NTS LogoSkeptical News for 1 August 2010

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Defeating Darwin in 4 easy steps


April 18, 2008

By Bryan Fischer

What follows is a straightforward, 4-step refutation of the theory of evolution. They're easy to remember, and make a nice little cadence when spoken with a little rhythm: First Law, Second Law, Fossils and Genes. Armed with this truth, go forth and conquer.

Before we even start, we ought to notice that, if evolution is true, there would be no way to know it. Because evolution teaches that everything that exists is the product of the random collision of atoms, this logically includes the thoughts I am thinking about evolution. But if my thoughts are the product of the random collision of atoms, there is no reason to think that any of them are true — they just are.

No one "random collision of atoms" can be said to be truer than another, any more than one randomly generated Rorschach ink blot can be said to be more correct than another.

As J.B.S. Haldane famously observed, "If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motion of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms."

All right, here we go.

First Law of Thermodynamics. This law (note: not a theory but a scientific law) teaches us that matter and energy can neither be created nor destroyed. In other words, an honest scientist will tell you that there is nothing in the observable universe that can explain either the origin of energy or matter. By logical extension, then, matter and energy had to come into being by some force outside the universe.

What this means, then, is that science simply has no explanation for the most basic question that could possibly be asked: why is there something rather than nothing?

Intelligent Design advocates have an answer to this question; evolutionists do not.

When you see a turtle on a fence post, what's the one thing you know? Somebody put him there. When you see a world hanging in space, what's the one thing you know? Someone put it there.

It's futile to resort to the big bang theory, as some evolutionists are wont to do. They say they have an explanation for the origin of the universe: it began when a ball of incredibly dense matter exploded and flung the universe into existence. Okay, fine. Now: where did that incredibly dense ball of matter come from?

Even Aristotle saw that behind the existence of the universe had to be what he called a Prime Mover or an Unmoved Mover. If everything is the result of secondary causes, nothing would ever actually happen. Some great power had to be a primary cause of motion, energy, and existence.

If you walk into an office and you see one of those toys with the steel balls swinging left to right, right to left, virtually endlessly, the one thing you will know for an absolute certainty is that some force outside that toy had to start the whole thing by lifting the first ball and releasing it to clack against the others. The process you observe could not possibly have started all by itself.

Intelligent Design theory offers a Prime Mover, evolution does not.

Second Law of Thermodynamics. This law (note: not a theory but a law) teaches us that in every chemical or heat reaction, there is a loss of energy that never again is available for another heat reaction. This is why things break down if left to themselves, and why scientists tell us that the universe is headed toward a heat death.

This law teaches us, then, that the universe is headed toward increasing randomness and decay.

But what does the theory of evolution teach us? The exact opposite, that the universe is headed toward increasing complexity and order. You put up a theory against my law, I'm going to settle for the law, thank you very much.

Plus, this teaches us that the universe had to have a beginning. If you see a watch winding down, one thing you know for absolute sure is that somebody wound it up to begin with.

Intelligent Design theory offers not only a Watchmaker but a Watch-winder; evolution does not.

Fossils. Realize that the fossil record is the only tangible, physical evidence for the theory of evolution that exists. The fossil record is it. There is absolutely nothing else Darwinians have they can show you.

As Yale University's Carl Dunbar says, "Fossils provide the only historical, documentary evidence that life has evolved from simpler to more and more complex forms."

But if Darwin's theory is correct, that increasingly complex life forms developed in tiny little incremental and transitional steps, then the fossil record should by littered with an enormous number of transitional fossils.

Darwin himself said, "The number of intermediate and transitional links must have been inconceivably great."

But, sadly for Darwinians, after 150 years of digging in dirt all around the world, there are still no transitional fossils at all, not one! The most famous paleontologist in the world, Harvard's Stephen Jay Gould, said, "The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology." (Note" "extreme rarity" is Harvard-speak for "nada, zilch, zippo.")

Colin Patterson of the British Museum of Natural History agrees with Gould that "there are no transitional fossils," not even a single one "for which one could make a watertight argument."

In other words, people who study fossils for a living know there are no transitional forms but they don't want you and me to know it, 'cause it might prompt us to stop imbibing the swill of evolution.

Gould developed an absurd theory called "punctuated equilibrium," a theory that evolution happened so fast, in such rapid bursts, that it left no trace in the fossil record. Imagine that: the only evidence he has for his theory is the total absence of any evidence whatsoever! And this guy taught at Harvard!

What the fossil record teaches us, in contrast to the theory of evolution, is that increasingly complex life forms appear fully formed in the fossil record, just as if they were put there by a Creator. This is especially true of what is called the "Pre-Cambrian Explosion," the vast, overwhelming, and quite sudden appearance of complex life forms at the dawn of time. Evolutionists are at a total loss to explain the Pre-Cambrian Explosion.

Thus the fossil record is a powerful argument for the existence of an Intelligent Designer while at the same time being fatal for the theory of evolution.

Intelligent Design theory has an explanation for the fossil record; evolution does not.

Genes. The only mechanism — don't miss this — the only mechanism evolutionists have to explain the development of increasingly complex life forms is genetic mutation. Mutations alter DNA, and these alterations can be passed on to descendants.

The problem: naturally occurring genetic mutations are invariably harmful if not fatal to the organism. Rather than improve an organism's capacity to survive, they invariably weaken it. That's why the phrase we most often use to refer to genetic mutations is "birth defects."

If scientists are some day able to engineer beneficial genetic mutations, that will simply prove our point: we told you it takes intelligence and design.

Catch these two quotes. First, evolutionary microbiologist James Shapiro of the University of Chicago: "There are no detailed Darwinian accounts for the evolution of any fundamental biochemical or cellular systems, only a variety of wishful speculations."

And this from University of Bristol scientist Alan Linton: "Throughout 150 years of the science of bacteriology, there is no evidence that one species of bacteria has changed into another. None (Note: "none" means "none, nada, zilch, zippo") exists in the literature claiming that one species has been shown to evolve into another."'

And if it's never been observed in the simplest of all organisms, it shouldn't come as a surprise that it's never been observed with more complex forms. Says Linton, "There is no evidence (Note: "no evidence" means "no evidence, nada, zilch, zippo") for evolution throughout the whole array of higher multicellular organisms."

So honest Darwinians will tell you that evolution — by which we mean the transition of one species into another — has never, not ever, been observed by anyone at any time. In other words, they believe in something that nobody has ever seen. Hmmm. And they accuse us of a blind leap of faith!

Bottom line: the easiest verse in the Bible to believe is the very first one of all: "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth."

© Bryan Fischer

Four bad arguments against evolution


Category: Creationism
Posted on: April 19, 2008 11:16 AM, by PZ Myers

Bryan Fischer claims that anyone is capable of defeating Darwin in 4 easy steps, all they have to do is remember his four "scientific" arguments. I've got an easier strategy for creationists: be really stupid, lie a lot, and ignore anything a scientist tells you. See? Only three steps, and none of them require any thought whatsoever. Besides, it's really what Fischer has done, too. The only thing new is that he has distilled creationist inanity down to four easily dismissed lies, and they actually are fairly representative of common creationist misconceptions.

So here you go, Bryan Fischer's easily trounced arguments.

First Law of Thermodynamics. This law (note: not a theory but a scientific law) teaches us that matter and energy can neither be created nor destroyed. In other words, an honest scientist will tell you that there is nothing in the observable universe that can explain either the origin of energy or matter. By logical extension, then, matter and energy had to come into being by some force outside the universe.

Intelligent Design theory offers a Prime Mover, evolution does not.

There are actually several errors here.

Right off the bat, he makes the common error of assuming there is some universal authority that ranks scientific ideas into "laws" and "theories", with laws having some objective priority. This is not true. It's largely arbitrary. If you come up with a description of something that can be typically written out in a short and easily testable mathematical formula, it tends to be called a law: for example, Newton's laws, including F=ma, etc., or the ideal gas law, PV=nRT. Laws tend to be short and simple. This is not always true, of course (arbitrary, remember?): for example, Ernst Haeckel called his description of the relationship between development and evolution the Biogenetic Law, which has the virtue of being a counter-example that is neither mathematical nor in any way formally correct.

Theories, on the other hand, tend to be descriptions of more complex phenomena, and are often not easily reducible to a formula: for example, cell theory, germ theory, and the theory of evolution. They are neither more nor less true than a law, and a scientific theory is nothing like the colloquial meaning of "theory", a guess. Theories can also encompass many ideas that we call laws. Evolution, for instance, includes concepts like the Hardy-Weinberg Law and Dollo's Law.

So in the first sentence of his first argument against evolution, Fischer reveals his scientific illiteracy. Perhaps I need to define a Myers' Law that says every creationist argument will be built on false premises that expose the arguers ignorance — keeping in mind that anyone can declare a statement to be a law, and calling something a law is no promise of validity. It seems to hold up fairly well in Fischer's case, at least.

