on WNET's "Inside the Law" program along with Charles Haynes, Michael McIlwrath, William Dembski, and Wendell Bird in 1996. Tune in and enjoy!
For NCSE's YouTube channel, visit:
POLLING EVOLUTION IN THREE COUNTRIES
A new poll indicates that public acceptance of evolution is significantly higher in Great Britain and Canada than in the United States. The poll, conducted by Angus Reid Public Opinion, asked, "Which of these statements comes closest to your own point of view regarding the origin and development of human beings on earth?" and offered the choices "Human beings evolved from less advanced life forms over millions of years" and "God created human beings in their present form within the last 10,000 years."
In the United States, there was no statement commanding the assent of the majority of respondents: 35% of respondents preferred the evolution statement and 47% preferred the creationism statement, with 18% unsure. In Canada and Great Britain, however, evolution was the majority view. In Canada, 61% of respondents preferred the evolution statement and 24% preferred the creationism statement, with 15% unsure. In Great Britain, 68% of respondents preferred the evolution statement, and 16% preferred the creationism statement, with 15% unsure.
The results were also presented by region. Acceptance of evolution in the United States was lowest in the South (27%, as opposed to 51% accepting creationism) and highest in the Northeast (43%, as opposed to 38% accepting creationism). In Canada, acceptance of creationism was highest in Manitoba/Saskatchewan (39%, as opposed to 50% accepting evolution) and Alberta (31%, as opposed to 51% accepting evolution). In Great Britain, acceptance of creationism was highest in London (25%, as opposed to 58% accepting evolution).
The choices offered by Angus Reid are similar, but not identical, to Gallup's, which offers two versions of the evolution statement, specifying "God guided this process" and "God had no part in this process." In 2008, 36% of Gallup's respondents preferred the "God guided" statement and 14% preferred the "God had no part" statement, for a total of 50% accepting evolution, as opposed to 44% accepting the creationist statement. Gallup's results are more or less consistent from 1982 to 2008.
The Angus Reid poll was conducted on-line between July 1 and July 9, 2010, among 1009 Canadian adults, 1002 American adults, and 2011 British adults. The margin of error is +/- 3.1% for Canada and the United States and +/- 2.2% for Great Britain. Angus Reid explains, "The results have been statistically weighted according to the most current education, age, gender and region Census data to ensure samples representative of the entire adult population of Canada, the US and Great Britain. Discrepancies in or between totals are due to rounding."
For the report from Angus Reid (PDF), visit:
For the data from Gallup, visit:
For NCSE's collection of information on polls and surveys, visit:
Thanks for reading! And don't forget to visit NCSE's website -- http://ncse.com -- where you can always find the latest news on evolution education and threats to it.
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The Tennessean Updated: 7/23/2010 2:53:29 AM Posted: 7/23/2010 2:52:44 AM
By Bob Smietana, THE TENNESSEAN
Rachel Held Evans had a choice while growing up in Dayton, Tenn., site of the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial. Believe the Bible or believe evolution.
"I was taught that if you don't interpret Genesis 1 and 2 literally, then you don't take the Bible seriously,'' said Evans, 29. "I held on tightly to that for a long time.''
Evans says creationism - the belief that God created the Earth around 6,000 years ago in six days - was commonplace in her town. Unable to reconcile science with her faith, Evans embraced evolution.
"I learned you don't have to choose between loving and following Jesus and believing in evolution,'' she said. She chronicled her personal journey in a new memoir, Evolving in Monkey Town.
Evans is part of a movement of mostly Protestant writers and scientists trying to reconcile faith and science, 85 years after the trial ended. Instead of choosing sides, some prefer the middle ground of intelligent design, which claims God designed how life evolved. Tennessee gubernatorial candidates Ron Ramsey, Zach Wamp and Mike McWherter all advocate teaching intelligent design in schools.
But conservative evangelicals still reject any compromise.
Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., says the two views - creationism and evolution - are incompatible for evangelicals.
"No one is going to read the Bible and be able to accommodate a natural reading of the biblical text with naturalistic evolution," Mohler said.
Unlike Catholics and Orthodox Christians who rely on church teaching and tradition along with the Bible, evangelicals rely on the Bible alone as the authority for their faith.
"The entrenched hostility to evolution in American evangelism is very deep," said Karl Giberson, a physics professor at Eastern Nazarene College in Quincy, Mass.
Giberson, the son of a Primitive Baptist pastor from Canada, grew up believing evolution was wrong, but his views changed once he studied physics in college. Now a member of the Church of the Nazarene and a teacher at a Christian college, he is convinced evolution is true.
He is one of the co-founders of the BioLogos Forum, which teaches that faith can co-exist with science. He founded the organization in 2008 with Francis Collins, director of the National Institute of Health. Collins, 60, a one-time atheist, converted to Christianity when he was 27.
The group runs a website, biologos.org, and sponsors seminars on how faith and science can work together.
"It's a place for people who understand that evolution is true to stand together," Giberson said.
For Giberson evolution describes the mechanism of life - how it works. But faith addresses the meaning of life, something science can't do.
Subject can be tricky
Recently, three candidates running for governor in Tennessee endorsed the idea of teaching intelligent design in public schools.
"We can blend science and religion in that regard, and the two do not have to contradict each other," said McWherter, a Democrat.
Wamp, a Republican, suggested teaching intelligent design as a balance to teaching evolution.
"If they are going to teach evolution in schools, it better be counteracted by teaching a faith-based, God-centered education," he said.
