NTS LogoSkeptical News for 13 August 2010

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Friday, August 13, 2010

Evolution education update: August 13, 2010

A new batch of videos for your edification and entertainment on NCSE's YouTube channel, plus a new batch of statements in NCSE's Voices for Evolution. And a chance to explore Darwin's Universe.


NCSE is pleased to announce the addition of a further batch of videos featuring NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott to NCSE's YouTube channel. Featured is "Getting Evolution Right: Tips for Writers" -- a talk delivered at the annual meeting of the University Research Magazine Association in 2010. Additionally, there's "Who Pulled the Stake Out? The Resurgence of Young Earth Creationism," delivered at the Atheist Alliance International conference in 2007; Scott's commencement address to the Ohio State University in 2005; "Darwin under the Microscope: Questioning Darwinism" -- a confrontation between Scott and William Dembski on KTEH's Uncommon Knowledge series in 2001; "Charles Darwin and God" -- a panel discussion with Scott, Dembski, and Robert Russell of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences on KTEH's Uncommon Knowledge series, also in 2001; "Evolution? Creation? Both? Neither?" -- a presentation at the Plymouth Congregational Church in Lawrence, Kansas, in 1999; and "Biology, the Bible, and the First Amendment" -- a panel discussion with Scott, the Discovery Institute's Stephen C. Meyer, Elliot Mincberg of People for the American Way, and Charles Haines of the First Amendment Center, filmed in 1997. Tune in and enjoy!

For NCSE's YouTube channel, visit:


The chorus of support for the teaching of evolution continues, with three statements from the American Society of Plant Taxonomists, the American Statistical Association, and the Union for Reform Judaism.

In its statement, the American Society of Plant Taxonomists endorses "the use of evolution in the scholarship of its members and supports teaching this theory in schools, colleges and universities," adding, "As educators, we believe that evolution is an essential component of science education. In the absence of an evolutionary context, our understanding of the origin and complexity of the earth's biodiversity and our ability to realize critical advances in medicine and agriculture would not be possible. Acknowledging our obligations as scientists and educators, we join the many other scientific societies that have endorsed the role of evolution as a unifying principle both in scientific scholarship and science curricula at all educational levels."

The American Statistical Association, according to its statement, "takes no position on whether intelligent design is right or wrong. Nevertheless, it is clear that intelligent design is not a scientific theory subject to empirical testing, and thus has no place in science education." It therefore resolved, "Intelligent design should not be taught as part of any science curriculum," adding, "Further, the Association urges its members to continue to support vigorously those principles of inquiry and verification that characterize sound scientific practice." (The statement was published in Amstat News, the monthly membership magazine of the ASA, in 2006, and seems not to be presently available on the ASA's website.)

And the Union for Reform Judaism, noting that "the overwhelming majority of the scientific community, which supports theories that are testable by experiment or observation, oppose treating ['intelligent design'], which is neither, as scientific theory. A 1999 report by the National Academy of Sciences states, 'Creationism, intelligent design, and other claims of supernatural intervention in the origin of life or of species are not science because they are not testable by the methods of science," resolved to "[o]ppose government efforts and policies that seek to redefine science or the scientific method to incorporate religious, theological or other theories, including "intelligent design" and creationism, that are neither testable by experiment nor observation."

Also of interest, although not addressing biological evolution, is a statement by the Affiliation of Christian Geologists on the physical age of the earth and universe, reading, in part, "... the scientific evidence clearly favors a vast age for the earth and the universe. Current scientific calculations indicate that the universe began about 13 billion years ago and the earth about 4.6 billion years ago. These conclusions are based on cumulative evidence and are refined with each new study. ... Although Scripture contains essential information on origins that gives meaning and perspective, technical details of the method and timing of creation are not major concerns of the Biblical text, and many orthodox theologians do not see a conflict between the Bible and an old creation."

All four of these statements are reproduced, by permission, on NCSE's website, and will also be contained in the fourth edition of NCSE's Voices for Evolution.

For the ASPT statement, visit:

For the ASA's website, visit:

For the URJ's statement, visit:

For the ACG's statement (PDF), visit:

And for information about Voices for Evolution, visit:


NCSE is pleased to offer a free preview of Richard Milner's Darwin's Universe: Evolution from A to Z (University of California Press, 2009). Featured are articles on the pioneering paleontologist Barnum Brown and the creationist crusader William Jennings Bryan, the Clever Hans phenomenon, Answers in Genesis's Creation Museum, the Darwin Correspondence Project, feathered dinosaurs, extinction, Stephen Jay Gould, the Hawaiian radiation of honeycreepers and fruit flies, the Laetoli footprints, saltation and Darwin's Sandwalk, uniformitarianism, and Alfred Russel Wallace -- together displaying the variety and charm of Milner's encyclopedia. Reviewing Darwin's Universe for Reports of the NCSE, Carol Anelli described it as "anything but a somber, run-of-the-mill encyclopedia of alphabetically arranged entries ... at once an eclectic romp and an illuminating vade mecum for anyone interested in evolutionary science and Darwin's pervasive influence on human thought, behavior, and endeavor."

For the preview (PDF), visit:

For further information about Darwin's Universe, 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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Still Trying to Get Creationism into Science Classes


Five Years After Kitzmiller v. Dover, Discovery Institute Hasn't Changed its Playbook
By Lauri Lebo

Lauri Lebo is the author of The Devil in Dover: Dogma v. Darwin in Small-Town America, a book about the 2005 First Amendment trial of Kitzmiller v. Dover in which intelligent design was ruled creationism.

I have to admit, when I saw over the weekend that I had been called out by the Discovery Institute, the conservative think tank committed to promoting intelligent design, my first thought was of what the late great Molly Ivins once said after she had been attacked by Rush Limbaugh on his radio show.

"It's like being gummed by a newt. It doesn't actually hurt but it leaves you with slimy stuff on your ankle."

Which pretty much sums up my response to David Klinghoffer's post, "Dear Lauri Lebo, Please Help Me Understand Your Conspiracy Theory," in which he impugns both my intelligence and my understanding of the controversies I write about.

But then it occurred to me that next month marks the five-year anniversary of Kitzmiller v. Dover, the landmark case in which parents successfully sued a Pennsylvania school district for requiring that the theory of intelligent design be taught in local science classes. So, I figured since I'm being called out and all, this would be as good an opportunity as any for a nice retrospective piece on the Discovery Institute. (And, well, Mr. Klinghoffer did ask me to help him understand.)

So, what's the "enormous difference" between ID and creationism?

What Mr. Klinghoffer is responding to is a blog post I wrote about the latest Discovery Institute shenanigans—this time in Louisiana. I wrote that once again, after lobbying for a way to sneak the teaching of creationism into science class, the Discovery Institute has run away from a school board after members there actually used the word "creationism."

Because of his recent response in American Spectator to the Livingston Parish School Board, I compared Discovery Institute president Bruce Chapman to Monty Python's Brave Sir Robin. As the song goes, "when danger reared its ugly head, he bravely turned his tail and fled."

Some folks at DI must have taken umbrage. But Mr. Klinghoffer also took exception to the notion that anyone could conceivably connect language in the 2008 Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA)—which the Discovery Institute helped write—to the concept of creationism.

"It's hard to believe that Ms. Lebo, a journalist who wrote a whole book about the Kitzmiller v. Dover case, isn't aware of the enormous difference in content between creationism on one hand, and the scientific critique of Darwinism, or the related theory of intelligent design, on the other."

Well, Mr. Klinghoffer, I am aware of the differences. And you know who else is aware of them? Board members in the Livingston Parish school district who enthusiastically talked about using the new LSEA standards to teach kids creationism. Because when you break it down, the concepts are inextricably intertwined.

So what are these "enormous differences"? Here is DI's definition of intelligent design:

Intelligent design is the theory that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.

Here's the thing, even their own definition gives away their sleight of hand. No matter how many times they deny it, intelligent design relies on the supernatural. They can hide it in the passive voice all they want, but when you talk about an "intelligent cause" you are talking about a creator. And that makes it (wait for it) creationism.

But don't take my word for it. Especially when Discovery Institute and its fellows have so many words of their own that reveal their intention.

The "Wedge Strategy"

Let's start with the so-called Wedge Document. In 1998, DI put out a fundraising document that plainly set forth its "governing goals," which included these aims:

To defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural, and political legacies; and to replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God.

Sounds like a pretty clear mission statement to me. But there's more.

The Wedge Document was based on the strategy laid out by the godfather of the Intelligent Design movement and Discovery Institute advisor Phillip Johnson. In his 1991 book Darwin on Trial, Johnson argued that Christians need to tone down their religious rhetoric in order to get God into science class. Rather than argue that Earth is only 6,000 years old, Johnson called for creationists to focus first on overthrowing "scientific materialism" to make way for supernatural explanations.

Since then, DI has used Johnson's strategy to try unsuccessfully to get such creationist-friendly language into the science curricula and lesson plans in various states—most notably in Kansas and Ohio. Each time they were defeated after scientists and educators exposed what they were trying to do.

Sometime in the mid '90s, the Discovery Institute refocused its efforts. Instead of pretending to put forth any positive scientific arguments for anything like intelligent design, it switched tactics (again based on Johnson's wedge strategy) and merely tried to present negative arguments against the validity of evolution using code words like, "teach the controversy" and "sudden emergence."

Intelligent Design is "the Logos theology of John... in the idiom of information theory."