The rest is irrelevant. The Big Bang is not part of evolutionary theory, which describes the history of life on earth. Even if physicist discovered that the Big Bang was a result of a cataclysmic battle between Odin and a gang of frost giants, it would not perturb our understanding of life's history here. It would make the cosmologists freak out, which would be fun, and it would shape our philosophical understanding of our presence here, but evolution is built on evidence on this planet, evidence that will not go away whatever the physicists discover about events 14 billion years ago.

As for that last sentence … I've seen a lot of belittling of Dawkins "Ultimate 747" argument from The God Delusion, but it really is a key point for these people. There is a naive assumption that every action must have a causal intent behind it, which is not true; they even acknowledge it when they exempt their god from this "law". It's fair game to turn it around on them and remind them that they postulate something infinitely complex and powerful which has no cause. The other strategy I use (keep in mind, I'm not a cosmologist) is to argue hypothetically that what if there is an eternal and timeless substrate of something more fundamental than space and time that bubbles up universes, like ours, spontaneously — it is not a god, nothing that cares about us personally, but it does have the attribute of never requiring a creation event, like their hypothetical god. Even claiming a causal event at the beginning of the universe does not imply Jesus.

Second Law of Thermodynamics. This law (note: not a theory but a law) teaches us that in every chemical or heat reaction, there is a loss of energy that never again is available for another heat reaction. This is why things break down if left to themselves, and why scientists tell us that the universe is headed toward a heat death.

This law teaches us, then, that the universe is headed toward increasing randomness and decay.

But what does the theory of evolution teach us? The exact opposite, that the universe is headed toward increasing complexity and order. You put up a theory against my law, I'm going to settle for the law, thank you very much.

All right, another repitition of the false law/theory dichotomy, with extra emphasis. Still wrong.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics argument is one of the hoariest, silliest claims in the creationist collection. It's self-refuting. Point to the creationist: ask whether he was a baby once. Has he grown? Has he become larger and more complex? Isn't he standing there in violation of the second law himself? Demand that he immediately regress to a slimy puddle of mingled menses and semen.

Nothing in evolution violates laws of physics or chemistry, and the properties of organisms depend on the second law. We burn food, increasing its entropy, to decrease entropy locally in our bodies; the net change is an overall increase in entropy, but the bit we care about, ourselves, can use that increase to drive a local decrease. All of this is obvious, with even a minimal understanding of the principles involved.

Fossils. Realize that the fossil record is the only tangible, physical evidence for the theory of evolution that exists. The fossil record is it. There is absolutely nothing else Darwinians have they can show you.

It kind of takes your breath away, doesn't it? This is an argument that relies entirely on a profound ignorance of the science of biology. No, this is not true; in fact, fossils are only a tiny part of the evidence for evolution. It's a kind of sexy, tangible, concrete piece that doesn't require a lot of background to appreciate, and historically it is very important, but in modern biology, it's probably the least of the elements that support the theory.

First of all, the fossil evidence is flawed and imperfect, which every evolutionary biologist will tell you, and as creationists are fond of quoting. Even Darwin's Origin goes on at length to document the imperfection of the geological record — all it can do is demonstrate a long pattern of change and diversity over earth's history (which does contradict literalist interpretations of the bible) and hint at transitions and connections between lineages … and even the fossil lineages are a product of a connect-the-dots sort of exercise. Fossils disprove a literal Genesis, which is probably why the creationists focus on them so much, but they provide only a sketch outline of the history of life on earth and are not the key evidence for the process and mechanisms for evolution.

For that, we rely on evidence in living organisms. Read this summary of the evidence for evolution, for instance; a small part of it is a description of transitional fossil forms, but most of it is molecules, comparative phylogenies, development, genetics, biogeography, experiments … and especially molecules, molecules, molecules. Modern evolutionary biology is dominated by molecular analyses — everything from traditional ecological field work to embryology has become reliant on looking at genes and proteins. In the field I follow most closely, evo-devo, there is virtually no fossil evidence of any kind, nor can there be — we're interested in the dynamic process of gene expression and interaction during the formation of embryos, and none of that can fossilize. You can read some of my articles on evolution, and you'll find relatively few fossils discussed — it's mostly about molecular mechanisms. Similarly, my Seed articles have all been on evo-devo and molecular genetics. That's where all the action is at, not in fossils.

This isn't even new. Darwin himself vested little effort in a discussion of fossils as evidence, but instead discussed variations under domestication and in nature, his mechanism of natural selection, hybrids, biogeography, and development, and prefaced his chapter "On The Geological Succession Of Organic Beings" with a chapter "On The Imperfection Of The Geological Record". This has always been the case in evolutionary biology, that the primary evidence has come from extant forms, not old bones.

Fossils have just always been handy tools to bonk creationists over the head with, while telling them their myth is wrong.

Genes. The only mechanism -- don't miss this -- the only mechanism evolutionists have to explain the development of increasingly complex life forms is genetic mutation. Mutations alter DNA, and these alterations can be passed on to descendants.

The problem: naturally occurring genetic mutations are invariably harmful if not fatal to the organism. Rather than improve an organism's capacity to survive, they invariably weaken it. That's why the phrase we most often use to refer to genetic mutations is "birth defects."

Wait…Fischer has just told everyone that the only evidence "Darwinists" can muster is the fossils, and then in this last point he mentions genes? So he does have a vague notion that biologists do look at something other than mineralized bones, which implies that he was simply lying in his third argument.

Whenever Fischer says "the only…", I think we can take it as a given at this point that he's just making stuff up. Evolution is not "only" about mutations. Mutations provide a substrate of random variation on which other mechanisms, such as selection and drift, can operate to produce change in a population. That's the first grand error in this claim, and it's a fairly common misconception, implying that all there is to evolution is random chance assembly of functional organisms.

The second big mistake is the claim that genetic mutations are invariably harmful. This is simply not true. Most mutations are neutral, some are harmful, and a smaller number are beneficial. The whole point of Darwin's great idea, though, is that there are mechanisms (the ones Fischer claims don't exist) which can select for and increase the frequency of the beneficial mutations over time, while winnowing out the harmful ones.

We know beyond a shadow of a doubt that most mutations can't be harmful, or we'd all be dead. We know this because we understand genetics, unlike Mr Fischer, and we know that every human being on this planet is born with a substantial collection of novel mutations. I'll just cite Larry Moran's succinct calculation:

The haploid human genome is about 3 × 109 base pairs in size. Every time this genome is replicated about 0.3 mutations, on average, will be passed on to one of the daughter cells. We are interested in knowing how many mutations are passed on to the fertilized egg (zygote) from its parents. In order to calculate this number we need to know how many DNA replications there are between the time that one parental zygote was formed and the time that the egg or sperm cell that unite to form the progeny zygote are produced.

In the case of females, this number is about 30, which means that each of a females eggs is the product of 30 cell divisions from the time the zygote was formed (Vogel and Rathenberg, 1975). Human females have about 500 eggs. In males, the number of cell divisions leading to mature sperm in a 30 year old male is about 400 (Vogel and Motulsky, 1997). This means that about 9 mutations (0.3 × 30) accumulate in the egg and about 120 mutations (0.3 × 400) accumulate in a sperm cell. Thus, each newly formed human zygote has approximately 129 new spontaneous mutations.

Is Mr Fischer walking around with over 100 "birth defects"?

One last, relatively minor complaint, but it is a pet peeve: most birth defects are not a consequence of genetic changes at all, but of epigenetic errors — factors in the environment that perturb the pattern of development and cause aberrations in form. Most of the malformations that Fischer would label birth defects have no genetic basis, while virtually all of the genetic changes that occur in every one of us would not even be recognized by him. It's symptomatic that basically everything Bryan Fischer says is a 180° reversal from the truth.

But then, what else would you expect? Fischer has no knowledge of biology at all. His training is in theology (surprise!), which seems to have only taught him arrogance and pretentiousness, that he thinks expertise in making stuff up from old books means that people with real degrees in the sciences are doing likewise. The tragedy is that this clown is the head of the Idaho Values Alliance, which means he believes his patent ignorance qualifies him to tell other human beings how to live their lives.

Avoiding another culture war on the Kansas Board of Education


Remember when Kansas was a national, heck, international laughingstock because of the state Board of Education stance on teaching creationism as an alternative to evolution in science classes?

It wasn't that long ago, and it was a mistake that must not be repeated. Ottawa's Dennis George gives the 3rd District, which includes southern Johnson County, the best chance of avoiding another culture war.

His opponent, longtime incumbent John Bacon of Olathe, wants to pull the board back to the bad old days. Bacon notes that evolutionary theory is "not neutral and very much supports non-theistic religious beliefs."

He ignores responsible mainstream support for scientific theory, constantly questioned and revised, and overwhelmingly accepted in academia. Kansas students deserve to be prepared properly for college, and college admissions, if that's their future choice.

George is a longtime advocate for quality education, and sees the seat for what it is — a chance to improve the education for Kansas schoolchildren.

Posted on Sat, Jul. 31, 2010 10:15 PM

Read more: http://www.kansascity.com/2010/07/31/2120094/avoiding-another-culture-war-on.html#ixzz0vNB0Ilyu

Livingston School Board: No creationism this year


Advocate Florida parishes bureau
Published: Aug 1, 2010 - Page: 1B

LIVINGSTON — The Livingston Parish School Board won't try to include the teaching of creationism in this year's curriculum, but has asked the School Board staff to look at the issue for possible future action, board officials said.