The Republican Ramsey described himself as a creationist. "I know I was created by God," he said. "That's what I want my children to learn."
For Christian schools such as Dayton's Bryan College, evolution can be a tricky subject. Their biology professors teach it in class but without violating the school's statements of faith.
Brian Eisenach, assistant professor of biology at Bryan, says he teaches evolution straight from the textbook in his classes. Then he has a separate discussion about other views.
He does not endorse any particular belief. Instead, Eisenach says he wants his students to know all the options for understanding the origins of human life. It's better, he says, than confrontation.
"The argument has escalated into a lot of name-calling and stereotyping on all sides," he said.
Evans says Eisenach's approach is the correct one because her teachers handled it poorly.
Pastors and professors at Bryan College once told her if she questioned creationism she was no longer a true Christian.
"My generation of evangelicals is ready to call a truce on the culture wars. It seems like our parents, our pastors and the media won't let us do that. We are ready to be done with the whole evolution-creation debate. We are ready to move on."
Thursday July 22, 2010
Categories: Science and Faith
The reason I disagree with Al Mohler's recent strong statement that clearly ties belief in the gospel to young earth creationism and denial of the gospel for those who believe in theistic evolution is not because I'm a scientist and know better but because evangelicalism has been bigger than that view for a long, long time.
Mohler pushed Carl Henry, B.B. Warfield, John Stott, and William Lane Craig under the bus. Mohler is sadly mistaken on this one, and the reason he's mistaken is because there is more than one evangelical reading of Genesis 1--2. Which is why..
Steve Wilkens and Don Thorsen, both profs at Azusa Pacific, have a new book that takes on misperceptions of evangelicals. I like the title: Everything You Know about Evangelicals Is Wrong (Well, Almost Everything): An Insider's Look at Myths and Realities . One of the misconceptions is that all evangelicals are anti-evolutionists.
Question: In order to believe the gospel, what does a human need to believe about God and about humans? How tied to the Creation Story of Genesis 1--3 is the gospel?
This is a misconception because there are a number of views of origins among evangelical Christians. There are a number of views about how God created. Perhaps some today will say those folks who have more evolution-compatible views are not evangelical. The critics have every right to do so, but they will go against the grain of evangelical history and some of the best thinking today among evangelicals.
Wilkens and Thorsen offer a number of helpful ideas...
Beginning with a thoughtful, nuanced comparison of evolutionism and Galileo's denunciation by the Catholic Church. He sees three parallels: Galileo, so it was thought, decentralized humans in the plan and world of God; Galileo, so it was argued, denied the plain literal reading of the Bible; and Galileo was a minor voice in the larger scope of things. Yes, there are differences, but the similarities are not a little uncanny. (Agree?)
But Wilkens and Thorsen are too sensitive pastorally and theologically to suggest the Brights get this and the Dulls go along with young earth. They know human dignity and nature are at stake; they know one must respect the authority of Scripture. They know scientists think religion threatens genuine science at times; they know too that sometimes religion can be oppressive and suppressive.
Defining terms is so important, which is what Wilkens and Thorsen do: creationism refers to God creating but this term captures those who believe in a young earth or an old earth, and that means these folks think evolution is deeply mistaken. Day-age theorists think the "day" of Genesis 1 is an epoch, making an old, old, old earth possible -- and I learned this first back in college from Bernard Ramm. Then there are theist evolutionists who think God used evolution -- old, old, old earth -- as the way he created and continues to create. And then there are radical evolutionists, material evolutionists and ontological evolutionists who think we are the result of random natural selection.
Evangelicals, and this is the major point of this chp, have a variety of views when it comes to these issues but they don't give in on the dignity of humans, the image of God in humans, and the special creation - at some level - of humans.
But they do differ on how to read Genesis 1--2, and John Walton's recent book is an excellent example of some recent evangelical variety.
They then propose a few paradigms:
Conflict: when science conflicts, chuck science; when the Bible conflicts, chuck the Bible.
NOMA: non-overlapping magisterial paradigm. Science and religion/Bible deal with two different dimensions of life.
Interactive: we must bring Bible and science into interaction.
They know science can only do so much; it can't talk purpose and meaning. It can describe what it sees and can test.
Read more: http://blog.beliefnet.com/jesuscreed/2010/07/evangelicalisms-radical-divers-2.html#ixzz0uR7yx8Iy
Thursday, 22, Jul 2010 10:31
The BHA has strongly condemned the decision of the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom to award the creationist Noah's Ark Zoo in Wraxall, near Bristol, a 'Quality Badge' in recognition of its educational programme.
The Council for Learning Outside the Classroom was established by the previous government to promote educational visits for schoolchildren.
Its Quality Badge is intended to assist schools in identifying external organisations, such as museums, who are 'committed to providing high quality teaching and learning experiences'. The Quality Badge was awarded to Noah's Ark Zoo following a visit by assessors in June. The BHA is writing to the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom to urge them to retract the award.
BHA education campaigns officer James Gray said:
'This is an appalling decision. It is entirely inappropriate that the Council should support an establishment that advances creationism and seeks to discredit a wide variety of established scientific facts that challenge their religious views, such as radio carbon dating, the fossil record and the speed of light.'
'Teachers and parents look to the Council for assurance that children will experience high quality educational visits that meet the relevant government guidelines. Awarding this particular zoo a Quality Badge risks exposing hundreds of children to anti-scientific dogma.'