In 2004, when the Dover Area School District became the first district in the nation to include intelligent design in its science curriculum, its board members were under the impression that they were implementing DI's strategy—just as Livingston Parish board members are under the impression that LSEA is about teaching creationism.

But DI fellows, fearing the constitutional test case that would inevitably result, vehemently denied ever trying to push for intelligent design into science class—a strange assertion considering that it had produced the booklet, Intelligent Design in Public School Science Curricula: A Legal Guidebook.

Rather, they said they merely wanted to see taught the "scientific criticisms of Darwin's theory as well as the evidence favoring the theory." They also said legislators should protect the academic freedom of teachers and students to study all of the scientific evidence relating to Darwin's theory.

Mr. Klinghoffer referred to Barbara Forrest as someone who shares my, as he puts it, "conspiracy theory." But his attempt to trivialize Forrest utterly misrepresents her work. Forrest co-authored with Paul Gross Creationism's Trojan Horse, which in a blow-by-blow account thoroughly exposed DI's Christian motivations.

And in the Dover trial, she was its most damning witness. In her testimony, she exposed how the intelligent design textbook Of Pandas and People was initially a creationist text. But following the US Supreme Court's 1987 decision in Edwards v. Aguillard, in which the teaching of creation science was ruled unconstitutional to teach in public schools, its editors simply replaced the phrase with "intelligent design."

Forrest also unearthed the quote of DI fellow William Dembski in an interview he gave to the Christian apologetics magazine Touchstone: "Intelligent design is just the Logos theology of John's Gospel restated in the idiom of information theory."

In the end, Judge John E. Jones III, a George Bush appointee, ruled in 2005 that not only was intelligent design not science, but that "The writings of leading ID proponents reveal that the designer postulated by their argument is the God of Christianity."

(An interesting comparison can be made to the recent decision of Judge Vaughn R. Walker about Proposition 8. In the Prop. 8 case as in Dover, the supposed scientific arguments of religiously motivated organizations often don't hold up well in a courtroom where they are required to present the evidence of their assertions. After noting that the defendants had failed to present a convincing scientific case, Vaughn wrote, "Moral disapproval alone is an improper basis on which to deny rights to gay men and lesbians. The evidence shows conclusively that Proposition 8 enacts, without reason, a private moral view that same-sex couples are inferior to opposite-sex couples.")

After a relatively quiet two years following the Dover decision, the Discovery Institute unveiled its academic freedom campaign, in 2008, complete with a web site providing sample legislation for interested state lawmakers. The institute's John West made sure to stress that the bills never mentioned intelligent design. But as DI's past actions clearly indicate, the goal was still to pry open the door for sympathetic teachers to teach intelligent design and creationism.

Louisiana, Alabama, Michigan and Missouri all introduced similarly-worded bills based on the template. But in the end, only one state successfully took the bait.

Scientific Data Related to Creationism?

Which brings us back to Louisiana. LSEA specifically targets "evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning" as subjects in which educators are required to "promote critical thinking skills." It also requires "supplemental materials" to be used alongside textbooks in public school science class.

It's interesting that while Discovery Institute earnestly stressed that nothing about the legislation was religiously motivated, the lead sponsor of the LSEA, Senator Ben Nevers, saw it differently.

"The Louisiana Family Forum suggested the bill," Nevers told the Hammond Daily Star at the time. "They believe that scientific data related to creationism should be discussed when dealing with Darwin's theory."

The Louisiana Family Forum, which helped DI lobby for LSEA, is affiliated with Focus on the Family and is dedicated to "persuasively present(ing) biblical principles in the centers of influence on issues affecting the family through research, communication and networking."

Also, Louisiana Family Forum has been trying to get straight-up creationism into public schools as recently as 2004.

Until recently, the fight following the bill's approval has been over how the wording will be implemented and to develop a review process to make sure those "supplemental materials" aren't just intelligent design books—like the latest version of Pandas and People.

LSEA says that

"a teacher shall teach the material presented in the standard textbook supplied by the school system and thereafter may use supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner, as permitted by the city, parish, or other local public school board unless otherwise prohibited by the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education."

Which appears to give school districts a lot of room to introduce creationist texts.

Yes, Disingenuous

Last month, the Livingston Parish decided to hold off on introducing creationism into biology class for the current school year. But it has appointed a staff committee to look at ways to introduce it for the 2011-12 school year.

So it's a bit early at this point to speculate whether Louisiana and the Livingston Parish School District will be the site of the next constitutional test case of the Discovery Institute's latest brand of creationism.

But the echoes of Dover are certainly interesting.

Meanwhile, Chapman and others are still denying that they're trying to force religion into public school science class.

If Chapman had written a piece in which he owned up to DI's old ways, repented for all the lies that its fellows have told over the years in Jesus' name about their true purpose, if he said from now on, they would be focused on actually doing real scientific research, I might be a little more willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

But Chapman didn't do that. Instead, he's making the same disingenuous remarks that Discovery Institute folks have been making since its inception.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Eleventh researcher complains that the religious right distorted his work


Posted by alvinmcewen at 5:20 am
August 10, 20103 COMMENTS

Yet another researcher is accusing religious right groups of misusing his work.

John Horgan, a science journalist and Director of the Center for Science Writings at the Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, NJ, yesterday published an article in Scientific American calling various religious right groups to task for what he says is a distortion of his work:

. . . Christian homophobes have misused my writings on the biology of homosexuality, particularly "Gay Genes, Revisited," published in Scientific American in November 1995. In it I reported on weaknesses in the claims of scientists—and particularly the geneticist Dean Hamer, "discoverer" of the "gay gene"—that homosexuality has a genetic basis. (I've continued beating up on Hamer over the years for exaggerating the links between specific genes and behaviors; see for example this essay.)

Anti-gay Christians cite "Gay Genes, Revisited" to make the case that homosexuality is not hardwired; people with homosexual inclinations can change their behavior and even minds through therapeutic interventions. See, for example, the references to "Gay Genes, Revisited" on these Mormon and Catholic sites.

Horgan was saying that he wasn't making a case against the lgbt equality (which religious right groups have done with his piece) but was saying that sexuality is more fluid than the simplistic notions that people are either gay or heterosexual.

Personally I am in favor of Horgan's opinion that sexuality is fluid. I also believe the phrase "gay gene" is a straw man argument, or a buzzword perpetrated by the religious right such as the phrases "radical homosexual activist" or "protecting marriage."

But the most important thing to remember is that Horgan is yet another researcher accusing the religious right of distorting his/her work. By my count, he is number 11.

For the record, there is already:

National Institute of Health director Francis Collins, who rebuked the American College of Pediatricians for falsely claiming that he stated sexual orientation is not hardwired by DNA.

Six researchers of a 1997 Canadian study (Robert S. Hogg, Stefan A. Strathdee, Kevin J.P. Craib, Michael V. Shaughnessy, Julio Montaner, and Martin T. Schehter), who complained in 2001 that religious right groups were distorting their work to claim that gay men have a short life span.

The authors of the book Unequal Opportunity: Health Disparities Affecting Gay and Bisexual Men in the United States (Professors Richard J. Wolitski, Ron Stall, and Ronald O. Valdiserri), who complained that their work was being distorted by Focus on the Family.

University College London professor Michael King, who complained that the American Family Association was distorting his work on depression and suicide in LGBT individuals

University of Utah professor Lisa Diamond, who complained that NARTH (the National Association of Research and Therapy of Homosexuality), a group that also shares board members with the ACPED, distorted her research on sexual orientation.

Dr. Carol Gilligan, Professor of Education and Law at New York University, who complained that former Focus on the Family head James Dobson misrepresented her research to attack LGBT families.

Dr. Kyle Pruett, Ph.D., a professor of child psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine, who has also complained that Focus on the Family distorted his work.

Dr. Robert Spitzer, Professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University, who has consistently complained that religious right groups distorted his study to claim that the LGBT orientation is easily changeable.

Judith Stacey, Professor of Sociology at New York University, who has had to, on more than one occasion, cry foul over how religious right groups distorted her work on LGBT families.

Greg Remafedi, Professor at the University of Minnesota, who has complained several times about how religious right groups such as the American College of Pediatricians and PFOX have distorted his work, all to no avail. The American College of Pediatricians refused his request to remove his work from their site.

In light of the Prop 8 decision last week and lawyer David Boies's eloquently put take down of religious right head Tony Perkins on Face the Nation about how religious right groups deal in fear and phony data regarding the lgbt community, these complaints of scientific inaccuracies need to be brought out to a wider audience.

Remember that it is these groups which the news media legitimizes by pushing them as the "pro-family" opposition without making people aware of their history of duplicity when it comes to lgbt research.

We need to understand that religious right groups and spokespeople don't deal with concrete ideas, but abstract illusions.

They say that "every child should have a right to a mother and a father," while ignoring that the fact that while every child does have a mother and a father, not every child is born into a home with both a mother and a father and that these children do well when they are given love and support.

They claim that it is the lgbt community who are causing the most damage to American families while ignoring the real issues like poverty, socioeconomic inequalities, and lack of good health information

They divert everyone's attentions to some candy coated vision in the clouds so no one notices as they handicap the lgbt comunity at the knees.

Someone needs to start yanking away their sticks.

Big hat tip to Joe Sudbay at Americablog.

Here is an added bonus. One of the people distorting Horgan's work, John R. Diggs, is an old hat when it comes to misusing research to demonize the lgbt community. This post goes into detail about his highly flawed piece, The Health Risks of Gay Sex.