A decision to teach creationism could become expensive for the parish school system, said Marjorie Esman, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union.

"If they were to do it, they could anticipate that any litigation would result in them not only losing, but having to pay enormous legal fees," she said. "They would be wasting a huge amount of taxpayer money on a battle they can't win."

Livingston Parish School Board President Keith Martin, who acknowledges that the parish school system faces major financial challenges, said the cost of litigation does have to be taken into consideration.

"A lawsuit is something you always have to factor in because of finances of the board," Martin said.

The question of teaching creationism was sent to a staff committee, which is not expected to report before the beginning of this school year, but should report in time for the board to do whatever it needs to do for next year, he said.

"We have decided not to try to hurry up and rush something in for this year," Martin said.

Martin said that a number of years ago when the issue came up, he voted against teaching creationism, but not because he didn't want it to be taught.

He said he was concerned about whether teachers would try to introduce their own religious beliefs.

"I was worried about the curriculum," Martin said. "I was worried about how it was going to be taught."

How the subject would be taught has been refined since then, he said.

In making a creationism decision the board has to look at all of the information and decide what is best, he said.

"I don't think the board would do anything if our attorney advised it was something that we couldn't win in court, Martin said.

Tom Jones, the School Board's attorney, said a board member brought the issue up when evolution was mentioned as being part of the state's 2008 Science Education Act.

Jones said his previous research indicated that under the U.S. Constitution public schools can't teach religion or the religious theory of creationism.

"Without a doubt it's a constitutional issue," and state law does not supersede the U.S. Constitution, he said.

Jones said he is not sure what the staff committee "will come back with, but I think it will be reasonable."

Given the financial picture of parish schools "the worst thing we could do at this point is to get into protracted litigation," the attorney said.

David Tate, the School Board member who brought up the matter at the board's last meeting, said he would rather not see litigation, but added that the board gets sued on other matters.

"We don't want litigation, but why not take a stand for Jesus and risk litigation," Tate said.

Tate said teaching evolution as a theory is fine, but there are other ideas.

"Creationism is another thought of how things came into being," he said. "Give every theory due time" in the classroom.

"We don't all have to believe the same thing," Tate said.

"It's a very touchy subject," said Bill Spear, Superintendent of Livingston Parish Schools. "We as a staff will enforce whatever the board adopts."

Find this article at:

Copyright © 1992-2008, 2theadvocate.com, WBRZ, Louisiana Broadcasting LLC and The Advocate, Capital City Press LLC

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Creationists hijack lessons and teach schoolkids man and dinosaurs walked together


By Carly Hennessy and Kathleen Donaghey
From: The Courier-Mail August 01, 2010 12:00AM

PRIMARY school students are being taught that man and dinosaurs walked the Earth together and that there is fossil evidence to prove it.

Fundamentalist Christians are hijacking Religious Instruction (RI) classes in Queensland despite education experts saying Creationism and attempts to convert children to Christianity have no place in state schools.

Students have been told Noah collected dinosaur eggs to bring on the Ark, and Adam and Eve were not eaten by dinosaurs because they were under a protective spell.

Critics are calling for the RI program to be scrapped after claims emerged Christian lay people are feeding children misinformation.

About 80 per cent of children at state primary schools attend one half-hour instruction a week, open to any interested lay person to conduct.

Many of the instructors are from Pentecostal churches.

Read more: http://www.news.com.au/national/creationists-hijack-lessons-and-teach-schoolkids-man-and-dinosaurs-walked-together/story-e6frfkvr-1225899497234#ixzz0vHaORHU7

Friday, July 30, 2010

Evolution education update: July 30, 2010

Creationism is stirring in Louisiana. In the meantime, the History News Network commemorates the anniversary of the Scopes trial with a pair of essays, and the American Academy of Religion affirms that creation science or intelligent design are wrong for the science classroom.


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).

For the article in the Advocate, visit:

For Forrest's letter, visit:

For the decision in Edwards v. Aguillard, visit:

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


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.

For Reznick's essay, visit:

For Hamner's essay, visit:


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 (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.

For the AAR's Guidelines (PDF), visit:

Thanks for reading! And don't forget to visit NCSE's website -- http://ncse.com -- where you can always find the latest news on evolution education and threats to it.

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

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Livingston Parish School Board Wants to Implement Discovery Institute's "Academic Freedom" Law


Published by admin on 29 Jul 2010 at 01:21 am

By Barbara Forrest

Well, the Discovery Institute is apparently going to be nicely repaid for its investment in the Pelican State. DI's promotion of its academic freedom legislation in Louisiana is bearing fruit. At its July 22, 2010, meeting, the Livingston Parish School Board announced its interest in teaching creationism under the 2008 Louisiana Science Education Act. Actually, they did more than announce their interest. They proclaimed it. There are more Discovery Institute connections to this development than you can shake a stick at. But let's let the headlines make the announcement, shall we?

Here is how the announcement appeared on the Livingston Parish News's website on July 24:

Here is the headline in the print edition (click the image for a larger view):

Let's Connect the Dots

If there was any doubt that people in Louisiana understand exactly why the Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA) was enacted into law in 2008, those doubts have now been dispelled. Our citizens have clearly connected the dots that link the LSEA and creationism. Note that the Livingston Parish News headline says "CREATION SCIENCE." The opening blurb (visible in the larger image above) also says, "School board members want their curriculum designers to take advantage of a recent state law allowing science classes to add the controversial 'pro-Christian' interpretation of nature." (A similar article in the July 24 Baton Rouge Advocate bears the headline, "School Board might OK teaching creationism.") [all emphasis added]

Livingston Parish Director of Curriculum Jan Benton, in explaining to the school board on July 22 why the curriculum has not been changed in the wake of the LSEA, also explicitly made the connection. She told the board that "In the 2008 legislative session, the Science Education Act was adopted. It deals with creationism and the teaching of it in the schools. We had decided at that time to not teach it in our system." [emphasis added]

School board member David Tate, who appears to be the ringleader in this outbreak, has also made the connection. Here is what Tate said at the board meeting:

Every one of us (board members) sitting up here believes in creationism. We just sit up here and let them teach evolution and not take a stand about creationism. To me, how come we don't look into this as people who are strong Christians and see what we can do to teach creationism in schools?

It makes sense that Tate spoke up so prominently. He has been pushing to get creationism into the curriculum since 2004, as the Baton Rouge Advocate reported. In an excerpt from that story, note that there is a familiar name.

School Board member wants creationism taught

October 22, 2004, Friday Metro Edition


LIVINGSTON – School Board member David Tate called Thursday for adding creationism to the science curriculum in Livingston Parish schools. . . . Tate said he wants creationism, which refers to a life-origin story in the biblical Book of Genesis, added to the evolution science lessons that are already part of the standard science curriculum. Representatives from the Family Forum have met with the parish school system's curriculum director and secondary education director to recommend a format for supplemental materials to science lessons on creationism, said Randy Pope, assistant superintendent. [emphasis added]

Say what?! A proposal in 2004 from the Louisiana Family Forum to use **creationist** supplemental materials in Livingston Parish?! Rev. Gene Mills, the executive director of the LFF, must have momentarily forgotten that in 2008 when he denied in the the Hammond Daily Star that the LSEA — which at that point was entitled the "Louisiana Academic Freedom Act" — was about creationism:

Neither the Academic Freedom Act nor its companion, the 2006 Ouachita Parish School Board's Science Curriculum Policy Resolution, would protect the teaching of creationism. . . . This bill is not about teaching creationism or religion. [See below for information about the Ouachita policy.]

Darrell White, a retired Baton Rouge City Court judge who helped found the LFF but now works for the group as a "consultant," was the LFF representative who was working the school board in 2004. The LFF was apparently trying to get a head start on 2008, although, for some reason, the LP school board didn't follow through that year. White (who travels around giving Bibles to judges) is also the direct liaison between the LFF and the Discovery Institute. Let's digress momentarily to look at the evidence for that connection.

Darrell White, the Louisiana Family Forum, and the Discovery Institute

In 2003, when the Discovery Institute inserted itself into the Texas biology textbook selection process, White traveled to Texas to attend the Board of Education hearings in Austin and wrote a letter [pdf] to the board supporting DI's attempt to manipulate that process. (White and the LFF are gearing up for a Texas-style attack on science textbooks in Louisiana, a topic that will require a separate post. But we can make book on the Discovery Institute's involvement in this as well.)

In November 2006, when White engineered the passage of Ouachita Parish's "academic freedom" policy — the pre-LSEA camel's nose under the tent in Louisiana — his accomplishment was applauded by the Discovery Institute, which reprinted and linked to the policy on its website. (Download the policy from the Ouachita Parish School Board website here [pdf].) The Ouachita policy was also announced at Access Research Network (ARN), an intelligent design clearinghouse that is run by ID supporters in Colorado Springs and functions as a de facto arm of the Discovery Institute. The announcement, posted by ARN operative Tom Magnuson, has a most revealing URL: www.arn.org/blogs/index.php/3/2006/12/06/intelligent_design_can_be_taught_in_loui.