'This is not a freedom of speech or freedom of religion issue. The question is whether the information displayed by this zoo meets the tests of accuracy and truth that parents, teachers and other educational professionals expect.'
For further comment or information contact James Gray on 020 7462 4990 or email@example.com.
Further information about the Quality Badge is available on the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom's website: The LOTC Quality Badge.
Explaining the mission of the Noah's Ark Zoo, its website says 'Undoubtedly, Darwin helped science see that nature is continually changing, but along with this great progress there began a subsequent movement to remove any notion of God from our understanding of life.
This is unjustified and we look to put the case for a Creator across to those who wish to investigate.' The site goes on to ask: 'Is it right for Darwin's evolutionary theory to be portrayed as "fact" in today's scientific media and the idea of God, generally abandoned?' See www.noahsarkzoofarm.co.uk.
The British Humanist Association (BHA) is the national charity representing and supporting the non-religious and campaigning for an end to religious privilege and discrimination based on religion or belief.
Press releases published on this page are from key opinion formers who promote their organisation's activities by subscribing to a campaign site within politics.co.uk. politics.co.uk does not endorse, edit, or attempt to balance the opinions expressed on this page. The content of press releases are wholly the responsibility of the originating company or organisation.
Evidence shows that intelligent-design (ID) proponents, from first-year students to tenured faculty, are persecuted in academia.
A report in The Washington Post Magazine said that numerous undergraduates expressed fear of repercussions if they were found to doubt evolution. Two told me that on the first day of their Animal Biology class, they were expressly forbidden to discuss ID. Another student, after openly speaking about her views during a senior seminar class, was so seriously attacked by her professors that she no longer dared to communicate with me; the message was passed through another student.
Being known as an ID proponent is also dangerous for graduate students. I witnessed a graduate student having to drop his studies and change universities because his doubt of evolution became known. Similarly, Bryan Leonard finished all of his graduate work, including writing his dissertation, at The Ohio State University. But three days before he was to deliver his doctoral defense it was indefinitely postponed. His crime? He had taught the scientific evidence for and against Darwinism to high-school students.
Those who hold a Ph.D. and need to get started in science or teaching would be advised to not speak about doubting evolution. An adjunct teacher who just got a fulltime teaching position told me she teaches evolution, even though she does not believe it to be scientifically valid, because it was the only way to get and keep the job. Her job interview was mostly about her views on evolution; she lied.
Even after a person has secured a fulltime teaching position, job loss is a very real possibility, as was discovered by chemistry teacher Nancy Bryson at Mississippi University for Women—and by me at George Mason University. Both of us lost our fulltime teaching posts shortly after teaching the scientific evidence for and against evolution.
Even an impressive record of research and publications will not shield a person from the consequences of "coming out" about believing that there is scientific evidence for ID. In 2007, Guillermo Gonzalez, who has received countless fellowships, grants, and awards, and who has over 70 publications in peer-reviewed journals, was denied tenure at Iowa State University, mostly because he accepted ID.
Another untenured professor spoke to NPR about doubting Darwin, but declined to give his name because it would be the "kiss of death" to his career. William Dembski, an outspoken ID proponent, kept his university job but was not allowed to teach for five years. I have been told by many, too late, that I should never have admitted to having doubts about Darwinism until I was in a tenured position.
However, having tenure, while giving a person relative job security, does not prevent persecution. Richard Sternburg, holder of two Ph.D.s and an employee at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), was hounded by colleagues after allowing the publication of a peer-reviewed and approved ID-friendly paper. This was confirmed by a US House Subcommittee, but he is still suffering the aftereffects.
There is an unwritten rule in science that because only the natural can be measured, only the natural exists. Therefore, all evidence of intelligent design (and intelligence is a measurable natural phenomenon) must be ignored because the source of this intelligence might be supernatural, and that, by definition, cannot exist. This naturalism falls in the realm of philosophy, not science, but woe to those who teach or study science and dare to challenge it!
So, do ID proponents get persecuted in the academy? You be the judge.
Jun 30, 2008 2:00 AM
by Caroline Crocker, The Examiner
WASHINGTON - A cademic freedom. Intellectual diversity. Who would deny that these are essential in education of students in a country built on freedom? After all, permission to consider more than one option is part of what has given America her competitive edge in the international marketplace of ideas.
Our embracing of divergent peoples and viewpoints marks us as unique and we are rightly proud of being broad-minded, a "melting pot," welcoming people of different nationalities, cultures and races. This has enabled us to be world leaders in innovative ideas, in marked contrast to what is produced by totalitarian regimes where citizens are only allowed to think one way.
Alarmingly, the current denial of academic freedom rights for those who are judged politically incorrect has put this in jeopardy. The freedom to teach, and learn about, both sides of many issues is noticeably lacking on most college campuses.
A study published in Forum (2005) by Lichter, Rothman, and Nevitte reported that 72 percent of university faculty are liberal (87 percent in elite universities). That this is reflected in the teaching is easily seen in the prolific displays of left-wing propaganda displayed on campuses. The University of Colorado at Boulder has such a preponderance of liberal faculty (96 percent) that, according to a Wall Street Journal article (5/13/08), Chancellor G.P. Peterson intends to support intellectual diversity by establishing an endowed chair for a professor of conservative thought and policy.
There were vociferous faculty objections. Ironically, Mr. Peterson responded to these by the welcome assurance that the new professor would not have to be an actual conservative, just someone who can teach that viewpoint.