Alvin McEwen is the blogmaster of Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters. In addition, he is also a contributor to Truthwinsout.org, Pam's House Blend,and the Huffington Post.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

[Editor's note: Non-scientist Luskin picks at the work of real scientists.]

Of Whale and Feather Evolution: Nature's Two Macroevolutionary Lumps of Coal


Having now addressed all of the microevolutionary or even non-evolutionary "gems" from Nature's evolution-evangelism packet, I turn my attention in this series of posts to the few examples that actually led off their packet. Arguably, 12 of the 15 evolutionary gems had nothing to do with "macroevolution." But very the first "gem" was whale evolution, where the packet claims there are "numerous fossils from the first ten million years or so of whale evolution." This is odd since Phillip Gingerich has admitted that these are merely "fossils illustrating three or four steps that bridge the precursor of whales to today's mammals." The Nature packet recites the standard fossils, which are nearly always given as alleged evidence of transitional forms between land mammals and whales. Something very important is missing from their analysis. But we must not miss their comment about "the first ten million years" of whale evolution.

These "ten million years" are mentioned again in the main article cited in the packet, which opens with a retroactive admission of ignorance, stating, "Although the first ten million years of whale evolution are documented by a remarkable series of fossil skeletons, the link to the ancestor of cetaceans has been missing." According to the paper, the land-mammal ancestor of modern whales was very much like:

Indohyus ... a small, stocky artiodactyl, roughly the size of the raccoon Procyon lotor. It was not an adept swimmer; instead it waded in shallow water, with its heavy bones providing ballast to keep its feet anchored. Indohyus may have fed on land, although a specialized aquatic diet is also possible. The modern artiodactyl morphologically most similar to Indohyus is probably the African mousedeer...

(J. G. M. Thewissen, Lisa Noelle Cooper, Mark T. Clementz, Sunil Bajpai & B. N. Tiwari, "Whales originated from aquatic artiodactyls in the Eocene epoch of India," Nature, Vol. 450:1190-1194 (December 20/27, 2007).)

The inference of ancestry is made based upon just a few similar features--namely, tooth and ear morphology, limb-bone density, and d18O values (reflective of habitat and diet). On this basis, Nature's first gem article suggests that raoellids (an artiodactyl group which includes Indohyus) were in fact the "ancestors" of of whales: "Our working hypothesis for the origin of whales is that raoellid ancestors, although herbivores or omnivores on land, took to fresh water in times of danger."

Inferring ancestry based upon a couple similar features, like we see here, is kind of like reading tea leaves. Even if there are morphological or behavioral similarities between certain raoellids and whales, ancestry is difficult to unequivocally support. As Nature editor Henry Gee commented with regards to studying the much more recent relationships among hominids, "To take a line of fossils and claim that they represent a lineage is not a scientific hypothesis that can be tested, but an assertion that carries the same validity as a bedtime story--amusing, perhaps even instructive, but not scientific." (Henry Gee, In Search of Deep Time, 1999.) With that in mind, how seriously should we take Nature's packet when it confidently asserts that raoellids were "the land-living creatures from which whales eventually evolved."

Even in this case there are questions about the meaning of the data. As regards teeth similarities, the authors note that "all of these characters are found in some mammals unrelated to cetaceans." As regards ear morphology, Figure 3 (x-axis) shows that by at least one measurement, other artiodactyls are more similar to whales than Indohyus. As regards d18O values, they claim it shows Indohyus had a semi-aquatic lifestyle, but d13C values of Indohyus "are most similar to the d13C values in enamel for terrestrial mammals from early and middle Eocene deposits in India and Pakistan." Something tells me they really want Indohyus to have a semi-aquatic lifestyle, as they make the odd conclusion that "although" Indohyus had a semi-aquatic lifestyle "it did not necessarily have an aquatic diet (as suggested by carbon isotopes)."

But let's return to the comments from Nature's evolution-evangelism packet that there are "numerous fossils from the first ten million years or so of whale evolution," also mentioned in the opening line of the paper. Why are the ten million years so important? It's because the fossil record shows that there are less than ten million years available for the transition from a full-fledged land mammal to a fully aquatic whale. So let's grant, for the sake of argument, that these fossils have some skeletal characteristics that appear intermediate between the features of land-mammals and whales. Have Darwinian paleontologists made their case?

The fossil record requires that evolution of whales from small land mammals supposedly took place in less than 10 million years. Think about that for a moment. According to this paper, whales, with all of their complex adaptations for aquatic life, supposedly evolved from to Indohyus, a mouse-deer like animal, into a full-fledged whale in less than ten million years. Whales have a long generation time, meaning that there were perhaps only a few million generations at best to allow for the change to add up. If they had a generation time as short as 5 years, Haldane's dilemma predicts that only a few thousand mutations could become fixed into an evolving population during that time period. (See Walter ReMine, The Biotic Message.) In other words, the fossil record permits dramatically insufficient time to convert a land mammal into a whale.

Feathered Dinosaurs or Feathered Birds?

Nature gives only praise for the whale series, showing no appreciation for the mathematical difficulties of evolving a whale in so few generations. But the packet really starts to evangelize for evolution when it gets into the evolution of feathers. Discussing "feathered dinosaurs," it states:

The discovery of feathered dinosaurs not only vindicated the idea of transitional forms, but also showed that evolution has a way of coming up with a dazzling variety of solutions when we had no idea that there were even problems. Flight could have been no more than an additional opportunity that presented itself to creatures already clothed in feathers.

The main example given by the packet, Epidexipteryx, highlights the problem with many of these claimed "feathered dinosaurs." Unmentioned by Nature's packet is the fact that the original paper contains language directly hinting that Epidexipteryx could also be "interpreted as secondarily flightless." (See Fucheng Zhang, Zhonghe Zhou, Xing Xu, Xiaolin Wang & Corwin Sullivan, "A bizarre Jurassic maniraptoran from China with elongate ribbon-like feathers," Nature, Vol. 455:1105-1108 (October 23, 2008).) In other words, this fossil could actually be a bird that lost its ability to fly.

Various authorities support such interpretations of these classes of fossils. Bird evolution expert Alan Feduccia believes that "Caudipteryx and Protoarchaeopteryx, in fact, are replete with features of secondarily flightless Mesozoic sauriurine birds..." (The Origin and Evolution of Birds, pg. 396, Yale University Press, 1999.) Feduccia further writes:

Given the now substantial evidence that certain taxa once thought to be dinosaurs (e.g. Caudipteryx, Protarchaeopteryx, and the Oviraptosauria; Maryanska et al. 2002) are most likely secondarily flightless birds, and the new hypothesis that certain dinosaurs were secondarily flightless descendants of Mesozoic birds (Paul 2002), we must now carefully consider the possibility that there may have been a number of radiations of secondarily flightless Mesozoic birds that evolved morphologies quite similar to theropod dinosaurs.

Likewise a 2000 Nature paper suggested that "Caudipteryx was a secondarily flightless, post-Archaeopteryx, cursorial bird" because "it [is] a striking coincidence that the only unambiguously feathered theropod was also the only known theropod likely to have utilized locomotory mechanisms identical to those of cursorial birds." (See Terry D. Jones et al.,"Cursoriality in bipedal archosaurs," Nature, Vol. 406:716-718 (August 17 2000).)

Somehow that 2000 Nature paper didn't make it into Nature's evolution-evangelism packet. After all, "secondarily flightless" birds are a lot less impressive than "feathered dinosaurs," so there's no mention of this dissenting viewpoint in the Nature packet. Posted by Casey Luskin on August 10, 2010 8:28 AM | Permalink

The Limits of Reason


Why evolution may favor irrationality.

Women are bad drivers, Saddam plotted 9/11, Obama was not born in America, and Iraq had weapons of mass destruction: to believe any of these requires suspending some of our critical--thinking faculties and succumbing instead to the kind of irrationality that drives the logically minded crazy. It helps, for instance, to use confirmation bias (seeing and recalling only evidence that supports your beliefs, so you can recount examples of women driving 40mph in the fast lane). It also helps not to test your beliefs against empirical data (where, exactly, are the WMD, after seven years of U.S. forces crawling all over Iraq?); not to subject beliefs to the plausibility test (faking Obama's birth certificate would require how widespread a conspiracy?); and to be guided by emotion (the loss of thousands of American lives in Iraq feels more justified if we are avenging 9/11).

The fact that humans are subject to all these failures of rational thought seems to make no sense. Reason is supposed to be the highest achievement of the human mind, and the route to knowledge and wise decisions. But as psychologists have been documenting since the 1960s, humans are really, really bad at reasoning. It's not just that we follow our emotions so often, in contexts from voting to ethics. No, even when we intend to deploy the full force of our rational faculties, we are often as ineffectual as eunuchs at an orgy.

An idea sweeping through the ranks of philosophers and cognitive scientists suggests why this is so. The reason we succumb to confirmation bias, why we are blind to counterexamples, and why we fall short of Cartesian logic in so many other ways is that these lapses have a purpose: they help us "devise and evaluate arguments that are intended to persuade other people," says psychologist Hugo Mercier of the University of Pennsylvania. Failures of logic, he and cognitive scientist Dan Sperber of the Institut Jean Nicod in Paris propose, are in fact effective ploys to win arguments.

That puts poor reasoning in a completely different light. Arguing, after all, is less about seeking truth than about overcoming opposing views. So while confirmation bias, for instance, may mislead us about what's true and real, by letting examples that support our view monopolize our memory and perception, it maximizes the artillery we wield when trying to convince someone that, say, he really is "late all the time." Confirmation bias "has a straightforward explanation," argues Mercier. "It contributes to effective argumentation."