The Discovery Institute positively gushed over White's Ouachita Parish accomplishment in a December 6, 2006, post by DI staffer Anika Smith: "The Ouachita Citizen Provides Objective News in Louisiana." (The gushing was induced not only by White's accomplishment but by the fact that the Ouachita Citizen reported the Ouachita development so approvingly, highlighting White's involvement, with no dissenting interviewees.) DI was so happy about the Ouachita Parish academic freedom policy that they cited it in their downloadable intelligent design "briefing packet" for teachers: "The Theory of Intelligent Design: A Briefing Packet for Educators" [pdf here; see pp. 8 and 14].

During the 2008 legislative session, White's May 16, 2008, column, "Why We Should Support Academic Freedom Bills for the Science Classroom," was posted on the ARN blog, The ID Report. A few days later, DI reprinted on their website his May 20 letter to the Baton Rouge Advocate, "Debate, Evidence, and Evolution."

On May 21, the Discovery Institute rewarded White and the LFF for doing all the legwork in the Louisiana "academic freedom" initiative by sending DI staffer Casey Luskin and Caroline Crocker, a Virginia creationist who was featured in the ID propaganda movie Expelled, to Baton Rouge to attend the House Education Committee hearing concerning the LSEA. As a de facto representative of the Discovery Institute, Crocker testified in favor of the bill. Subsequent to Crocker's testimony, DI fellow David DeWolf revealed in a DI podcast interview that he had helped craft the Louisiana bill. (Listen to DI's podcasts about Louisiana, including those with Crocker and DeWolf, here [May 2008] and here [June 2008].)

The partnership between DI and LFF produced the ultimate pay-off on June 25, 2008, when Bobby Jindal signed the Louisiana Science Education Act into law. On June 27, 2008, at 7:18 a.m., the morning the news hit the local newspapers, the Discovery Institute declared victory — literally.

Discovery Institute and the Louisiana Family Forum — A Match Made in Heaven (or Two Peas in the Same Pod — Pick Your Metaphor)

In June 2009, while the Louisiana Department of Education (DOE) was doing its job of drafting a policy according to which the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) would handle complaints about supplementary materials in science classes (see here for background), the Discovery Institute interfered in Louisiana policy-making a second time. Casey Luskin contacted Nancy Beben, the Director of Curriculum Standards in the Standards, Assessments, and Accountability Division at the Louisiana Department of Education. When Beben wouldn't kowtow to him, Luskin criticized her publicly on DI's Evolution News & Views weblog:

Knowing the DOE's history of picking 'experts' who were evolutionists that opposed the LSEA, this past June I spoke with DOE staff member Nancy Beben, who helped draft the DOE's proposed rules. I raised these concerns with Ms. Beben that the DOE's proposed additions to the rules lacked express provisions giving due process to certain parties, like the publisher or the local school district, to defend the materials being challenged, and allowed the DOE to have arbitrary power to scuttle the decisions of the reviewers. Beben's response to me told me everything I needed to know:

She snapped that 'there are no parties in science,' just 'facts.'

The implications of that comment are profound: Ms. Beben and the DOE apparently view science simplistically (and inaccurately) as a monolithic enterprise without credible dissenting minority viewpoints. This means their view is directly inimical to the premise underlying the LSEA, which is that there can be credible minority scientific viewpoints worth disclosing to students when instructing them about controversial scientific topics.

Apparently Ms. Beben and the DOE not only don't understand how science works, but their view is directly inimical to the intent of the LSEA. To put it bluntly, the DOE was trying to bureaucratically muzzle the intent of the Louisiana legislature and skirt state law by proposing rules that would effectively gut the LSEA.

In his last statement, Luskin employs the classic creationist tactic of projection — accuse your opponent of precisely what you are doing so that you can divert attention away from the fact that you are doing it. It was the Louisiana Family Forum, working with the Discovery Institute, that gutted (1) the BESE policies governing implementation of the LSEA (January 2009) and (2) the filing of complaints about supplementary materials (September 2009). BESE undermined the DOE — and the school children of Louisiana — by giving the Discovery Institute and the LFF exactly what they wanted: a complaint procedure that the creationists — i.e, the Discovery Institute and the LFF — can effectively control.

In September 2009, when BESE caved and allowed the LFF to shape the complaint procedure, one of the people who showed up with the LFF to lobby BESE at the September 16 meeting had already helped the Discovery Institute in its effort — ultimately successful — to get creationist code language inserted into the Texas state science standards on March 25, 2009. Donald Ewert, a creationist from Oklahoma, had testified to the Texas Board of Education that "The theory of evolution contributes very little to an understanding of basic science and scientific research." At BESE's September 16, 2009, Student/School Performance and Support Committee meeting, he rendered a similar service. Ewert is a signatory to the Discovery Institute's list of scientists [pdf] "who dissent from Darwinism."

There has been quite a bit of reciprocal back-scratching by scientists who are also creationists. Wade Warren, a biologist at Louisiana College who testified on LFF's behalf in favor of the LSEA in 2008, also testified on DI's behalf at the same Texas hearing that Ewert attended. Casey Luskin gave both Warren and Ewert due credit on DI's Evolution News & Views blog. John West, associate director of DI's creationist Center for Science and Culture, extended DI's gratitude to Ewert and Warren in no less notable a venue than the Washington Post.

There is one more dot to connect in this clearly emerging picture of just how tight the Discovery Institute and the Louisiana Family Forum are. DI has reprinted on its website a June 26, 2010, guest column that Rev. Mills wrote for the Shreveport Times. Mills was trying to rebut a previous column by Louisiana attorney Charles Kincade in which Kincade criticized the LSEA. Mills leaped to the law's defense:

Anyone who repeats Kincade's tired old line that the LSEA will 'permit the teaching of religious creationism' needs to be administered either a literacy test or a lie detector test: the statute expressly prohibits, at Louisiana Family Forum's (LFF) insistence, 'discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion.' [emphasis added] [See also my rebuttal of Mills in the ST here.]

It's safe to say that there is an ongoing relationship here. In fact, the evidence is undeniable that there is a direct relationship between the Louisiana Family Forum and the Discovery Institute. The Discovery Institute is one of the only two organizations that promoted the LSEA, the other being the LFF. DI therefore shares with the LFF the direct responsibility both for this law's passage and for whatever creationist initiatives result from it, whether in Livingston Parish or anywhere else in Louisiana.

Now Back to Livingston Parish

So back in Livingston Parish, David Tate is again proposing that parish schools teach creationism, this time under the supposed protection of the LSEA. Let's see what Tate had to say in 2008 about the Louisiana Science Education Act when he attended the April 17 Senate Education Committee hearing. He knew what everyone else knew, namely, that the bill which was initially introduced as the "Louisiana Academic Freedom Act" — in honor of its relationship to the Discovery Institute's "Model Academic Freedom Statute on Evolution" — and which was enacted as the "Louisiana Science Education Act" was intended to permit the teaching of creationism. He was quoted by the New Orleans Times-Picayune (April 18, 2008):

David Tate, a Livingston Parish School Board member, said after the meeting, 'I believe that both sides — the creationism side and the evolution side — should be presented and let students decide what they believe.' Tate said the bill is needed because 'teachers are scared to talk about' creation, even when students bring it up. [emphasis added]

So there we have it. Tate gave plenty of notice that he would try to put this law to its intended use.

Meanwhile, Back at the Discovery Institute . . .

The boys at the Discovery Institute have been totally quiet about this development. They are surely hoping that no one will notice the elephant in the living room. DI will try to deny that what the Livingston Parish School Board discussed at the July 22 meeting reflects the intention of the law that they promoted. But promote it they did, eagerly and energetically, so they're probably having kittens up there in Seattle. They're probably already writing up a sanitized, code-term-saturated policy for the Livingston Parish School Board, which they hope will be more cooperative than the Dover, Pennsylvania, School Board turned out to be when DI tried to persuade that board to clean up its language.

One can just imagine the furious e-mail activity that must be taking place between Casey Luskin and Darrell White:

Casey Luskin: Hey, Darrell, you guys aren't sticking to the script. We've been over this a hundred times. Didn't you practice this with the school board ahead of time? You aren't supposed to mention 'intelligent design' and you darn sure aren't supposed to use the word 'creationism'! OK, one more time — here's how it goes: first, the Discovery Institute teaches the Louisiana Family Forum the code terms, and second, the Louisiana Family Forum teaches them to the school board. What's hard about that, Darrell?

So for Pete's sake, clean up your language down there! We spent all that time and energy helping you people out, and now you're screwing everything up! Get with the program. We told you how you were supposed to do this. Instead of using the word 'creationism,' your people on the Livingston Parish School Board — or Ouachita Parish, or wherever — are supposed to say that they simply want the public schools to help students engage in "critical analysis" or "critical thinking" about evolution. Or maybe they can say that the school board just wants to add the "evidence for and against evolution" or the "strengths and weaknesses of evolution." But none of this creationism talk, for heaven's sake! They're tipping everyone off! We already got our butts kicked once up in Pennsylvania!