The movie, "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed," has convincingly documented the persecution of scientists who suggest the products of intelligence can be detected by application of certain aspects of information theory (detection of specified complexity) and that these products may be found in biological systems.
Shankar Vedantam of The Washington Post wrote, "…these (Intelligent Design) advocates now believe that they are being punished by the dogma and authority of science." This was simply because some scientists cannot, in good conscience, on purely scientific grounds, swear an oath of allegiance to Darwinism. The halls of university biology departments, where statements about the absolute veracity of evolution can be found on many faculty office doors, strongly suggest that this loyalty is mandatory.
Recently, the Louisiana state Senate and House passed legislation that would allow teaching of the scientific evidence on both sides of controversial issues such as cloning, global warming, and evolution. The bill specifically excluded the teaching of religion.
Nonetheless, there were strident objections from those who would censor science, including astounding claims that evolution of species is unquestioned by all scientists. The presence of four highly qualified scientists who had just finished testifying to their scientific questions about the sufficiency of Darwinian evolution to provide an explanation for as much as was previously thought was ignored. Those in favor of the bill agree that science, and our educational system, should not be too narrow-minded to consider more than one option; this is the way for our society to advance.
The actions of Chancellor Peterson and Louisiana government are the beginnings of a much-needed cultural transformation in America, where the people demand that true intellectual diversity and freedom of speech be for everyone, not just the politically correct. The ostracism of those who have conservative values, who differ from the ideological viewpoints propounded by their colleges, or who consider scientific data that may not support consensus views, must end.
We need to ensure the intellectually honest consideration of innovative scientific theories, thereby ensuring our continued stature as a society that prizes freedom for its citizens and is a leader in the global marketplace of ideas.
Posted on: February 5, 2006 2:55 PM, by PZ Myers
…but she wasn't. She was allowed to continue her educational malpractice until her contract expired, and then was not rehired—something that happens to adjunct and assistant professors all the time, with no necessary implication of poor work.
Caroline Crocker, if you've never heard of her, is the lead topic in an article in the Washington Post today, and you may also have read an account of her situation in Nature. She's a molecular biologist who believes in Intelligent Design, and who was released from her position at George Mason University. Now she wants to claim that her academic freedom was infringed.
Unfortunately for Dr Crocker, the article gives an account of her biology teaching. She's peddling ignorant garbage in her classes, making this less an issue of academic freedom and more one of basic scientific competence.
She told the students there were two kinds of evolution: microevolution and macroevolution. Microevolution is easily seen in any microbiology lab. … While such small changes are well established, Crocker said, they are quite different from macroevolution. No one has ever seen a dog turn into a cat in a laboratory.
There is an interesting debate on the micro/macro distinction in biology, but that ain't it. That's the creationist version, based on nothing at all but rhetoric and misconceptions. No one expects a dog to evolve into a cat, and if it did, we'd have to completely rework our ideas about evolution.
Crocker said that subsequent research had shown that chemicals used in the experiment [Miller's] did not exist on Earth 4 billion years ago. "The experiment is irrelevant, but you still find it in your books," she said.
This is not true; the issue is more complex than she lets on. Our understanding of the nature of the atmosphere has changed since Urey and Miller, but the experiment still stands as valid and interesting—it shows that complex chemical precursors to life can arise without intelligent guidance. Similar experiments have been done with different atmospheres, with similar results.
She cited another experiment, involving researcher Bernard Kettlewell, who produced pictures of variously colored peppered moths on tree trunks to show that when the moths were not well camouflaged, they were more likely to be eaten by birds -- a process of natural selection that influenced the color of the moths. "This comes from your book -- it is not actually true," Crocker said. "The experiment was falsified. He glued his moths to the trees."
Uh-oh. It looks like Crocker is rattling off Wells' list of Ten Questions to Ask Your Biology Teacher. It's a bad sign that they stump her—they aren't that hard to address…or shouldn't be, for a college level instructor in evolution.
The Kettlewell experiments are still good, if incomplete. The posed pictures are illustrations of the camouflage, and are not part of the data.
…Crocker was not done. From this ill-conceived theory, she concluded, much harm had arisen. Nazi Germany had taken Darwin's ideas about natural selection, the credo that only the fittest survive, and followed it to its extreme conclusions -- anti-Semitism, eugenics and death camps. "What happened in Germany in World War II was based on science, that some genes and some people should be killed," Crocker said quietly. "My grandfather had a genetic problem and was put in the hospital and killed."
This is just contemptible. Hitler was not motivated by scientific ideas. Her grandfather was killed because of criminally racist attitudes that predated Darwin and were promoted by the religious—try reading about some of Luther's ideas about the Jews sometime. Eugenics was and is a simple-minded abuse of science.
Before the class, Crocker had told me that she was going to teach "the strengths and weaknesses of evolution." Afterward, I asked her whether she was going to discuss the evidence for evolution in another class. She said no.
"There really is not a lot of evidence for evolution," Crocker said. Besides, she added, she saw her role as trying to balance the "ad nauseum" pro-evolution accounts that students had long been force-fed.
"There really is not a lot of evidence for evolution." That's grounds for dismissal right there, I would hope. She's been so busy reading Discovery Institute press releases and religious tracts that she has apparently never visited her university library, or even looked at an evolutionary biology textbook! I suggest she spend a little time in the stacks—books on evolution are in the QH's—and otherwise get out of the classroom until she's a little better qualified.
It looks like she'd rather spend her time whining.