Another form of flawed reasoning shows up in logic puzzles. Consider the syllogism "No C are B; all B are A; therefore some A are not C." Is it true? Fewer than 10 percent of us figure out that it is, says Mercier. One reason is that to evaluate its validity requires constructing counterexamples (finding an A that is a C, for instance). But finding counterexamples can, in general, weaken our confidence in our own arguments. Forms of reasoning that are good for solving logic puzzles but bad for winning arguments lost out, over the course of evolution, to those that help us be persuasive but cause us to struggle with abstract syllogisms. Interestingly, syllogisms are easier to evaluate in the form "No flying things are penguins; all penguins are birds; so some birds are not fliers." That's because we are more likely to argue about animals than A, B, and C.

The sort of faulty thinking called motivated reasoning also impedes our search for truth but advances arguments. For instance, we tend to look harder for flaws in a study when we don't agree with its conclusions and are more critical of evidence that undermines our point of view. So birthers dismiss evidence offered by Hawaiian officials that Obama's birth certificate is real, and death-penalty foes are adept at finding flaws in studies that conclude capital punishment deters crime. While motivated reasoning may cloud our view of reality and keep us from objectively assessing evidence, Mercier says, by attuning us to flaws (real or not) in that evidence it prepares us to mount a scorched-earth strategy in arguments.

Even the sunk-cost fallacy, which has tripped up everyone from supporters of a losing war ("We've already lost so many lives, it would be a betrayal to withdraw") to a losing stock ("I've held onto it this long"), reflects reasoning that turns its back on logic but wins arguments because the emotions it appeals to are universal. If Mercier and Sperber are right, the sunk-cost fallacy, confirmation bias, and the other forms of irrationality will be with us as long as humans like to argue. That is, forever.

Sharon Begley is NEWSWEEK's science editor and author of Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain: How a New Science Reveals Our Extraordinary Potential to Transform Ourselves.

Plant Taxonomists, Statisticians, Reformed Jews give Thumbs Up to Evolution.


Posted on: August 10, 2010 8:23 AM, by Greg Laden

The chorus of support for the teaching of evolution continues, with three statements from the American Society of Plant Taxonomists, the American Statistical Association, and the Union for Reform Judaism.

In its statement, the American Society of Plant Taxonomists endorses "the use of evolution in the scholarship of its members and supports teaching this theory in schools, colleges and universities," adding, "As educators, we believe that evolution is an essential component of science education. In the absence of an evolutionary context, our understanding of the origin and complexity of the earth's biodiversity and our ability to realize critical advances in medicine and agriculture would not be possible. Acknowledging our obligations as scientists and educators, we join the many other scientific societies that have endorsed the role of evolution as a unifying principle both in scientific scholarship and science curricula at all educational levels."

The American Statistical Association, according to its statement, "takes no position on whether intelligent design is right or wrong. Nevertheless, it is clear that intelligent design is not a scientific theory subject to empirical testing, and thus has no place in science education." It therefore resolved, "Intelligent design should not be taught as part of any science curriculum," adding, "Further, the Association urges its members to continue to support vigorously those principles of inquiry and verification that characterize sound scientific practice." (The statement was published in Amstat News, the monthly membership magazine of the ASA, in 2006, and seems not to be presently available on the ASA's website.)

And the Union for Reform Judaism, noting that "the overwhelming majority of the scientific community, which supports theories that are testable by experiment or observation, oppose treating ['intelligent design'], which is neither, as scientific theory. A 1999 report by the National Academy of Sciences states, 'Creationism, intelligent design, and other claims of supernatural intervention in the origin of life or of species are not science because they are not testable by the methods of science," resolved to "[o]ppose government efforts and policies that seek to redefine science or the scientific method to incorporate religious, theological or other theories, including "intelligent design" and creationism, that are neither testable by experiment nor observation."

Also of interest, although not addressing biological evolution, is a statement by the Affiliation of Christian Geologists on the physical age of the earth and universe, reading (PDF), in part, "... the scientific evidence clearly favors a vast age for the earth and the universe. Current scientific calculations indicate that the universe began about 13 billion years ago and the earth about 4.6 billion years ago. These conclusions are based on cumulative evidence and are refined with each new study. ... Although Scripture contains essential information on origins that gives meaning and perspective, technical details of the method and timing of creation are not major concerns of the Biblical text, and many orthodox theologians do not see a conflict between the Bible and an old creation."

Get the details, and the book "Voices for Evolution" here at the NCSE.

Supplement Scrutinized for Arrhythmia Risk


By Charles Bankhead, Staff Writer, MedPage Today
Published: August 09, 2010
Reviewed by Zalman S. Agus, MD; Emeritus Professor
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

Men taking a dietary supplement marketed as a sexual function aid had a significant increase in cardiac QTc interval that persisted for five hours after a single dose, a small study of healthy volunteers showed.

The mean QTc interval increased by 32 msec three hours after a dose of Enzyte and by 37 msec after five hours, compared with placebo. Differences from placebo were similar in magnitude whether QTc was determined by the Bazett or Framingham correction formula.

"Because most male patients are embarrassed to report erectile dysfunction, the use of QTc prolonging supplements, such as Enzyte, is likely to be underreported to healthcare providers," Mark Phillips, DO, of the Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine, and coauthors reported in a letter in the Aug. 9/23 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.

"This creates a relatively anonymous patient population at an elevated risk for drug-induced sudden death."

The magnitude of the changes in QTc is consistent with previous evidence indicating that an increase of 30 to 60 msec may predispose a person to torsades de pointes, they added.

Enzyte is marketed as a natural approach to "male enhancement." The product is a "multicomponent preparation marketed to consumers without stringent regulatory oversight or premarketing evaluation of pharmacokinetics, pharmacodynamic, or drug interaction studies, including thorough QT and corrected QT studies to assess arrhythmic risk," the authors wrote.

Ingredients in the product include Gingko biloba, horny goat weed extract, Korean ginseng, L-arginine, Tribulus terrestris extract, niacin, zinc, and copper.

Phillips and coauthors reported findings from a randomized, blinded, crossover study of nine healthy young men. The study group had a mean age of 28.7, mean body mass index of 26, and no risk factors for torsades de pointes or use of drugs that posed a risk of interaction.

Each participant completed four evaluation sessions. During one session, the participants received a placebo, and in the other sessions they received one half, one, or two tablets of the supplement known as Enzyte.

The primary outcome was the difference in maximum postdosing QTc interval at one, three, and five hours between the placebo period and each of the active-dosing periods. Maximum postdosing QTc interval was defined as the longest QTc interval from all evaluable ECG leads during each of the three active-dosing periods.

Investigators calculated QTc interval by means of the Bazett formula for the primary analysis and by the Framingham linear corrected formula as a secondary analysis.

For the placebo dosing period using the Bazett formula, QTc interval averaged 385 msec at baseline, 384 msec at one hour, 380 msec at three hours, and 388 msec at five hours. Averages (in msec) for baseline followed by the three active dosing periods were as follows:

All active-dosing periods differed significantly from placebo (P<0.05).

The authors concluded that "clinicians should advise patients to refrain from using Enzyte until more information is known."

The study's implications for practicing physicians are not entirely clear, given the lack of knowledge about which patients might be taking Enzyte and how they might differ from healthy volunteers, Paul Shekelle, MD, of RAND Health in Santa Monica, Calif., wrote in a commentary. Moreover, the study lacked sufficient follow-up to assess potential adverse effects.

Nonetheless, the findings "must be taken as a signal that there is something potentially lurking beyond our current eyesight regarding the safety of Enzyte," Shekelle wrote. "Their conclusion that clinicians should advise their patients to avoid this dietary supplement until more evidence is available seems justified and prudent."

Shekelle noted that according to a National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine report, Americans spent $14.8 billion on "nonvitamin, non-mineral natural products" in 2007. But these dietary supplements raise safety concerns, he added; a report from the Government Accountability Office found that 92% of a sample of herbal supplements contained trace amounts of lead, and 80% had at least one other contaminant, such as mercury.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Politics put above sense


Published: Aug 9, 2010

If there is one value in our community that ought to be near-universal, it is that we do everything possible for our children to have a better future than we did. The path toward that goal is education.

Responsible parents will make their children do their homework, provide them books and educational materials, even pay for prep guides for college entrance exams.

Why, then, would educators introduce into classrooms materials that might induce children to give wrong answers on tests and college entrance exams? We fear that's what Livingston Parish schools are willing to do with a political initiative to question the theory of evolution.

Members of Livingston's School Board expressed interest in including "creationism" in science classes in the public schools. The system's curriculum director, Jan Benton, said that under a new state law "critical thinking and creationism" materials can be introduced into science classes.

"Critical thinking" is the code for questioning evolution because of a fundamentalist belief in the literal story of the Creation in Genesis. While most faiths would not say Genesis is incompatible with evolution, there are those who differ — and they are politically engaged and ready to impose their beliefs on others.

Professional educators who promote this idea are not lining themselves up as profiles in courage.

Livingston Parish, to its credit, has in the past avoided this ridiculous idea. While board President Keith Martin said he would be open to reconsidering the issue, he raised very practical concerns: You don't want teachers teaching different things in different sections of biology, for example.

Officials say they are only studying the idea; at the earliest, it would be a full school year before evolution comes under fire in Livingston schools.