Darrell White: Now, now, calm down, son. Everyone down here knows what's really going on, and most people are totally cool with it. Creationism, intelligent design, critical analysis, strengths and weaknesses. What's the difference? You and our other Discovery Institute friends already did your job by providing the template for the Louisiana Science Education Act — your "Model Academic Freedom Statute on Evolution" — and then lending us David DeWolf to help us tweak and sanitize our version of it so we could sucker the legislature. And on top of that, y'all were nice enough to send Caroline Crocker — a real creationist who's practically a movie star! — down here to testify for the bill. And then on top of all that, y'all helped us steamroll the DOE and BESE. We're mighty obliged, son. But you can let the grownups take it from here. We may talk slow down here, but we know what we're doing. It's gonna work out fine.

Casey: OMG — But let's get that code language into whatever **written** policy the school board comes up with, OK? And get the word out to your school board friends in other parishes. Can you at least handle that? Don't make me have to come down there again. OMG.

NEWS FLASH for the Discovery Institute: Your old creationist terminology trick has been amply exposed and explained. This won't work any more. It won't fool anyone.

Here is the simple truth: The Discovery Institute is heavily invested in Louisiana — up to their eyeballs. Whether the Livingston Parish School Board or some other Louisiana school board implements the LSEA — in the way that we all know is intended — won't matter. This Livingston Parish development — and any other initiative anywhere in Louisiana — will be the Discovery Institute's baby (or, rather, its tarbaby). As we say way down south, "You cain't disown this youngun. It's the spittin' image of its daddy!" The Livingston Parish CREATIONISM initiative — in whatever form it takes — will be the Discovery Institute's offspring. Discovery Institute owns this.

Copyright © 2010. Louisiana Coalition for Science.

Michael Gove and the "atheist schools"


By Terry Sanderson

The Education Secretary, Michael Gove, faced a House of Commons Education select committee this week to answer questions about the Academies Act. It became law yesterday after having been rushed through Parliament with scandalously inadequate scrutiny, given the scale of the changes and the complexity of our education system.

The newspapers majored on Gove's welcome for Richard Dawkins' apparent desire to open an "atheist school". It made a wonderful distraction from the awkward questions that need answering about "faith schools". (Between 35 and 40 of the present 150 applications for academy status are "faith-based").

Faith groups wanting to open new academies must pledge that they would restrict selection on grounds of religion to 50 per cent of their places. (And indeed, converting "faith schools" can retain their current admission arrangements even though oversubscribed ones could result in 100% religious selection.) However, Mr Gove said he doubted whether it would work the other way round and said bizarrely. "I don't think we will have children saying in assembly, 'Our Father, which art not in heaven.'"

One wonders how many "Muslim schools" are going to be welcoming 50 per cent of non-Muslims into their Koran-pushing midst – or, indeed, how many non-Muslims would want to expose their children to fundamentalist religious indoctrination on a daily basis.

Mr Gove says that safeguards will be put in place to stop extremist religious sects getting their hands on state-funded schools. Oh really? During the debate in the House of Lords on the Academies Bill, Baroness Murphy revealed: "Now take the case of the Ebrahim Academy in Whitechapel, an academy school for boys. It is highly selective and employs only male Islamic teachers. The school day is... divided into two sections. The school day begins with Tahfeez, which is reciting the Koran and getting the pronunciation right, which takes up half the day. Then the national curriculum takes up the second half of the day. It is a state-funded, tax-funded madrassah for the Islamic faith."

It is reported that the Ebrahim Academy is contemplating applying for Academy status. Can anyone imagine a Government minister saying to the people who run this indoctrination centre: "Not likely"? An uproar over Islamophobia would follow as sure as night follows day.

Mr Gove says that he will ban the teaching of creationism in science lessons. How, in that case, is he going to cope with the Seventh Day Adventist School, presently state-funded? The Adventists' whole religion is based on creationism (see the sixth of their "28 Fundamental Beliefs" here).

It seems to me that the rush to get this legislation through has left open so many loopholes that the religious extremists will drive a coach and horses straight through it.

And what about those parents who would prefer not to have their children indoctrinated by religious proselytisers while they are at school?

Mr Gove has said: "One of the principles behind our education reforms is to give people the maximum amount of choice so that those people, and they may not themselves necessarily have a very strong religious faith, but who believe that the ethos and values of faith-based education are right for their child, have that choice but others who want a different approach can take it as well." Indeed, Mr Gove, whose two children attend primary faith schools, told the cross-party group of MPs that he "recognised that there are some people who explicitly do not want their children educated in a faith-based setting".

Yet, Mr Gove's encouraging words are difficult to reconcile with his concession to demands from the churches that religious education and collective worship will continue to be a statutory requirement in the new academy system (as it is in other schools). So, as the law now stands it would be impossible to set up a religion-free publicly funded school.

We throw down the gauntlet to Mr Gove to demonstrate that he will carry through his mantra of choice without fear or favour to its logical conclusion – and reverse the legal requirements for daily religious worship and "mainly Christian" RE. Or do I detect that the seemingly cardinal principle of "choice" is subordinate to a greater and more noble one common to at least the two largest UK political parties: give the churches everything they want? We would be delighted for Mr Gove to prove us wrong, and if he does, I will be the first to raise a cheer.

See also:

Resistance to new school in Richmond being a "faith school"

Read Ed ("Wild") West's ridiculous contribution to the debate here

Approved for school visits


Published in The TES on 30 July, 2010 | By: David Marley

The Christian zoo accused of backing creationism

A kitemark devised to help teachers find suitable school trip destinations has been awarded to a Christian zoo accused of promoting creationism.

Noah's Ark Zoo Farm in Wraxall, near Bristol, is among the latest organisations to receive the Learning Outside the Classroom "quality badge", developed by the last Government.

The zoo already runs sessions for more than 15,000 pupils a year from key stage 1 to A-level.

But it has attracted controversy for its views on evolution and creation, arguing that science has tried 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 zoo's website says.

It argues that while evolution has taken place, it cannot explain the origins of life. Elsewhere, the website challenges fossil evidence and quotes widely from the Bible.

The quality badge is designed to help teachers plan trips. Organisations have to demonstrate that they offer high-quality learning experiences and manage risk effectively.

James Gray, education officer at the British Humanist Association (BHA), criticised the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom (CLOtC), the educational charity that awards the badges, for its decision.

"It is entirely inappropriate that it should support an establishment that advances creationism and seeks to discredit a wide variety of established scientific facts that challenge their religious views," said Mr Gray.

"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 zoo a quality badge risks exposing hundreds of children to anti-scientific dogma."

The argument is the latest instalment in a long-running debate about the place of religion in science and what pupils should be taught about conflicting views.

But a zoo spokesman strongly denied that its religious beliefs form any part of its educational sessions.

"Our religious element is not forced on or taught to children in workshops, and thus we believe the BHA are misguided in their criticism," he said.

"We do not teach religious ideology in school workshops; these are purely based on accepted national curriculum teaching."

He said that the zoo accepts evolution as scientific fact, but looks to "open up discussion as to the extent of evolution and whether indeed everything can be traced back into a singular ancestral tree of life".

He denied that the organisation subscribed to a concept of creationism that excludes the role of evolution. He added that the sessions for pupils focus on biology, covering topics such as life cycles and habitats.

The Learning Outside the Classroom campaign was developed by the previous Government after the Commons education select committee investigated school trips in 2005.

The CLOtC, which was set up in April 2009, has awarded about 670 quality badges and counts Mick Brookes, general secretary of heads' union the NAHT, among its trustees.

Elaine Skates, its deputy chief executive, said that all places are carefully assessed before approval.

"We believe that an important aim of learning outside the classroom is allowing children and young people access to education that challenges assumptions and allows them to experience a range of viewpoints," she said.

Original headline: Approved for school visits: the Christian zoo accused of backing creationism

Unintelligent By Design: Louisiana School District Considers Teaching Creationism


July 29th, 2010

By Rob Boston Evolution & Creationism, Religion in Public Schools

Members of the Livingston Parish School Board in Louisiana may be on the verge of making a huge mistake – one that could cost their community a lot of money.

During a recent meeting, several board members went off on a tangent about teaching creationism. During this public session, they openly discussed their desire to bring religion into the classroom. It was not a wise move.

The trouble began when Jan Benton, director of curriculum for the parish schools, noted that a new law in Louisiana allows schools to present "critical thinking and creationism" in science classes.

Board Member David Tate got excited and said, "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?"

Clint Mitchell quickly chimed in, "I agree…. 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."

Then, Keith Martin, the board's president, piled on, asserting that it's time to take a look at the issue.

"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."


Sure, some of the principals wouldn't like it – but why should the board listen to them? They're only professional educators. What do they know?

The Livingston board is laboring under several delusions. Let's consider some of them.

For starters, the 2008 law allows teachers to use "supplemental materials" when discussing evolution. It does not permit the teaching of creationism. The Supreme Court and lower federal courts have repeatedly struck down creationism in public science classes. The Livingston board ought to know this. After all, it was a Louisiana law that was declared unconstitutional in the famous Edwards v. Aguillard creationism case from 1987.