…she described the attacks targeted at her career as a result of her views on evolution. Losing the faculty position at GMU had left Crocker worried about how she could support a son at school in England. Family members were asking why she was sticking her neck out. Crocker and her husband, Richard, who is associate rector at Truro, believe she has become the victim of scientific authoritarianism. It is one thing to believe his wife is wrong, Richard Crocker told me, and quite another to deprive her of her right to speak.
GMU spokesman Daniel Walsch denied that the school had fired Crocker. She was a part-time faculty member, he said, and was let go at the end of her contract period for reasons unrelated to her views on intelligent design. "We wholeheartedly support academic freedom," he said. But teachers also have a responsibility to stick to subjects they were hired to teach, he added, and intelligent design belonged in a religion class, not biology. Does academic freedom "literally give you the right to talk about anything, whether it has anything to do with the subject matter or not? The answer is no."
Exactly right. If you're going to teach a subject, you are expected to know something about that subject—and Crocker clearly does not.
She has not been deprived of a right to speak. She can say whatever she want, she can teach that crap in her local Sunday School, she can work for the Discovery Institute and write screeds that will get sent to newspapers all over the country. However, universities have standards and are not under any compulsion to hire any unqualified bozo to jabber in front of a classroom. We have responsibilities, you know, to teach the current state of knowledge, not the opinions of muddle-brained theologians.
An unintended consequence of the scientific establishment's exasperation with evolution's critics is that supporters of intelligent design such as Crocker and Kamel are increasingly limiting their conversations to fellow sympathizers. Among themselves, these advocates believe the wheel has turned full circle: If Galileo and Copernicus were the scientific rebels who were once punished by the dogma and authority of the church, these advocates now believe that they are being punished by the dogma and authority of science.
"Just like they say you can't discriminate against black people, or against gays, maybe they will say you can't discriminate against Darwin-doubters," Crocker told me.
I recommend the Crackpot Index. I'd score Dr Crocker well into the 50s.
Of course we should discriminate against "Darwin-doubters". If an electrician came to your house and said he was an "electron-doubter", didn't hold with all that nonsense about "circuits" and "grounds", and told you aluminum foil was the best insulator, you'd fire him on the spot, right? So why all this absurd insistence that biology is a matter of opinion, and that we need to hire to maximize the range of different opinions on largely settled issues?
Maybe this little anecdote from the article explains some of that.
Nancey Murphy, a religious scholar at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., said she faced a campaign to get her fired because she expressed the view that intelligent design was not only poor theology, but "so stupid, I don't want to give them my time."
Murphy, who believes in evolution, said she had to fight to keep her job after one of the founding members of the intelligent design movement, legal theorist Phillip Johnson, called a trustee at the seminary and tried to get her fired.
"His tactic has always been to fight dirty when anyone attacks his ideas," she said. "For a long time afterward, I would tell reporters I don't want to comment, and I don't want you to say I don't want to comment. I'm tired of being careful."
This is exactly like Caroline Crocker's case, because you see, there is all this evidence that specifically spells out the nature and details of God's existence and there is near uniformity of opinion on all religious matters among all theists, so it is just plain wacky for anyone in theology to teach anything other than the Truth as Revealed to Phillip Johnson. And aren't all fields of knowledge as subjective and fractured as theology?
A May, 2010 editorial in Nature Immunology makes it clear that they don't trust religious persons--even those who are neo-Darwinian evolutionists like Francis Collins--in positions of scientific authority. The editorial (written by the journal's editors) states:
"The openly religious stance of the NIH director [Francis Collins] could have undesirable effects on science education in the United States. ' In the introduction and in interviews surrounding [Collins'] book release, he describes his belief in a non-natural, non-measurable, improvable deity that created the universe and its laws with humans as the ultimate aim of its creation. Some might worry that describing scientists as workers toiling to understand the laws and intricacies of this divine creation will create opportunities for creationism adepts.
("Of faith and reason," Nature Immunology, Vol. 11(5):357 (May 2010).)
Aside from the fact that Nature Immunology's editors are apparently unashamedly intolerant of religion, we must ask whether we should trust Nature Immunology to instruct Americans on science education. They write:
Strikingly, despite being a world leader in science, the United States still struggles when it comes to scientific education. Creationism is creeping back into the science curricula of public schools. And although intelligent design, the latest form of creationism, suffered a major defeat in the 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District trial (Nat. Immunol. 7, 433--435, 2006), when the US Supreme Court ruled that including it in science curricula is unconstitutional, creationists are making a comeback.
("Of faith and reason," Nature Immunology, Vol. 11(5):357 (May 2010).)
With so many errors, where do we begin?
Setting aside basic misrepresentations like the claim that ID is "creationism," the journal's editors apparently are not familiar with American law. It was not the U.S. Supreme Court that ruled against intelligent design (ID) in 2005, but a court from the lowest level of the U.S. federal court system -- a federal district court from the middle district of Pennsylvania. The U.S. Supreme Court has not yet addressed the teaching of ID.
What's also interesting about this comment is that they claim it's "strikin[g]" that the U.S. has so many skeptics of neo-Darwinism and yet is a "world leader in science." Perhaps that's because one can be a perfectly good scientist and reject the neo- Darwinian consensus.
The article goes on to offer more complaints about American science education. One amusing complaint states, "In 2008, Louisiana state legislators passed bills that allow "open and objective discussions of scientific theories being studied, including but not limited to evolution and the origins of life.'" Yes, that's right -- horror of horrors that Louisiana would permit teachers to engage in open and objective discussions of evolution!