This is a bad idea, period.

Must science bend to the false god of politics? If it does in Livingston, then the School Board members will have taken a conscious decision to make it more difficult for their students in the world.


Creationism Lives


08 Aug 2010 05:49 pm

Science magazine obtained the numbers left out of the National Science Foundation's Science and Engineering Indicators report this year.

When presented with the statement "human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals," just 45 percent of respondents indicated "true." Compare this figure with the affirmative percentages in Japan (78), Europe (70), China (69) and South Korea (64). Only 33 percent of Americans agreed that "the universe began with a big explosion."


Sunday, August 08, 2010

Oklahoma City Community College professor not returning after evolution fuss


Student's allegations about creationism slant in biology class incorrect, former professor says

BY TRICIA PEMBERTON Oklahoman Published: August 8, 2010

After 17 years as an adjunct professor at Oklahoma City Community College, Michael Talkington will not be in the classroom this semester.

The decision is his own, he said, though it came after a student in the spring complained Talkington "glossed over" evolution and instead taught creationism and intelligent design in his biology class.

Student Bryan Jaden Walker wrote on his blog, jadeneternal.wordpress.com, that the professor "glossed over the scientific explanation very quickly (less than 20 seconds), then explained Creationism for about five minutes (5,000-year-old Earth, no evolution, etc)."

Walker wrote that he complained to Sonya Williams, OCCC's director of science but was told the professor was entitled to share his opinions in class.

The complaint was investigated internally by the college but no disciplinary action was deemed necessary, OCCC spokesman Cordell Jordan said.

"We checked it out and admonished the professor to please follow curriculum protocols," Jordan said. "We give latitude. You're allowed to teach however you want, but you do have to teach what's on the syllabus, and that seems like what happened."

Talkington said what Walker reported on his blog is inaccurate.

"That may be his perception. I'm not calling him a liar, but that is not factual," Talkington said.

"I simply acknowledged that there are other schools of thought. I did not teach creationism. I did not promote one view over another. I did not mention God or Christianity. I stayed within the bounds of what the college allows."

He said he presented the basic principles of evolution and taught an entire lab on evolution, and he doesn't believe he shortchanged students taking his science class.

Walker's telephone number is not listed, and he didn't return messages left on his blog.

Physics major John Weis, 23, said he took Talkington's biology class about a year ago.

"Evolution was not taught at all in his class," Weis said. "When he hit that unit, instead of discussing it himself he had a single slide that had both creationism and evolution. When I spoke up and asked him about it, he claimed there was no evidence for either, but they are just different world views."

Complaint lodged

Weis said he complained to a department coordinator and was assured Talkington's view was not the college's policy, and the issue would be discussed with him.

"She mentioned that other students had complained about his behavior in the past," Weis said. "She told me to stay in the class and finish and that other classes in the future would deal with the topic more thoroughly."

"I paid a lot to learn science, not his personal beliefs."

The incident caught the attention this summer of several in the scientific community.

Victor H. Hutchison, professor emeritus in the zoology department at the University of Oklahoma and a board member of Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education, said he's been following the case.

"It's inappropriate in general in college teaching to cover subjects in a course that's not related to a course, particularly in religion, because there are people of different faiths, and it takes time away from the class," he said.

Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education reports there have been bills introduced almost every year in the state Legislature since 1999 that would allow teaching creationism or intelligent design in science courses.

In 2009, the Senate Education Committee killed Senate Bill 320, dubbed the Scientific Education and Academic Freedom act. The bill was authored by Sen. Randy Brogdon, R-Owasso, who argued at the time that the bill would allow more classroom discussion and more freedom for teachers who might be fearful about what they can or cannot teach.

Hutchison said it's unconstitutional to teach religion in a science classroom and points to federal court cases that have supported that opinion since 1968.

"Science does not and cannot recognize religion because it's not science; it cannot be proven," he said. "We're not anti-religion, we just think that it's appropriate to keep the two separate."

Oklahoma has received an F from two different national rankings, Hutchison said, the Fordham Foundation and the National Center for Science Education, for the state's teaching of evolution.

Talkington, who is not teaching anywhere right now and doesn't know if he will return to the classroom, said he thinks the case was blown out of proportion.

He said many students loved his class, pointing to students who rated him positively on websites such as RateMyProfessors.com.

Several on the site commented that Talkington was the best professor they'd had.

Talkington wouldn't comment on his views.

"People are looking to debate this issue anyway," he said. "I want to stay out of that debate."

He enjoyed his tenure at OCCC, he said.

"I enjoyed what I did and enjoyed my interaction with the students. I'm disappointed that one student took it to that level of animosity."

Read more: http://newsok.com/professors-teaching-stirs-campus-debate/article/3483424#ixzz0w1hoQTpv

Experts: Improved access to standard health care could erode use of folk medicine


August 08, 2010 12:09 AM
Ana Ley
The Monitor

McALLEN — People visit Margarita Calvo every day seeking cures for myriad maladies.

Talismans, candles and statuettes clutter her modest south Alamo home. The smell of incense wafts through the air, and hand-painted, wooden boards outside advertise the woman's "miraculous gift."

"The spirit of Jesus came to me last night and gave me this," Calvo said in Spanish, reaching for a blank sheet of paper and pouring a green, fragrant liquid over it. "God comes to me and teaches me to heal."

The curandera, or folk healer, tells her clients she can channel the Holy Spirit, giving her the supernatural ability to prevent cancer and cure stomach ulcers. Calvo says she counts on monetary donations from customers to keep her small healing business running, though she accepts all types of offerings from visitors.

"I tell the rich they have to bring money and pay, so I can help the poor," Calvo said. "But people bring everything they can to me — fruit, bananas, food. Everything."

The Rio Grande Valley — with some of the lowest rates of health insurance coverage in the nation — is coping with uncertainty over the full impact of the new federal health care reform law, which will bring health care to thousands in South Texas. That change could mean fewer people visiting folk healers who specialize in complementary and alternative medicine, some scholars and medical experts suggest.

"Many people go see (folk healers) because they don't have other resources," Dr. Miguel Aleman, a family practice doctor in Edinburg, said in Spanish. "More access to medical care will remove complexes, myths and beliefs from the less educated. …It will help them understand things in a scientific way."

Curanderismo is common along the U.S.-Mexico border, where residents sometimes can't afford standard health care and seek free or inexpensive forms of unconventional treatment. Some older Mexicans choose treatment from shamans because they don't trust doctors and rely on healers out of tradition.


Dejun Su, director of the South Texas Border Health Disparities Center at the University of Texas-Pan American, said people who are more educated are less likely to resort to unconventional medical treatment.

"CAM (complementary and alternative medicine) is very prevalent everywhere," Su said. "It'll be interesting to see the full effect (of the health care reform law) once health insurance becomes more affordable."

A provision of the Affordable Care Act, as the law is known, requires people to buy health insurance or pay a penalty, something that would give South Texas residents incentive to head to the doctor's office.

"But some people could just pay the penalty if they perceive a greater benefit," Su said. "It's a complex issue."

The use of complementary and alternative medicine has been growing in the United States over the last two decades, according to a study by Su published in 2008 in the journal Social Science & Medicine. The annual number of visits to providers of unconventional treatment is now higher than the number of visits to primary care physicians, and yearly out-of-pocket expenditures on such services exceed $27 billion.

According to Su's research, the growth is taking place at the same time the size of the foreign-born population is increasing in the United States — in 1990, about 8 percent of Americans were immigrants. In 2003, that number grew to 11.7 percent.

About 29 percent of people living in Hidalgo County are foreign-born, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Experts believe immigrants' language barriers, health literacy and low socioeconomic status lead many to resort to unconventional therapies, such as herbal medicine, homeopathy and acupuncture.

"If you don't have the $60 or $100 to pay for an office visit, you'll probably rather spend $5 or $10 going this route," said Frank Ambriz, chair of UTPA's Physician Assistant Studies Program. "But if someone's telling me that I have insurance that'll cover it, then I'm probably going to take advantage of it."


Alberto Salinas, a popular curandero who practices out of his home in Edinburg, says his clients only ask for his remedies to complement conventional treatments.

If someone came into Salinas' home seeking treatment for a broken foot, for example, "I won't see them," he said. "I'll tell them: 'After you see a doctor, I'll pray for you.'"

Some people who request his healing services are medical professionals, he said.

"I do this for policemen, lawyers, judges, doctors, nurses," Salinas said, his voice trailing off. "People who are very well-off come here."

Some scholars say the practice is part of a belief system that is ingrained in Latin American culture and will continue to grow in popularity. Most people who use curanderismo in the United States use it to complement conventional medical treatment, not replace it, said Antonio Zavaleta, director of the Texas Center for Border and Transnational Studies at the University of Texas-Brownsville. Zavaleta is also an anthropologist who co-authored a book with Salinas titled Curandero Conversations.

"It's not an either/or," Zavaleta said. "It doesn't work that way."

The growing use of complementary treatment highlights the need for medical providers to understand their patient's cultural values and make sure they aren't consuming substances that could react negatively with prescribed medication, experts said.

"We don't want to discourage people from visiting curanderos," Ambriz said. "We only ask them to stop if we see they are being harmed — for example, if they are fed lead to cure an ailment."

One woman who made a six-hour drive from Austin on Friday to visit Salinas for the first time said she only visits curanderos for spiritual cleansing, not for medical treatment.

"I don't see it in the same spectrum," Laurie Cerda, 40, said.