Secondly, the misnamed Louisiana Science Education Act is of dubious constitutionality. Many people believe it was designed to slip creationism (or at least religiously grounded criticism of evolution) into Louisiana public schools. The law is deeply misguided, and the main reason it hasn't been challenged yet is that no school board has been reckless enough to implement it.

Trust me, Livingston Parish, you do not want to be the test case.

Finally, when the law was passed, Americans United vowed to monitor its implementation. Any school that stepped over the line, we said, would hear from us.

AU Trustee Barbara Forrest, coauthor of the 2004 book Creationism's Trojan Horse, is already on the case. Barbara is not to be trifled with. She knows this issue as well as anyone in the country, and she served as an expert witness in the 2005 case striking down "intelligent design" – the current variant of creationism — in Dover, Pa.

Livingston school board members might want to read U.S. District Judge John E. Jones' opinion in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District. They might find it enlightening. They also might want to read up on the aftermath: The school board ended up paying more than $1 million in attorneys' fees.

Barbara has pointed out repeatedly that the 2008 Louisiana law has religious intent. When school board members in Livingston say things like, "Why can't we get someone with religious beliefs to teach creationism?" they are only making our job easier.

Here's some advice for Livingston Parish school officials: You don't want to go to court over this because you will lose. Drop the creationism crusade and stick to teaching standard biology – including evolution — in your schools. If you need some guidance as to why teaching evolution is a good idea, these folks probably have some thoughts.

P.S. As many of you know, Americans United's blog has been down for several days due to technical issues. I'm pleased to report that those have been resolved. We will have new content every week day, so be sure to visit.

Global Warming "Undeniable," U.S. Government Report Says


Past decade hottest on record, NOAA study says

Christine Dell'Amore
National Geographic News
Published July 28, 2010

"Global warming is undeniable," and it's happening fast, a new U.S. government report says.

An in-depth analysis of ten climate indicators all point to a marked warming over the past three decades, with the most recent decade being the hottest on record, according to the latest of the U.S. National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration's annual "State of the Climate" reports, which was released Wednesday. Reliable global climate record-keeping began in the 1880s.

The report focused on climate changes measured in 2009 in the context of newly available data on long-term developments.

(See "Heat Wave: 2010 to Be One of Hottest Years on Record.") For instance, surface air temperatures recorded from more than 7,000 weather stations around the world over the past few decades confirm an "unmistakable upward trend," the study says.

And for the first time, scientists put data from climate indicators—such as ocean temperature and sea-ice cover—together in one place. Their consistency "jumps off the page at you," report co-author Derek Arndt said.

"This is like going to the doctor and getting your respiratory test and circulatory test and your neurosystem test," said Arndt, head of the Climate Monitoring Branch of NOAA's National Climatic Data Center.

"It's testing all the parts, and they're all in agreement that the same thing's going on."

Global Warming Sparked Extreme Weather in 2009?

Three hundred scientists analyzed data on 37 climate indicators, but homed in on 10 that the study says are especially revealing.

Those indicators include:

As scientists would predict in a hotter world, some of the indicators—such as ocean heat content and temperature over land—are increasing. Others, such as sea ice cover and snow cover, are decreasing.

The influx of greenhouses gases into the atmosphere has also hit oceans particularly hard, the NOAA report says. (See an interactive on the greenhouse effect and global warming.)

New evidence suggests that more than 90 percent of that heat trapped by greenhouses gases over the past 50 years has been absorbed into the oceans.

Because water expands as it warms, the added ocean heat is contributing to sea level rise as well as to the rapid melting of Arctic summer sea ice. That melting in 2010 is on track to be worse than 2007, when Arctic ice cover reached its lowest point on record.

Such climatic shifts are already ushering in extreme weather, which plagued much of the globe in 2009, according to the report. (See a world map of potential global warming impacts.) For instance, Australia experienced its third hottest year on record.

On one February 2009 day—labeled "Black Saturday"—in Australia, 400 wildfires swept across the state of Victoria, killing 173 people and destroying 3,500 buildings. (See pictures of the Australian fires.)

NOAA Climate Report Offers Real-World Data

The NOAA report—published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society—is different from other climate publications, because it's based on observed data, not computer models, making it the "climate system's annual scorecard," the authors wrote. (Test your global warming knowledge.)

"It's telling us what's going on in the real world, rather than the imaginary world," said Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist at the Boulder, Colorado-based National Center for Atmospheric Research.

Even so, the report "does not carry the authority of the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] by any means," Trenberth noted.

That's partially because IPCC reports—the latest of which came out in 2007 with a similar claim that warming is "unequivocal"—are produced on longer time scales, with more time for review.

And even with real-world data, "the theory with regard to global warming is still incomplete"—especially since the atmosphere is so complex, Trenberth cautioned.

This "can be seen at a glance," for example, "by looking out of the window at the wondrous, great variety in clouds."

Controversial cancer treatment with the Breuss method


The Breuss cancer cure is an alleged alternative medical treatment for cancer popularized by the late Austrian healer Rudolf Breuss. In his book The Breuss Cancer Cure, Breuss claimed that a strict 42-day diet of vegetable juice and tea, deliberately depriving the body of solid foods, could entirely eradicate tumours within the body. He further claimed that tens of thousands of cancer victims had followed his diet and been cured of their illness.

According to Breuss's theory, tumour cells thrive on energy absorbed from solid foods: thus, patients stricken by cancer literally eat themselves to death, even if only in modest proportions. One can thus deprive the tumour of needed food, and particularly protein sources, by eliminating solid foods from the diet and living exclusively on tea and vegetable juice. Eventually, the starved tumours run out of energy and die off. The tea-and-juice diet prescribed by Breuss was intended as a cure for cancer, but he also believed that a similar diet could serve as cancer prevention.

The specific program prescribed by Breuss is more detailed, and varies somewhat according to the particular cancer diagnosis in question. According to CAM-Cancer, the Complementary and Alternative Medicine for Cancer program, sage, kidney, and cranesbill teas are prescribed for all patients. Further instructions depend on the type of cancer: for example, leukemia patients can eat solid foods except for meat and meat soup, most patients can have onion broth, and liver cancer patients should concentrate on potato, carrot, and beetroot juice. All juices should be made from organic vegetables.

The need to eat more vegetables is unquestioned - as is the value of some of Breuss's secondary, non-dietary recommendations, like quitting smoking and getting plenty of fresh air. (His added recommendation to avoid underground radiation from "water veins" is less credible.) The Breuss diet in particular, however, is not known to have any particularly effective connotations with respect to cancer treatment. Indeed, another diet with virtually the opposite recommendation (the macrobiotic diet, which focuses on grain consumption) also claims to be effective in limiting though not curing the spread of cancer.

In general, while an improved diet may help the body respond better to other medical therapies for cancer, there is currently no scientific evidence supporting the theory that any diet can actually cure cancer by starving tumours. This includes the Breuss method diet, which, according to an official at Cancer Research UK, may simply put a patient at risk of malnutrition. In other words, to the extent that fasting may shrink tumours by depriving them of nutrients, Breuss's claims may be valid, but this diet is not effective at choking off vital nutrients to the tumour without doing so to the body in general at the same time.

Homeopathy will not be banned by NHS despite critical report


Homeopathy will continue to be available on the NHS despite an influential health committee condemning it as medically unproven.

By Richard Alleyne
Published: 4:54PM BST 26 Jul 2010

Health minister Anne Milton said complementary and alternative medicine "has a long tradition" and very vocal people both in favour of it and against it.

A report by a group of MPs said homeopathic medicine should no longer be funded on the NHS and called for a ban on the medicines carrying medical claims on their labels.

The Commons Science and Technology Committee said there is no evidence the drugs are any more effective than a placebo - the same as taking a sugar or dummy pill and believing it works.

Last month, doctors attending the British Medical Association (BMA) annual conference backed this view, saying homeopathic remedies should be banned on the NHS and taken off pharmacy shelves where they are sold as medicines.

The treatment was described as "nonsense on stilts" and that patients would be better off buying bottled water.

Ms Milton said the Government welcomed the MPs' report but "remain of the view that the local National Health Service and clinicians are best placed to make decisions on what treatment is appropriate for their patients".

These decisions should take account of safety, and clinical and cost effectiveness, she said, adding that the Government remained committed to providing good-quality information on the treatments.

Homeopathy, which dates back 200-years, has been funded on the NHS since the service's inception in 1948.

It differs from herbal medicine in that it relies on substances being diluted many times, something the MPs said could not be scientifically proved to work.

There are four homeopathic hospitals in the UK, in London, Bristol, Liverpool and Glasgow.

Estimates on how much the NHS spends on homeopathy vary, with the Society of Homeopaths putting the figure at £4 million a year including the cost of running hospitals.

Former Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris, who was a member of the Science and Technology Committee when it published its report, said: "This is not a good start for the new Health Secretary when it comes to evidence-based policy.

"How does the Government justify allowing treatments that do not work to be provided by the NHS in the name of choice, when it allows medicines which do work to be banned from NHS use?"