The very next sentence in the editorial contains another glaring error:
In 2009, the Texas Board of Education set new standards for incorporating ideas from intelligent- design literature, including doubts that the fossil records represent convincing evidence of evolution. Under the guise of promoting "critical thinking skills', such decisions allow creationists to teach the controversy--a strategy designed to discredit evolution and introduce intelligent design as a viable alternative. Opponents of these bills justly point out that such discussions belong in religion, culture and philosophy classes but not in the science curricula.
The problem here is that Texas's standards nowhere mention or permit the teaching of ID. The exact language adopted by Texas requires that students "analyze, evaluate and critique scientific explanations . . . including examining all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations so as to encourage critical thinking." It also requires students to "analyze and evaluate" core evolutionary claims, including "common ancestry," "natural selection," "mutation," "sudden appearance," the origin of the "complexity of the cell," and the formation of "long complex molecules having information such as the DNA molecule for self-replicating life."
When it comes to evolution, there's nothing in Texas' new science standards but scientific analysis, evaluation, and critique. Postulating alternatives to evolution like intelligent design is not in the standards.
Texas' approach to teaching evolution approach represents good science education. A recent paper in the journal Science found that students should study science by learning the evidence "that supports ... or does not support" the concept being taught, further lamenting that "[a]rgument and debate are common in science, yet they are virtually absent from science education."
In their conclusions, the Nature Immunology editors state: "No one should leave school believing that men walked with dinosaurs." But that's young earth creationism, which is most definitely not a part of the curriculum in Louisiana, Texas, or any other state in the U.S.
So why is Nature Immunology fabricating fears and complaining about good science education? It's simple:
As I explained recently in University of St. Thomas Journal of Law & Public Policy, leading science authorities laud the importance of inquiry-based science education -- with all of its critical thinking, skepticism, and consideration of alternative explanations -- but then effectively jettison such pedagogical philosophies when recommending methods of teaching evolution. That's why Nature Immunology is aghast that "[i]n 2008, Louisiana state legislators-- did something so benign as to "pas[s] bills that allow "open and objective discussions of scientific theories being studied, including but not limited to evolution and the origins of life.'"
Here is my letter to Nature Immunology which they declined to publish:
The May 2010 editorial "Of faith and reason" contains errors regarding American law and science education.
First, it mistakenly asserts that the 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover ruling against intelligent design (ID) was issued by "the US Supreme Court." In fact, the decision came from a federal trial court from the middle district of Pennsylvania--the lowest level of the U.S. federal court system. The constitutionality of teaching of ID has not yet been addressed by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Second, the article claims that science standards adopted in Texas in 2009 would "introduce intelligent design" into the curriculum. But the language adopted by the Texas State Board of Education requires students to "analyze, evaluate and critique scientific explanations by using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing including examining all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations so as to encourage critical thinking by the student." Not only is there nothing in the standards about ID, but it's difficult to imagine how such guidelines could permit "religion" in the science classroom.
Finally, the editorial finds it "strikin[g]" that so many Americans doubt evolution and yet the U.S. remains "a world leader in science." Perhaps a solution to this apparent paradox is that it's possible to be a good scientist and doubt the neo-Darwinian consensus after all.
Posted by Casey Luskin on July 21, 2010 10:11 AM | Permalink
Review July 20, 2010
A New 'Protscience' polemic aims to tell readers how to believe in science
By Nathan Schneider
Nathan Schneider is senior editor of the online religion magazine Killing the Buddha and a founding editor of the blog Waging Nonviolence. Visit his website at The Row Boat.
Steve Fuller seems to enjoy playing the traitor. Despite being, as he has variously called himself, a "secular humanist" and "philosophical naturalist," Fuller testified on the ill-fated side of intelligent design theory at the 2005 trial in Dover, Pennsylvania; he argued that foisting ID on schoolchildren would be an advisable form of "affirmative action" because it has such a hard time gaining traction among actual scientists.
He likes telling the atheism-prone scientific community that the whole enterprise actually depends on religion. Such treasonous tendencies might only shed light on the otherwise innocent fact that this American-born philosopher of science has spent the last decade and a half working in England.
Instances of iconoclasm, together with proud pop-culture references, appear on virtually every arresting page of Science—in fact, his second book with that title. This Science comes as part of an intriguing series on "The Art of Living," and so Fuller frames its thesis like this: "the art of living scientifically involves taking theology much more seriously than either practicing scientists or religious believers are inclined to do."
He celebrates an emerging trend dubbed "Protscience," a kind of Reformation against the imperious priesthood of the scientific establishment. While the establishment preaches dead-end atheism, the often-religionist Protscience guerrillas offer to restore the spirit—and the metaphysics—that gave us science in the first place. Then and now, Fuller contends, God the lawgiver/designer/intervener makes a better mascot for good research than any lack thereof that atheism or agnosticism have to offer.
In a revealing "Further Reading" section, he cites the accomplishments of his friends at the ID-friendly Discovery Institute unironically and uncritically; but not altogether uncynically. If actually a naturalist at heart, he is calling for more religion not because it is true so much as because it might trick us into doing better science. The book, then, can feel at times like a calculated whisper in the theist's ear that she can have her religious triumphalism and her science too.
Much of his polemic, really, is a strong way of saying what is entirely uncontroversial among historians of science, even if easily forgotten by most everyone else. And who can blame us? The gist of it is utterly unmemorable: the relationship between science and religion is, and has been, complicated. Fuller addresses the public relations problem with hyperbole aimed against the conventional wisdom that science and religion are opponents from the get-go.