Alonzo Cavazos, a professor of social work at UTPA, said doctors and curanderos may have to work together more closely once more people have access to conventional health care.

"The problem has not been a lack of curanderos. They're here," Cavazos said. "The problem has been access to (standard) health care. That's going to be fixed, so that'll be a new dynamic … the spiritual and physical together."


Calvo has been practicing curanderismo in South Texas for more than two decades.

"Us curanderos, we're born with a very bright light," she said. "We suffer to receive the gift. There is so much sacrifice."

Curanderos, dedicated to curing physical or spiritual illnesses, use Catholic elements such as holy water and prayer in their practice. They are often respected members of the community, and their powers are considered supernatural, as it is commonly believed that many illnesses are caused by lost evil spirits, a lesson from God or a curse.

"I can make a person feel better just by looking at them," she said. "My touch can heal people."

Calvo usually offers clients a barrida — a ritual cleansing commonly performed by healers in Latin America by sweeping a branch of herbs, reciting a prayer and waving incense over the afflicted person.

But when people show signs of serious disease or injury, she recommends a doctor.

"I can sense when people have tumors, cancer or other sad illnesses," Calvo said. "I can't heal everything. I know what a doctor should treat."

Ana Ley covers business and general assignments for The Monitor. She can be reached at (956) 683-4428.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Faithspace: Challenge children to question every educational idea


ANGER as Noah's Ark Zoo Farm gets school trip thumbs-up, said the Evening Post.

The Government-backed Council for Learning Outside the Classroom has given a quality badge to the zoo as an accredited place for children to visit for their education.

But the British Humanist Association has protested that children will be exposed to religious dogma that seeks to discredit established scientific facts.

A spokesman for the zoo replied that religious beliefs are not forced on or taught to children as part of its education programme.

Their website does indeed have separate sections on education and creation/evolution. That is honest and yet disappointing.

It is a pity the approach to evolution is not more educationally sound, particularly as it says it aspires to an open, critical approach and wants to encourage discussion.

It asks if evolution and belief in God can be reconciled, but then suggests Christians can only accept a severely modified version of evolution combined with creationism.

It sees the Biblical accounts of creation and the flood as consistent with the evidence of science and history.

The zoo's name, Noah's Ark, is significant.

But the story of the flood and Noah's ark is about religious truth – the water representing the forces of chaos and evil which are the result of human wickedness. God saves Noah, his family and the animals because his nature is to save creation, not destroy it, in spite of his abhorrence of human greed and abuse. The rainbow represents the balance of sun and rain, without which life cannot flourish and is the sign of God's faithfulness.

It is perfectly possible to put forward a Christian argument for evolution and any respectable educational approach would do so. It would start by stating Darwin's ideas accurately and separating religious questions from scientific ones.

According to the zoo's spokesman, science has attempted to remove any notion of God from our understanding of life. That is only true of atheistic scientists like Richard Dawkins.

The zoo says it was set up "for education and to remind us of contemporary science that points to the creation plus evolution of the species." That really is not about education but advocating a particular religious dogma.

I am sure the zoo offers a very worthwhile experience for children of interacting with the animals and in the related educational programme.

But the council, in awarding the kite mark, says it offers viewpoints that challenge children's minds, which must refer to its views about evolution. If that is its view, it is failing in its duty to accredit good educational practice.

Does Separation of Church and State Prohibit Teaching Creation Science in Public Schools?


By Jack Wellman

Posted 7:08 am on August 07, 2010

Where do you find the separation of church and state? In the U.S. Constitution? In the Articles of Confederation? In the amendments? How about in the Declaration of Independence? You will not find it in any legal document in the Unites States. This phrase, penned by Thomas Jefferson was for a wall of separation between church and state, because in England, the state was the church. It was a church-state. This is what inspired Jefferson in his memoirs, that simply a division of labor be established. That's all he meant. The government shouldn't fund religion or impose it at the state level as compulsory. Nor could the state impose it's ideology upon the churches.

Suppose that a flat Earth religion became very popular and books appeared defending the flat Earth hypothesis. Flat Earth parents, of course, would be very unhappy to find that the public schools were teaching a round Earth. Some of them would move their children into private schools that taught flat- arth theory. Others would campaign against the "brainwashing" of their children in the public schools. They might demand equal time for their flat Earth views. How would you handle that potato? It would be irresponsible, of course, for you to allow the flat Earth view into the geography curriculum. Time spent on the evidences for a flat Earth is time robbed from serious learning.

The Supreme Court has already been made it crystal clear that the teaching of creation science cannot be legally prohibited from being taught in the classroom, if the local school district opts for it. Incidentally, this is what the Supreme Court calls it: Creation science. Former Chief Justice William Riehquist and current Justice Antonin Scalla, "We have no basis on the record to conclude that creation science need be anything other than a collection of scientific data supporting the theory that life abruptly appeared on the Earth." Edwards vs. Aguillard, Dissent (1987).

The meaning of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution should be disbarred. This Amendment clearly says, "Congress cannot pass any law concerning a religion or establishing a religion; and cannot pass any law that prevents the free exercise of religion." To do otherwise is clearly a violation of the Constitution and discrimination and hate crime against believers. The U.S. Supreme Court decision concerning separation of church and state is clearly a violation of the U.S. Constitution.

Louisiana's "Creationism Act" - the Edwards v. Aguillard Supreme Court decision - forbid the teaching of the theory of evolution in public elementary and secondary schools unless accompanied by instruction in the theory of creation science. Appellees, who included Louisiana parents, teachers, and religious leaders, challenged the act's constitutionality in U.S. District Court, seeking an injunction and declaratory relief. The district court granted summary judgment to the appellees, holding that the act violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The Court of Appeals affirmed (http://www.nwcreation.net/trials.html).

The U.S. Constitution guarantees that nondiscriminatory teaching of creation science and intelligent design theory and freedom of speech cannot be denied to schools. The power to legislate - - pass laws is specifically allocated in the U.S. Constitution to Congress; not the U.S. Supreme Court justices. What laws Congress cannot make are also stated in the Constitution. The Supreme Court is the judicial branch of our government, conceived as a counterbalance to the legislative branch. In this capacity it has the ability not to make laws, but to judge whether or not a law is being broken. The courts have been making laws, and this is not their job. That falls to Congress and even then, and then to two thirds majority of the states.

The legal challenges to intelligent design center around the notion that if a superior being created the universe and that superior being is God – then such a theory violates the separation of church and state and cannot be taught in public schools. But consider what the Supreme Court has said about this issue. In 1987, in Edwards v. Aguillard, the high court concluded that "teaching a variety of scientific theories about the origins of humankind to school children might be validly done with the clear secular intent of enhancing the effectiveness of science instruction." The court also said that teaching these theories would pose no constitutional problems provided they are not taught to the exclusion of evolution. If the classroom is indeed, as the Supreme Court has said, "the marketplace of ideas," why not teach multiple theories regarding the origins of mankind – including Intelligent Design?

Parents and their children ought to have the right to question current theories and be able to consider alternative explanations, especially when a theory is regarded as fact and has yet to be conclusively proven. Let the children make up their own minds. What do evolutionists have to fear? Evolution has become like a state ideology and instead of people worrying about the separation of church and state, it has turned to an effort to become a separation of church from state. This was most certainly not the founding fathers intent.

And intent is everything.

Andrew Wakefield, exactly where he belongs...again


Category: Alternative medicine • Antivaccination lunacy • Autism • Medicine • Surgery
Posted on: August 4, 2010 3:00 PM, by Orac

I haven't really taken much note of Andrew Wakefield in a while, and in general that's a very good thing indeed. However, I found out recently that somehow I missed this gem from around the time of Autism One:

That's right. I thought it was pretty bad that Andy Wakefield had appeared on Coast to Coast AM with George Noory, that all night conspiracy/UFO/paranormal radio show that's been so popular here in the U.S. for many years. It turns out that I missed an even worse one: Wakefield showing up on Alex Jones' even more looney conspiracy show, PrisonPlanet.tv. This is the same guy who promotes books like How to Survive the Coming Martial Law in America, articles comparing fluoridation of water to what Nazis did, and articles claiming that the "globalists" are trying to control you--yes, you!--with food made from genetically modified crops in order to achieve "full spectrum" domination.

Truly, Wakefield's fall is complete. He's now trodding the same territory as New World Order conspiracy theorists, Bigfoot hunters, people who claim to have been abducted by aliens, 9/11 Truthers, and believers in David Icke's reptilians. It's right where he belongs, of course. It is a shame, though, that it wasn't recognized that that's where he belongs back in 1998. A lot of damage might have been prevented.

ADDENDUM: If you happen to live in the area, apparently Wakefield is going to be giving a talk and doing a book signing at a Borders in Folsom, CA.

ADDENDUM #2: D'oh! I originally wrote this a few days ago, and when I finally got around to posting it, I failed to notice that Wakefield's Folsom book signing took place July 31.

I hate Traditional Chinese Medicine


Category: Environment
Posted on: August 6, 2010 12:52 PM, by PZ Myers

Quacks, every one, and monsters promoting destruction of the unique and precious. Look what they've done in the name of giving impotent, tiny-dicked ignoramuses a magic potion:

Poachers have butchered the last adult rhinoceros at a South African game reserve, cutting off her horn and letting her bleed to death, the chief game ranger says.

Rhino horns are just large lumps of keratin, nothing more. They do nothing to make men attractive, they don't enhance an erection, they don't increase desire. You might as well make a pill from ground-up fingernail clippings, it is the same thing.