Ban Upheld on Unlicensed Alternative Medicine Practitioners


The Constitutional Court has ruled that a medical law prohibiting anyone without a license from practicing alternative medicine such as acupuncture or magnetic therapy is constitutional.

Five out of nine judges said the law was unconstitutional, but since a ruling takes six judges to obtain, the final verdict remained unchanged.

The Justice Department said the current law is necessary to protect the health of patients.

However due to the large number of alternative medicine practitioners, debate over the issue is expected to heat up.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Keep science books for science


July 29, 2010

Fifteen years ago, a blood test that came back HIV positive was a death sentence. Now we have drugs that make AIDS a chronic, manageable condition.

Some of us would be inclined to marvel at the advances made by modern science. Others would thank God for guiding the hands of the scientists and technicians who saved so many from so much suffering. Who's to say both points of view aren't correct?

In either view, and in research and investigations that go far beyond the mysteries of HIV, science is the tool by which the plight of humankind is improved. That's why it would be wise for state education officials to resist what are sure to be objections to new science text books proposed for Louisiana classrooms.

"A group of concerned educators, parents and students" plans to review proposed science texts at the Ouachita Parish Library, according to The (Monroe) News-Star. One of their concerns: to make sure the teaching on evolution is up to date. And that's another way of saying they'd like science texts to cast doubt on Darwin's ideas.

Spokesman Mickey Cleveland said that if only Darwin had powerful microscopes, he might have seen that life at a fundamental level is simply too complex to have come about by chance.

"Science is proving creation," Cleveland told the News-Star.

With respect to Mr. Cleveland, science is doing no such thing. His argument sounds new, but it echoes one put forth in the 19th century by clergyman William Paley, who argued that life's complexity is evidence of a designer. That was the dominant idea in the field — right up until Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace developed the ideas that explained life's diversity without the need for supernatural intervention. Evolutionary theory has proven again and again to be a reliable insight into our past and an indispensible guide for biological and medical research.

This is not to disparage anyone's religious faith. But when we try to hammer the pegs of either religion or science into slots designed to accommodate the other, we're likely to beat them both out of shape.

There's another kind of evolution to worry about here. In a global marketplace becoming more scientific and technical, Louisiana has advantages as it tries to diversify its natural resources economy. We have fine institutions of higher learning, a technical infrastructure centered on the energy industry and unique ecosystems to study.

Instead, we've chosen to create our own little statewide Dark Age by passing laws like the 1980s statute effectively requiring creationism to be taught as science. When that law was ruled unconstitutional, we decided to dignify intelligent design by legislative fiat.

The state would do better to reserve science classes for science and allow parents to pursue religious education for their children at home and in church.

Creationist Rumblings in Louisiana


July 28, 2010 11:30AM
Post by Lauri Lebo

The Baton Rouge Advocate has an article about creationist rumblings in one of Louisiana's school districts. At a meeting this week, board members and officials with the Livingston Parish School District discussed their state's 2008 Science Education Act (LSEA), which its opponents argue was written in order to sneak Christianity into science class. The folks behind the law, meanwhile, are shocked (shocked, I tell you!) that anyone could accuse them of such a thing. All they are trying to do, they argue, is improve science education.

So it's interesting to read how Livingston district officials view the law:

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?"

Whether anything will come of the discussion remains to be seen. For now, the board appears supportive, but non-committal:

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."

Meanwhile, Barbara Forrest, a Southeastern Louisiana University philosophy of science professor and one of intelligent design's most damning critics, responds to the Livingston Parish discussion, providing some interesting context and delivering a dead-on blow-by-blow account of the religious motivations of those behind the law this week in the Hammond Daily Star. The Louisiana Family Forum, along with the pro-intelligent design Discovery Institute, was a chief lobbyist for LSEA. It is now embarking on a campaign to review all new science textbooks before their adoption. By the way, the Family Forum's mission statement is to "persuasively present biblical principles in the centers of influence on issues affecting the family through research, communication and networking."

Forrest writes:

The LSEA was only the beginning. The LFF's attack on science textbooks is next. And now the Livingston Parish School Board has announced its intention to consider teaching creationism. This is what the Legislature, BESE, and Bobby Jindal have enabled the LFF to pull off. 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?

Science education watchdogs have been waiting for one of Louisiana's school districts to implement creationism into science class in response to the law. Whether this will go anywhere is hard to tell, but the board's statements prove once again the wisdom of Lenny Flank's Rule, which goes something like this: Given enough time to talk, the intelligent design creationists will always shoot themselves in the foot. Eventually, they will bring religion into the discussion, because for them, that's what it's all about.

Which means no matter how much Gov. Jindal and his supporters at the Louisiana Family Forum and the Discovery Institute argue that they are only motivated by sound science education, their true motivations are forcing their religious beliefs on other people's children.

Televangelist Benny Hinn asks for $2M in donations


(AP) – 15 hours ago

SANTA ANA, Calif. — Televangelist Benny Hinn has posted a plea for $2 million in donations on his website.

Hinn says he accumulated the deficit in the past few months because offerings at some international appearances did not cover expenses.

Hinn's reputation as an advocate of prosperity gospel has attracted millions of followers but has also drawn criticism from lawmakers and watchdog groups.

He is one of six televangelists who have been targeted by federal lawmakers investigating compliance with IRS rules for nonprofits.

Hinn has said on his website that external auditors ensure his compliance with IRS regulations and that in 2008, 88 percent of the money he collected was spent on ministry.

Benny Hinn Ministries is based in Texas and operates a church and television studio in Southern California.

Translating Stories of Life Forms Etched in Stone


July 26, 2010


In 1909, Charles Walcott, a paleontologist and secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, discovered one of the greatest and most famous fossil troves high in the Canadian Rockies on Burgess Pass in British Columbia. The slabs of Burgess Shale that Walcott excavated contained the earliest known examples at the time of many major animal groups in the fossil record, in rocks that were about 505 million years old.

Walcott's discovery was further evidence of the so-called Cambrian Explosion — the apparently abrupt appearance of complex animals in the fossil record within the Cambrian Period, from about 542 to 490 million years ago. Although not seen before on the scale documented in the Burgess Shale, the emergence of trilobites and other animals in the Cambrian was familiar to paleontologists, and had troubled Charles Darwin a great deal.

The difficulty posed by the Cambrian Explosion was that in Darwin's day (and for many years after), no fossils were known in the enormous, older rock formations below those of the Cambrian. This was an extremely unsettling fact for his theory of evolution because complex animals should have been preceded in the fossil record by simpler forms.

In "On the Origin of Species," Darwin posited that "during these vast, yet quite unknown, periods of time, the world swarmed with living creatures." But he admitted candidly, "To the question why we do not find records of these vast primordial periods, I can give no satisfactory answer."

It took a very long time, and the searching of some of the most remote places on the planet — in the Australian Outback, the Namibian desert, the shores of Newfoundland and far northern Russia — but we now have fossil records from the time immediately preceding the Cambrian. The rocks reveal a world whose oceans were teeming with a variety of life forms, including primitive animals, which is certainly good news for Darwin.

Now, this once-worrisome gap in the fossil record is a period of intense interest to geologists as well as paleontologists. The former have even given it its own division in the geological timescale. The Ediacaran Period, from 635 to 542 million years ago, is the first new geological period to be named in more than a century. Moreover, geologists have developed some intriguing theories about how dramatic changes in the Earth's climate and chemistry during the Ediacaran may have allowed for the evolution of animals.

The first major advance towards finding the earliest animal life occurred in 1946 when Reginald Sprigg, a geologist for the South Australia government, was checking out some old mines in the Ediacaran Hills of the Flinders Range several hundred miles north of Adelaide. Sprigg noticed some striking disc-shaped impressions up to four inches in diameter on the exposed surfaces of rocks nearby.

Sprigg interpreted the patterns as the fossil remains of soft-bodied creatures like jellyfish or their relatives. But when Sprigg first showed the imprints to leading authorities, they dismissed them as artifacts made by the weathering of the rocks. However, later that year, when Sprigg found the frond-like forms he called Dickinsonia, he was certain that such geometrical impressions could have been made only by living creatures.

Sprigg was excited by both the unusual appearance of the fossils and by their age, which he believed to be the beginning of the Cambrian, and made them the oldest animal forms yet seen. But despite their potential importance, Sprigg's discoveries were ignored at an international geology meeting and his paper describing the fossils was rejected by the leading journal. Sprigg moved on to other, more rewarding pursuits in the oil, gas, and mining industries.

Scientific attention to these strange forms was not revived until a decade later when more soft-bodied forms were found in the Ediacaran Hills and in England, and their age was firmly established as actually predating the Cambrian. Deposits of similar aged forms have been discovered at Mistaken Point on the Avalon Peninsula of Newfoundland, in southern Namibia, the White Sea of Russia, and more than 30 other locations on five continents. The global distribution of these disc-, frond-, tube-, branch-, or spindle-shaped forms demonstrate that life was complex and diverse in the Ediacaran.