He summons famous and obscure examples of how Christian theology, far more than Enlightened skepticism, midwifed the emergence of science: Isaac Newton fancied himself discovering the mind of God in the laws of nature; Joseph Priestly was a theologian as well as the chemist who discovered oxygen; David Hume, now sometimes held up as a champion of science-like inquiry, was really no more hopeful about science than about religious speculation; and materialism, especially wielded by Nazis and Stalinists, corrupted evolutionary science much more than advancing it. The origin story Fuller offers for the scientific mentality is not to be found with Galileo against the Inquisition, or with Francis Bacon's experimental method, but in Genesis itself: God's promise to Abraham of a rosier future to come.
At moments more persuasive than that last one, Fuller insists on the fact that religious belief can be an entirely plausible worldview through which to do science. He also reminds us that some theologies are more scientific than others; apparent conflicts between science and religion demand a more careful idea of each, not jettisoning one for the other. His posture, finally, should encourage nonbelievers to have a healthier appreciation for what they have inherited from essentially religious ideas, and to remember that some atheisms are more scientifically sound than others. These are points that cannot be repeated enough nowadays on all sides of the science-and-religion wars, and Science makes them in ways not easy to dismiss.
For all its mnemonic charms, however, overstatement has shortcomings. Fuller asserts that atheism has done little good for science even while noting the fact that most leading scientists don't believe in God or practice a religion. Scientists on the whole are much less likely than the general population to be religious, and the more accomplished they are, the less religious they tend to be. This is a powerful piece of evidence that invites one to qualify Fuller's claims, but he does little better than to ignore it.
To say that there are continuities between the history of theology and the history of science doesn't mean you have to rule out discontinuities too. Fuller for instance chooses not to accept Hans Blumenberg's powerful case, in his sprawling The Legitimacy of the Modern Age, that there was a basic rupture between the transcendence of Christian theology and the this-worldly immanent order that science presupposes—a rupture, actually, rooted in theology itself.
There is more truth in this than Fuller allows; immanentism raises questions in cases where theism can seem to give easy answers. It was the immanentist Spinoza who bothered to anticipate later biology by wondering whether "men are not created, but only generated, and that their bodies already existed before, though formed differently." The same apostate Jew spent his now-less-remembered hours grinding lenses for telescopes, while even Newton spent his poring over prophecies in the Book of Daniel.
The very analogies by which Fuller means to stitch the history science to faith unravel in his hands. Grace is not the same as accumulating knowledge. Intelligent design isn't the same as the appearance of order. Expectant hope (whether of the kind Abraham had in Genesis or Tim LaHaye expresses in the Left Behind books) is not the same as scientific progress. Biblical literalism is not the same as laboratory experimentation. To claim that the national science academies today are akin to the Vatican in Galileo's time is to lend far too much credit to the academies' political power and too little to their costumes. There may be some resemblance in each case, but it is precisely in the differences that the practice of science begins to be recognizable as such.
Understood thus as a practice—or, so to speak, as an "art of living"—there are proximate causes other than theology on hand for science's development and sustenance. Europe and North America in the latter half of the second millennium had social arrangements, natural resources, habits of mind, and geopolitical competition that make for satisfying just-so stories too; only the most theologically self-confident would chalk it all up to religion. The globalization of science now underway, particularly as more and more important research takes place in non-Christian countries like China and Japan and by their nationals working in the West, a totally theology-centric narrative seems less and less plausible.
But even an anecdotal survey of what ways of thinking uphold the everyday habits of science today don't quickly draw one's mind to religion, nor do they necessarily stand in opposition to it. As in any profession, there are professionals competing for advancement and respect by trying to outdo each other in highly specialized contests, accumulating accomplishments that outsiders can't begin to comprehend. All this depends on particular personality traits which, combined with lots of discipline and practice, amount to tremendous facility in the intellectual and technological tools of a given field. It's paid for by private and public agencies which, in turn, steer research priorities. Science has also concocted its own narratives that serve some of the functional roles that religious ones otherwise might; I wonder what would have become of Fuller's book had it focused not on theology but on science fiction, from Bishop Francis Godwin's The Man in the Moone to Star Trek.
If one were to cynically choose a modern religious option best suited to motivating scientific research, New Age and other metaphysical spiritualities might fare better anyway than intelligent design Christianity. Among their practitioners, evolution and progress are not bywords for heresy but, by and large, cosmic law. Quantum mechanics, which Christianity either tolerates or ignores, feels more intuitive to them than staid Newtonianism. And, while Christians grapple to find their notion of the soul in the latest neuroscience, metaphysicals (together with the Dalai Lama) can't get enough of it.
Fortunately, we don't have to choose. Science as a way of living doesn't depend utterly on theology. An evangelical can map the human genome, an atheist can unravel the big bang, and a Buddhist can be twice as likely to become a scientist than the average American. In any case a theology worth having, as an art of living on its own terms, should offer us something better than a motivation to do more science. Science, by now, can fend for itself.
By Paul Raeburn
Published: August 25, 2002
OF MOTHS AND MEN
An Evolutionary Tale: The Untold Story
of Science and the Peppered Moth.
By Judith Hooper.