But there is one thing that does enhance virility…

No, I shouldn't say it. It's a closely guarded secret.

It's too dangerously effective. It's a formula that will make your penis grow 4 inches in a day, make you multi-orgasmic, and generate steely erections that stay up for 3 hours and 59 minutes (if you have an erection that lasts 4 hours or more, see your doctor).

But then, since they've just about exterminated rhinos, I guess it's only fair that I mention the alternative.

The magic ingredient is…

The one indispensable component of this formula is…

The ground-up genitals of TCM pharmacists. Shocking, I know, but it's a fact. TCM pharmacists never have sexual problems because they are constantly doping themselves up with their panaceas, and their tissues are saturated with the most effective reagents in their pharmacopias.

The best way to collect them and maintain their active properties, of course, is to hover over a TCM pharmacy in a helicopter, and wait for the proprietor to step out; then hit him or her with a tranqulizer dart, rappel down, and then swiftly chop out the magic organ with a chainsaw. After you've flown away, throw the bloody bits in a blender with a dozen raw oysters and some tequila, and swallow the liquified results straight down.

If the TCM pharmacists are over-harvested, the second best source of good virility enhancing tissue is the crotches of the people who have been gobbling down TCM remedies, including, of course, the one I just gave you (I have never taken any TCM potions in my entire life, I quickly assure you).

Of course, I do not personally endorse this protocol. But you know, boys will be boys, and spoiled rich Asian tycoons will be spoiled rich Asian tycoons.

Evolution education update: August 6, 2010

A new survey reveals what Australians think about evolution. Plus: sneak peeks of three reviews forthcoming in Reports of the NCSE, the latest from Livingston Parish, and the return of Florida Citizens for Science's Stick Science contest.


A national survey reveals that one in ten Australians do not believe in evolution -- and three in ten think that humans lived at the same time as dinosaurs. The survey, conducted by Auspoll for the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies and the Australian Academy of Science, was intended to assess the level of science literacy in Australia.

Asked "[d]o you think that evolution is occurring?" 71% of the respondents preferred "Yes, I think evolution is currently occurring," 8% preferred, "No, I do not think evolution is currently occurring," and 10% preferred "No, I do not believe in evolution at all"; 11% were not sure. Men, people aged 18-24 years, and people with higher levels of education were more likely to select the yes response.

Also among the questions was "Is the following statement true or false? The earliest humans lived at the same time as dinosaurs." Of the respondents, 70% deemed the statement false, 30% true, and none were unsure. People aged 45-64 years and people with less education were the most likely to think that humans lived during the time of the dinosaurs.

Jenny Graves of the Australian Academy of Science told The Age (August 1, 2010), "None of us are all that surprised because we have been aware for a few years that Australia is losing ground in science and maths but it's a real wake-up call that ... we have a very sizeable number of people who really don't understand some of the absolute basics of our lives."

The survey was conducted on-line July 20-22, 2010. According to the report, "Respondents were drawn from a professional social and market research panel. The overall sample size was 1515, segmented and weighted to be nationally representative of Australia's population by gender, age and residential location." The accuracy of the results is +/- 2.5% at the 95% confidence level.

For the article in The Age, visit:

For the report of the survey (PDF), visit:

For NCSE's collection of information on polls and surveys, visit:


To help you plan your summer reading, NCSE is pleased to offer a preview of three reviews forthcoming in Reports of the NCSE. Explore the roots of the creationism/evolution controversy in classical antiquity, enjoy a compelling poetic treatment of Darwinian themes, or just peruse a collection of recent articles on creationism by leading scholars.

First, James G. Lennox reviews David Sedley's Creationism and Its Critics in Antiquity (University of California Press, 2007). "Sedley's is a controversial book that reaches well beyond the world of classical scholarship. It is a study of defenders and critics of the idea that the cosmos, the orderly world around us, is the product of a divine, extra-natural designer," Lennox explains. "I urge everyone concerned about the revival of 'intelligent design' to read this compelling story of its origins in Ancient Greece."

Second, Cleo Fellers Kocol reviews Philip Appleman's book of poetry, Darwin's Ark (Indiana University Press, 2009; originally published in 1984). "All of the poems delineate, describe, or elaborate on Darwin's theory. The connections between us and them, humanity and the 'lesser' animals, slide effortlessly into place, and the very earth we stand on oozes into our consciousness as we read these poems. Appleman blends the past with the present in an elegant fashion," Kocol writes.

Third, Glenn Sanford reviews The Panda's Black Box: Opening up the Intelligent Design Controversy (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007), a collection of articles edited by Nathaniel C. Comfort. The book is "an accessible reader that quickly and deftly surveys the current evolution-['intelligent design'] debates from a range of philosophical and historical angles," Sanford concludes, adding, "It provides a useful synopsis of considerable scholarship on the issues involved."

If you like what you see, why not subscribe to Reports of the NCSE today? The next issue (volume 30, number 4) features Phil Senter discussing how creationists think about vestigiality as well as reviews of a host of books on paleontology, and the latest dispatches from the front lines of the evolution wars. Don't miss out -- subscribe (or renew) now!

For the reviews, visit:

For information about subscribing and renewing, visit:


Creationism won't be taught in the public schools of Livingston Parish, Louisiana -- at least not yet. The Baton Rouge Advocate (August 1, 2010) reports that "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." At a July meeting, inspired by the Louisiana Science Education Act, the board formed a committee to explore the possibilities of incorporating creationism in the parish's science classes. The committee is not expected to report its findings in time for the board to take any action for the 2010-2011 school year; the board's president Keith Martin explained, "We have decided not to try to hurry up and rush something in for this year."

Marjorie Esman, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, told the Advocate that the decision to teach creationism would be not only doomed to failure but expensive. "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." The board's attorney confirmed that it would be unconstitutional for the schools to teach creationism. Meanwhile, board member David Tate, who broached the possibility of teaching creationism at the previous board meeting, commented, "We don't want litigation, but why not take a stand for Jesus and risk litigation."

For the story in the Baton Rouge Advocate, visit:

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


Stick Science -- the science cartoon contest sponsored by Florida Citizens for Science, a grassroots organization defending and promoting the integrity of science education in Florida -- is back! At the FCFS blog (August 1, 2010), Brandon Haught explains, "The basic concept here is to draw a cartoon that educates the public about misconceptions the average person has about science." And lack of artistic ability isn't a problem: "all entries must be drawn using stick figures. This is about creative ideas, not artistic ability."

Entries are due (by e-mail or post) by August 31, 2010. Prizes include various books and t-shirts, and even a telescope kit. Judges are NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott, Carl Zimmer, the author of The Tangled Bank: An Introduction to Evolution, Jorge Cham, the writer and artist of the Piled Higher and Deeper on-line comic strip, and Jay Hosler, the author and illustrator of The Sandwalk Adventures and Optical Allusions. Full details of the contest are available on FCFS's website.

For the announcement on FCFS's blog, visit:

For information about Stick Science, 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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Faith and Science: What is Considered Evidence?


Religion of Thursday, 5 August 2010
Source: kwaku ba

In recent times the advent of the internet has led to a plethora of new and previously non-discussed views in the public arena. One sector where this is evident is regarding religion. Due to the anonymity of the internet free thinkers, agnostics, atheists, non-believers, or simply the irreligious or non-practicing religious have been forcefully and aggressively attacking or rebutting claims made by the religious. In the US for example sites such as youtube and other file sharing media have been used very effectively to get this message across to the extent they have been dubbed the "neo-atheists" and seen as a threat to the cherished religious views. In Pakistan for example youtube has been blocked by the government because of the airing of what is considered views questioning the authenticity of Islam. It appears this debate is slowly reaching the shores of our dear Africa also. This very website for example has a religion section and it has generated many vigorous sometimes even :"heated" debates on religious issues such as dogma, faith, science versus faith, morality, and the accuracy and veracity of holy texts.

One issue that constantly arises is the demand for evidence to back up claims. This is a particular demand of the non-religious as they review, assess or vet biblical passages and the consequences some of them have on our lives as 21st century citizens in a computer aged world. The purpose of this article is discuss what is evidence, what forms of it are acceptable and how peer-review of evidence works in the scientific as well as legal sectors, but are considered non-applicable in matters of faith.

In general evidence can be d defined as everything that is used to determine or demonstrate the truth of an claim. Others define evidence as the currency by which one fulfills the burden of proof. In other words claims and assertions are made and the person making them is then obliged to provide the proof. This is the foundation of western legal systems where suspects are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Suspects are not considered guilty and then required to disprove the allegation, no, they are innocent until the claimant (accuser) provides the proof (evidence) that they are indeed guilty. If that burden of proof is not met the accused is discharged and free to go. It is no one's responsibility to disprove a negative. One makes a claim, and then provides the evidence to back it up. For example a driver may be arrested for running a red light, and then the officer is asked to provide the proof which could be video evidence, photographs, corroborated accounts of other witnesses etc. We however do not accuse driver of not proceeding on green light and then asking the accused to disprove the allegation. That is not how evidence works, and that is why our legal system is not based on that premise.