But finding these fossils has posed many new mysteries. Many of the creatures are so unlike modern forms that deciphering what they are and how they lived continues to challenge paleontologists. Prof. Andrew Knoll of Harvard University has likened the Ediacaran forms to a paleontological "Rorschach" test because different scientists often interpret the same fossil very differently.

Dickinsonia, for example, has been interpreted as being a relative of jellyfish, a marine worm, a lichen, or even as a member of a completely extinct kingdom. The challenge to classifying most Ediacarans is that they lack some features that are characteristic of modern animals, a mouth or an anus in the case of Dickinsonia, or the shells and hard parts typical of many Cambrian groups. But, in fact, such simple bodies are exactly what should be expected of primitive forerunners of later animals.

On the other hand, scientists have had to explain how such creatures functioned. Some of the very flat-bodied Ediacarans, for instance, lived on sediments and appear to have fed by directly absorbing nutrients by osmosis.

The kinds of animals that paleontologists have been especially eager to identify in the Ediacaran are those with bilateral body symmetry, the feature characteristic of the majority of modern animal groups, including ourselves.

Bilateral animals flourished in the Cambrian so tracing their origins is crucial to understanding the pace of animal evolution. Several bilateral Ediacaran animals have been discovered, including Kimberella, a possible mollusc. Hundreds of Kimberella specimens are known that date to about 555 million years ago, 50 million years before the animals of the Burgess Shale.

The Ediacaran fossil record thus stretches the origins of animals to well before the Cambrian Explosion. But it also raises the question of why, after more than 2.5 billion years during which microscopic life dominated the planet, larger, more complex, forms emerged at that time?

A key requirement for larger creatures is oxygen, and the dramatic history of oxygen levels is also etched in Ediacaran rocks. Geologists now understand that the earliest Ediacaran organisms were deep water creatures that emerged 575 to 565 million years ago, shortly after a major ice age ended about 580 million years ago.

Recent chemical analyses of Ediacaran sediments reveal that the deep ocean lacked oxygen before and during that ice age, then became much richer in oxygen and stayed that way after the glaciers melted . That sharp rise in oxygen may have been the catalyst to the evolution of animals, including our ancestors.

Several weeks after the publication of "On the Origin of Species" and amid a torrent of criticism, Darwin added a mischievous postscript to a letter to his friend, the geologist Charles Lyell: "Our ancestor was an animal which breathed water, had a swim-bladder, a great swimming tail, an imperfect skull & undoubtedly was an hermaphrodite! Here is a pleasant genealogy for mankind." The Ediacaran fossils tell us that Darwin was being too generous. Our earliest animal ancestor probably had no head, tail, or sexual organs, and lay immobile on the sea floor like a door mat.

Approach to teaching evolution in Louisiana prompts scrutiny of science textbook


By Karina Vailes • kdonica@thetowntalk.com • July 28, 2010

Classrooms across the state could be getting new science textbooks that include new ways to teach evolution, and the Louisiana Department of Education is encouraging public comment.

The proposed science textbooks -- which have sparked debate in many districts -- are part of the regular textbook adoption cycle that occurs every seven years in Louisiana.

Locally, the textbooks are not readily available for public review, but can be ordered through the Rapides Parish Library, said Steve Rogge, library director.

"I know we used to do that, but they were sending us thousands of books every year, literally, and nobody ever looked at them," Rogge explained. "It was just taking a lot of space, and we felt like space is of such premium that we need it for something else that people were actually using.

"There were one or two people a year, if that, that would ever look at any of this."

The new science textbook follows the Louisiana Science Education Act, approved in 2008, aimed at allowing teachers to use supplementary academic material in addition to state-approved textbooks on subjects like evolution, global warming and human cloning.

Opponents of the law, including the American Civil Liberties Union, are skeptical and said the act could give way to religious teachings in science classrooms.

ACLU officials also have said they are concerned that teachers and local school boards could "inject 'creationism,' 'intelligent design,' or other religiously based, anti-evolution concepts into the science curriculum."

Marjorie R. Esman, ACLU Louisiana chapter executive director, said she is concerned about the "purportedly" religious-based evidence from a handful of people who have a religious agenda.

"If we want Louisiana school children to be educated then we teach them real science, everything else is not science," Esman said. "The only science is evolution, everything else is religion."

Weighing in on the issue, Frank L. Rambin III, 72, of Alexandria, said he is curious to see how evolution will be taught to school children, if the textbook is approved.

When he was in grade school, Rambin said, science education erroneously taught many theories as facts and other theories were left out of the classroom.

"I didn't learn what I know in school, I did it from reading people a lot smarter than me," said Rambin, adding that he would like to see teaching that promotes discourse and independent thinking.

"We shouldn't be teaching anything that creates youngsters that don't love this country. Anything else you can teach as long as you don't lie about it," Rambin said. "In other words, don't be an evolutionist and say, 'The science is done, it is a scientific truth.' That's a lie."

Rambin, who said he is a Christian, said that while he believes in God, he doesn't advocate teaching children that God's existence is a proven fact.

"We ought to be teaching our children how to think for themselves and give them the tools to do that with, and if you want to teach evolution, do it as a theory. If you want to teach creation, then it has to be a theory, and science has to be applied to the theories," Rambin said.

The deadline to summit comments to the Louisiana Department of Education is Sept. 13.

Gravity, Evolution and Religious Dogma


The Huffington Post July 29, 2010

Michael Zimmerman, Ph.D..Founder, The Clergy Letter Project
Posted: July 28, 2010 11:19 AM

Unwittingly, I'm sure, Erik Verlinde may have provided a defining moment for the Discovery Institute and other groups that pretend their attacks on evolution are made in the name of science rather than as a mechanism to promote their narrow sectarian religious beliefs.

Verlinde is an internationally respected physicist who recently published a paper in which he asks the provocative question: does gravity exist? As Dennis Overbye explained it in the New York Times:

"For me gravity doesn't exist," said Dr. Verlinde, who was recently in the United States to explain himself. Not that he can't fall down, but Dr. Verlinde is among a number of physicists who say that science has been looking at gravity the wrong way and that there is something more basic, from which gravity "emerges," the way stock markets emerge from the collective behavior of individual investors or that elasticity emerges from the mechanics of atoms.

What does this have to do with the Discovery Institute's position on evolution?

The link is actually quite straightforward. Their rallying cry, taken up by the Texas State Board of Education; the Louisiana legislature and its governor, Bobby Jindal; and a number of other states, is that students are best served when they are taught the "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theories. They've taken to using this shibboleth as a means of hiding their real intent -- bringing intelligent design creationism into public school science classrooms and laboratories.

If I'm wrong about their intent, we'll soon be seeing the Discovery Institute urging school boards to completely rework their basic physics curricula. But I'm not holding my breath.

The thing is, unlike virtually all those who attack evolution, Verlinde is a part of the mainstream scientific community and his challenging ideas are being published in the peer-reviewed scientific literature. More than that, Verlinde is not alone in questioning what we know about gravity. Indeed, the community of professional physicists has been unable to adequately explain the mechanism of gravity. Some, mostly string theorists, posit the existence of a massless particle they've dubbed the graviton and claim that it is responsible for mediating the force of gravity, a force that has unlimited range. Others simply scoff at the notion of such a particle.

And yet, to date, there haven't been protests about the way our children are being taught physics in general and about gravity in particular.

The mechanisms of evolution, on the other hand, have long been understood, observed and measured. The attacks on evolutionary theory are coming from outside the scientific community, by people who are not actively conducting research in the field, by people who invariably have a religious rather than a scientific agenda they're trying to advance.

Does this mean that we currently know all we will ever know about evolution? Of course not! The scientific literature is replete with fascinating papers advancing our understanding of the field, questioning which evolutionary mechanism takes precedence under which set of environmental conditions, and providing experimental support for various ideas.

Beyond that, because of the seemingly endless attacks on evolution from those who find this scientific concept offensive on religious grounds, scientific societies around the world have weighed in by issuing statements in support of evolution. Sixty-eight Academies of Science, for example, have jointly authored a Statement on the Teaching of Evolution that makes it absolutely clear that there isn't a scientific controversy surrounding evolution. These academies represent countries as diverse as the United States, Albania, Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe, to name just a few.

In the United States, the American Anthropological Association, the American Geological Institute, the American Institute for Biological Sciences, the Botanical Society of America and the Society for Neuroscience along with a host of other high level organizations have issued similar statements. The fact is, regardless of what the Discovery Institute and others of its ilk claim, there isn't any controversy within the scientific community about the centrality and importance of evolutionary theory.

But expert opinion has yet to cause those attacking evolution to pause. Instead, they claim scientists are biased and our students deserve better. I'm well aware that the latest questions about gravity aren't likely to change the nature of the attacks. I am hopeful, however, that they might provide an opportunity to help the general public recognize the constant demand for school boards to reshape their curricula to allow students to focus on the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution for the sectarian ploy that it is.

If the Discovery Institute doesn't take up the scientific uncertainty of gravitational theory in the same way that it has approached evolution, then we can turn to one of the great philosophers of our time for guidance. As I Love Lucy's Desi Arnaz so presciently said, the Discovery Institute "has some 'splaining to do."

Books & More From Michael Zimmerman, Ph.D.

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