Illustrated. 377 pp. New York:
W. W. Norton & Company. $26.95.
IT was the story that was supposed to prove Darwin right. It began in England, during the Industrial Revolution, when foul black smoke began to pour from factory chimneys. The air grew so thick with soot and grime that mothers, it was said, ''could barely make out the outlines of their children across the street.'' Acid rain soaked nearby woodlands, stripping tree trunks of their speckled lichens, leaving them bare and nearly black.
At the same time, British lepidopterists, mostly a pack of woodsy amateurs, noticed a change in the peppered moth. The typical speckled variety was quickly being replaced by an unusual black form, especially in the polluted industrial Midlands. As the forests darkened under the grimy skies, the moths grew darker. The typical peppered moths -- which had been nearly invisible on the trunks of unpolluted, lichen-covered trees -- were now becoming easy for hungry birds to spot on stripped, dark tree trunks. Perhaps the darker moths, less visible in polluted forests, were an adaptation, evidence of natural selection at work. Ever since Darwin, biologists had been looking for an example of evolution in action. Now they thought they had it.
The idea that natural selection might explain the rise of the dark moths was suggested in the late 19th century. But it wasn't tested until 1953, when E. B. Ford, an Oxford biologist, recruited an amateur lepidopterist, H. B. D. Kettlewell, to get out into the field and find out what was happening. Kettlewell, a doctor, and a moth collector since he was a boy, jumped at the opportunity to abandon his medical practice and pursue his hobby full time.
He lugged mercury-vapor lamps and moth traps into the English countryside, where he released thousands of moths and monitored their survival. The experiments were difficult, but within two years Kettlewell had the evidence Ford was looking for. In industrial areas, birds gobbled up the typical peppered moths, leaving the dark moths behind to reproduce. That explained why the population of dark moths was increasing. And the opposite happened in undisturbed forests -- the dark moths were eaten, and the typicals survived.
''It is the slam-dunk of natural selection,'' Judith Hooper writes in ''Of Moths and Men.'' The experiments made their way into all the evolution textbooks, many of which reproduced a now famous pair of seemingly indisputable black-andwhite photographs. In one, a dark moth is strikingly obvious on a lichen-covered tree trunk, while an arrow points to a nearly invisible speckled moth nearby. In the other, the speckled moth stands like a beacon on a dark, stripped trunk, and the dark moth is neatly concealed.
There it was: natural selection in action. Darwin was right. End of story. Sadly, as Hooper shows, that wasn't the end of the story. In recent years it has become clear that the evidence on which the story hangs is as flimsy as a butterfly's wing. Kettlewell's experiments proved nothing. The most famous example of evolution in action must now become the most infamous.
Kettlewell went into the woods knowing the results he wanted, and he didn't quit until he got them. The experiment was done under highly artificial conditions. Laboratory-bred moths were put on trees in unnatural positions, at the wrong time of day. Kettlewell himself decided which moths were safely concealed from birds and which were not. He was so adept in the field that even his critics might say he could think like a moth. But nobody believed he could see like a bird. ''We don't allow experiments like this any more,'' says Ted Sargent, an emeritus professor of biology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and Kettlewell's severest critic.
Sargent doesn't suggest that Kettlewell lied or cheated. In Kettlewell's desperation to succeed, and to please Ford, he might simply have seen what he wanted to see. ''There are subtle ways to seduce yourself,'' Sargent says. Hooper's aptly titled book is about the men as much as about the moths. The characters in this tragic tale were among Britain's most brilliant scientists. But that brilliance was undermined by cold ambition that led them to turn on one another and perhaps even tamper with results of experiments. Hooper shows us their failings, but with gentleness and respect, creating a moving and compassionate portrait of Ford, Kettlewell and the others in this decades-long drama.
The most sympathetic figure here is Kettlewell. Ford brought him to Oxford because he was the best field lepidopterist Ford knew. Ford was on a mission, to demonstrate the importance of natural selection in Darwin's theory. But Kettlewell was never accepted at Oxford. He did not have the requisite academic degrees, nor could he compete in the often cruel intellectual jousting common in college dining halls. ''He was the best naturalist I have ever met, and almost the worst professional scientist I have ever known,'' said one colleague.
Kettlewell's personal life crumbled as he struggled to meet the increasing demands placed upon him by Ford, whose reputation owed much to his analysis of Kettlewell's experiments. Ford used him up. Kettlewell, a hypochondriac, increasingly began to suffer from real diseases: recurring bouts of bronchitis, pneumonia, pleurisy and flu, along with heart problems. In 1978, he fell out of a birch tree on a collecting expedition, breaking his back. He never recovered. More than anything, Kettlewell wanted to be accepted as a fellow of the Royal Society. Ford nominated him three times, but did so in a way that made sure Kettlewell would not be accepted.
Kettlewell died on May 11, 1979. The Dictionary of Scientific Biography says he ''apparently'' overdosed on a painkiller. But Kettlewell's colleagues knew his death was no accident, Hooper says. Many obituaries expressed enormous affection; ''everyone loved him,'' one said. Everyone except Ford, that is. Told that Kettlewell had committed suicide, Ford called him a coward.
The story of the peppered moth, as Hooper shows, is not what it seemed. Nor is it settled. The dark moths have now nearly disappeared, but the debate continues. ''At its core lay flawed science, dubious methodology and wishful thinking,'' Hooper writes. ''Clustered around the peppered moth is a swam of human ambitions, and self-delusions shared among some of the most renowned evolutionary biologists of our era.''
Paul Raeburn, a senior writer at Business Week, is president of the National Association of Science Writers.