In science evidence is obtained by observations, experiments, inferences from other established evidence and other forms. Scientific evidence is purposely to support the acceptance of a claim (called a hypothesis). If the evidence is not provided the hypothesis is rejected. In consistency with the burden of proof idea from our legal system, the person presenting the claim must then present the evidence. It is not the claimant's responsibility to disprove negative claims about their work. For example Charles Darwin presented his claim of evolution, he then presented the evidence to back it up. He was not required to present evidence to disprove the six day creation myth. Another example, Galileo Galilei presented evidence that the earth is a sphere and travels around the sun. He did not provide counter evidence to disprove that the earth is flat, has four corners or is like a tent, as the bible claims, because none of those were his claims. Similarly Albert Einstein claimed the universe is static and eternal, yet his evidence (mathematical equations) did not support it so that claim was rejected. It was not rejected because he failed to disprove others who said the universe was expanding.

So where evidence does not work we call it faith. For example, the six day creation story of the hebrew religion that has been adopted by christianity and islam has never been proved. Those who question it are rather asked to disprove it. The story of the great flood and Noah for example is not supported by any scientific evidence yet it is a strong belief of Judeo-christian religions. That is because it is believed by faith. In other words it is accepted simply because it is written in the holy texts based on an assumption that holy texts can never be wrong..

Another observation on the Ghanaweb religious forum is where religious contributors use circular reasoning and special pleading to say certain scientific claims have been disproved by other claims. This is incorrect. Again the only reason why we reject a claim is because no evidence has been presented to support it. This is a common modus operandi of US creationists who are seeking to curtail science education in favor of religious indoctrination. For example mention big bang theory and they tell you , well some other scientists researching something else found something so the big bang could not have happened. Again if you are refuting the big bang in favor of creationism you are to tell us the evidence for creationism. For example show us the evidence for the firmament god said he placed over the earth. Show us the evidence that male rib was used to fashion the female body etc etc. We are not asking for anything to be disproved. Just back up your own claims with proof.

The next issue I will touch on is peer-review. In the western system of law that we have adopted in Ghana also by the way, justice is delivered based on a trial and jury of one's' "peers" in other words your "co-equals" so to speak. Again science is no different. Claims are judged by a peer-review process. In this process the claims are assessed checked, and verified by persons of similar training and background, and level of education and professional knowledge. This is the process by which we award professorships, Nobel Prize, National Medal (US), Grants and multi-million dollar funding to institutions to perform specific research or development of some new technology or the other. It is the reason why we attend professional job interviews and are vetted by people of similar profession. That is why scientific claims are not reviewed by professors of sociology and vice versa, or string theory research not vetted by journalists or high school drop news anchors. But of course in a democratic society all opinions are welcome but only those of qualified experts are valid on the subject matter in peer-review. That is why journalists, preachers, evangelists, politicians etc etc who claim there is no evidence for say evolution are simply expressing an opinion but that opinion s not valid in terms of scientific peer-review because those individuals simply do not have the knowledge to assess the subject matter. The fact that somebody may be a graduate in say environmental science does not make them an expert in meteorology so their opinions in that case are like all other uneducated non-valid ones. The experts are those with the qualifications and a track record of knowledge and expertise in those fields, and there are many of them.

One more point. When providing evidence you do not quote your own book as evidence. For example when challenged Christians will tell you the bible is correct because it says so. This is not acceptable. Would you allow a doctor to inject you with an unknown or unheard of substance just because he said so? No, I am sure you would want further information to corroborate the claim, right? We are not to take anybody's word simply because they say so but because it can be demonstrated to be correct. And this demonstration must include third party evidence of some form or reference. For example if I was tell you a new scientific law contradicts trigonometry (or any other branch of math) then we would all know there is s problem because trigonometry has been applied in many fields e.g. gravity, mechanics, geometry, fluid dynamics, electrical circuits, optics etc etc, and in each case it has shown beyond all reasonable doubt to be correct, and all those other theories are consistent with it. This is how we judge a theory. We don't say it is correct because we feel like it, or because it itself claims so. That can be done in Alice in Wonderland but not in the real world. In the real world we judge a claim by its merit and how it is demonstrated.

And so with that I would like to admonish contributors on this forum who quote evangelists websites when attempting to refute issues of pure science. For example in a previous article on evolution on this website, this author was referred to: Worldwide Creation Ministries website, Creation Ministries International website, as well as quotes from Discovery Institute ( a well known creationism outfit), and a popular US TV preacher Harun Yahaya. The problem with such organizations is they present themselves as experts, yet they are not qualified, and to this date none of them has presented a single publication that has cleared the peer-review process, absolutely none. Instead of presenting their views to the peer-review they engage in obfuscation to deceive their uniformed supporters. They emphasize gaps in current knowledge or yet to be researched fields as evidence that no one can understand anything because it is all too complicated, therefore the theories are all wrong, and yes, g-o-d did it. The fact that you don't understand some math equation or chemistry is too complicated for you does not prove anything. Yes there are major challenges but with more work and education more knowledge is gained. 50 years ago if that was the attitude we would never have discovered and unraveled DNA. Today we take it for granted when asked to provide our biometric documents or asked for paternity test etc. 70 years ago nobody heard of virus, so since it was too complicate then to understand we may well have continued having polio and smallpox killing our babies like they used to . Today those same religious are the first ones to run to get vaccines as soon as they hear of some sickness on the news. And yet they turn round and scorn all science work out of ignorance. They seem to be unaware that the knowledge that gave them vaccines is the same knowledge that proves that evolution is real and happening live. Ignorance is very painful, but add region to the mix and it hurts like surgery with anesthesia or even worse.

This type of arguing they use has been dubbed the argument by authority. Because some respected figure said something, then it is true. For example I saw on youtube someone claim Bill O'Reilly (US conservative talk show personality) said evolution is not valid, so therefore it is not valid because O'Reilly is a great guy (to him), Christian and would not lie. What a pathetic state of mind. When we hear such things we must immediately find out what that person's qualification is and what publications they have on such subjects that have cleared peer-review. It is easy to find this information in the age of internet. If there is nothing, their claim is as valid as illiterate ancient Hebrews claiming the tower of Babel incident gave us all the different languages in the world. Bollucks.

At this juncture I will turn it back over to those claiming six day creation, worldwide flood etc to provide some evidence.


kwaku ba ©August2010

LA School Drops Creationism Plan -- For Now


Posted on: August 6, 2010 9:30 AM, by Ed Brayton

The school board in Livingston Parish, LA has backed off. Kind of.

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...

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.

The ACLU is threatening a suit, of course, and the school board is apparently taking that into account. But they're also still ducking directly into the punch:

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.

You just killed any chance of winning such a suit, Mr. Tate. See, this is why I am so amused by creationists. No matter how much the Discovery Institute does to cover up the religious tracks and pretend that it's all about science, their followers know better and they just can't help but blurt out the truth. We can only hope that Tate becomes the Bill Buckingham of Livingston Parish if this goes to court.

Creationism: Don't Use the "C-Word"


August 5, 201010:43AM
Post by Lauri Lebo

When I read Bruce Chapman's American Spectator column yesterday, in which the president of the Discovery Institute back pedaled from a Louisiana creationism mishap he helped spawn, I thought of this: When Danger Reared its Ugly Head He Bravely Turned his Tail and Fled

Once again, after pushing for anti-evolution language that opens the door to teaching creationism, the good fellows at the Discovery Institute bravely turned around and ran away from the local creationist-talking school board members who want to champion their cause.

Because the DI's first rule about creationism? Don't talk about creationism.

In this case, the Livingston Parish School District, in a discussion regarding the 2008 Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA), which Discovery Institute helped write, wanted to know when they could start teaching kids creationism in science class. Board members asked a staff committee to research the possibility for the 2011-2012 school year.

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?" (See my previous posts here and here.)

In lobbying for LSEA, the Discovery Institute had worked closely with the Louisiana Family Forum, a conservative Christian organization that directly championed the teaching of creationism as recently as 2004. (Read how Louisiana Coalition for Science's Barbara Forrest connects the dots here.) However, because of that pesky First Amendment, which prohibits using public school biology class as a pulpit, creationism is never specifically mentioned in the LSEA. Instead, LSEA relies on code language to attack the teaching of evolution and other subjects that Christian fundamentalists hate because it contradicts their narrow religious worldview - reality be damned.

The language that was inserted into the LSEA, which the Livingston school district properly understood to mean it could teach creationism, says that the Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education must "allow and assist" school boards "to create and foster an environment" in public schools that "promotes critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning." In addition to state-approved textbooks, teachers "may use supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner."

In his column, Chapman disingenuously writes:

Tate's fulminations are not characteristic of the educators and legislators who passed the new Louisiana law, but you can be sure that the Darwinist opponents of the law will try to make them sound representative. The same thing happened in Dover, Pennsylvania, in 2005 when school board members decided to grab onto the phrase (not the reality) of "intelligent design" to promote religious doctrine. The board members, as in Livingston, Louisiana, were as ignorant of the limits of the scientific case against strict Darwinism as they were of the content of intelligent design theory. The scientists and political scientists at Discovery Institute—colleagues of mine—who actually know something about intelligent design, tried to dissuade them, but to no avail. The Dover board members did not believe that a court could stop them. But a central Pennsylvania federal judge, John E. Jones, did stop them.

It's interesting that Chapman brings up Dover. Discovery initially encouraged Dover board members. It provided them with videos touting intelligent design, which board members required science teachers to watch. But when board members wanted to pursue intelligent design, DI backed up, instead urging the watered-down "teach the controversy." But just as in the case of Livingston, Dover board members correctly interpreted that code language like "intelligent design" and "teach the controversy" were merely other ways of saying "creationism." And after the board members' remarks about creationism became too widely reported to ignore, the Discovery Institute tried to distance itself from the case and ran away.