NTS LogoSkeptical News for 2 September 2010

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings


Thursday, September 02, 2010

Flashback: Freedom to Teach Nonsense?

http://www.carolinajournal.com/jhdailyjournal/display_jhdailyjournal.html?id=6804

John Hood's Daily Journal

By John Hood
September 01, 2010

Ran out of time to pen a fresh DJ today, so here's a piece I wrote several years ago about academic freedom that seems appropriate here at the start of a new school year. Back tomorrow with something new.

RALEIGH — I never thought I'd offer an enthusiastic second to any comment by Stanley Fish, the well-known literary theorist, formerly of Duke University, who is now teaching humanities and law at Florida International University in Miami. Fish once famously said that his deconstructionist approach "relieves me of the obligation to be right … and demands only that I be interesting," which is telling and derisory. But in the now-celebrated case of Kevin Barrett, fantasist and conspiracy kook at the University of Wisconsin, Fish offered a good definition and defense of academic freedom.

"There should be no limits at all as to what subjects can be subjected to academic analysis," Fish told the Christian Science Monitor. "But you should be performing as an academic and not as a partisan or preacher or moral judge."

In defending his right to include his twisted take on 9/11 – that the U.S. government planned and executed the attacks, toppling the Twin Towers with previously installed explosive charges – in his classroom instruction in Madison, Barrett has of course trumpeted his academic freedom. So far, University of Wisconsin administrators are backing him up on the same grounds, observing that his past student evaluations have been positive (not necessarily a good sign, actually) and that Barrett promises to teach his nuttiness as one theory among many, rather than as a singular truth.

The Barrett case is all over the blogosphere (Ask.com or Google you way around it, I don't want to try to identify a single comprehensive link). A commonality in the debate is that so many people seem either to stretch or shrink the concept of academic freedom to fit their rhetorical usage.

While in this instance the critics tend to be conservatives and the defenders liberals, controversies in academic speech and freedom come in many flavors. In my experience, some of the strongest champions of academic freedom – and even of its cousin, tenure – are themselves conservatives and libertarians, who for good reasons feel outnumbered and threatened on modern campuses run amok with diversity-speak doyennes and Marxist bitter-enders. Whether Right or Left, such champions insist that the principle be interpreted as broadly as possible – not just protecting their freedom of inquiry and express in the classroom, but more broadly their freedom from administrative oversight when they act as public intellectuals or political activists.

As the Barrett case illustrates, sometimes this expansive view of academic freedom, for which I have long been sympathetic, intrudes into the realm of indulgent poppycock. As an academic, you have the right to speak and seek the truth. But as an academic, you also have the duty to teach your students, not proselytize, and the duty to conduct your scholarship with due regard for honesty, fairness, and standards of proof. Academic freedom surely means that government officials have no authority to keep you from speaking or publishing your views on campus. And it means that university administrators should not base hiring, firing, or promotion decisions on your political, philosophical, or theological views to the extent they do not interfere with your professional responsibilities.

But academic freedom cannot be construed as a shield protecting professors and instructors from professional evaluation and personal responsibility. For me, the test comes down to relevance. Personally, I have little patience with advocates of literal creationism, for example. If I were a college administrator and a literal creationist applied for a post as a professor of biology, I would be highly skeptical of the applicant's credentials and ability to do the job. If, on the other hand, someone whom I knew to be a creationist applied for a job teaching Shakespeare or ballet, their failure to grasp basic scientific principles and findings would not concern me.

In Barrett's case, his absurd conspiracies make him unqualified to teach students about the nature of the current conflict between civilization and the forces of Islamic totalitarianism. To teach a theory of U.S. culpability in the 9/11 attacks alongside theories based on reality is, like teaching Holocaust denial as a legitimate theory in European History class, to strike a blow against the search for truth.

It is incompetence, not simply a "difference of opinion." Universities should hire department heads and deans who can tell the difference.

Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation.

The Devil in Dover

http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2010/09/the_devil_in_dover.php?utm_source=sbhomepage&utm_medium=link&utm_content=channellink

Category: Back To School Special! • Creation Science • Creationism • Education • Intelligent Design • Science Education
Posted on: September 1, 2010 8:01 AM, by Greg Laden

When I go to meet the teachers or administrators at my daughter's school, I whisper these words to each of them:

"I just want you to know that I'm involved in a number of organizations that seek to protect the quality of science education in our public schools. If you ever need any support, if you are ever getting any trouble from parents, administrators, whatever, you can rely on me to help, to put you in touch with whom you should speak, to talk to anyone you'd like me to talk to, or anything else you need."

This recieves a nod and a side long glance that I try very hard to interpret but rarely can. Then, regardless, I follow up by whispering these words:

"Oh, and if you happen to be of the mind to push a little religion, creationism, whatever, into the classroom .... the I'll be your worst nightmare. I'll be the one on the other end of that career ending law suit."

At this point, the science-supporters usually laugh heartily. The creationists also laugh. But nervously.

You may or may not have a child in school that gives you this wonderful opportunity to embarrass your son or daughter, but you can still call the principal or any of the members of the school board and let them know how you feel, as a citizen, taxpayer, and voter. And, if you like, you can do what I do periodically: Give your school principle or science teacher a gift. Today, I'm recommending a copy of a book that outlines the nightmares of being in a school system that becomes a battle ground for science education vs. creationism.

Lauri Lebo covered the famous Dover Creationism Trial as a reporter. She was also a local citizen who lived the experience from the point of view of someone who's home turf became a national battle ground. She also had a father who was very much on the creationist side in this fight, while Lauri supported good science education, so the Dover trial was personal in yet another way.

Everyone in Dover suffered because of the Dover trial, especially the school. It cost money, it cost time, it cost warehouses full of emotional energy. No community should have to undergo something like this, and no school system should be burdened with being the testing ground for a major federal court decision.

And, for this reason, if you are a reacher or a parent concerned with quality science education, you need to pick up a copy of Lauri Lebo's book, The Devil in Dover: An Insider's Story of Dogma v. Darwin in Small-Town America, and give it to your favorite school administrator or school board member. Perhaps anonymously (if you are a teacher) or perhaps quite overtly (if you are a parent).

At the beginning of every school year, I try to post new and "the best of" blog posts specifically written for teachers. If you want to see this year's "back to school special" posts in a list, click here. I'll be posting these items through the month of September. There will likely be one or two items new every day.

Please feel free to send a link to all your teacher friends so they know about it!!!! And, if there is something you'd like to see discussed, let me know.

Of Sponges, Humans And Creationism

http://www.npr.org/blogs/13.7/2010/08/30/129539515/of-sponges-humans-and-creationism

Categories: Science and Religion

08:00 am
September 1, 2010

Recently, geneticists obtained a remarkable result: sponges, the oldest form of multicellular life known, can harbor between 18,000 and 30,000 genes, a range comparable to that of humans, fruit flies, roundworms, and many other animals. Since the sponge was taken from Australia's Great Barrier Reef and I'm presently here in a conference, I felt compelled to reflect about this. Considering that sponges have been around for over 500 million years, possibly even a billion years, many scientists believe they form the base of the evolutionary branch in the tree of life that led to animals. In other words, don't think of humans as coming from monkeys; we, and every other kind of critter out there, came from sponges, the cousins of the porous yellowy objects you use to scrub yourself in the shower.

It may be a bit strange to think of such simple beings as our ancestors. After all, sponges don't have skin tissue or nerve cells. However, sponges do have genes that can encode the proteins that nerve cells use to communicate or the ones needed for skin tissue. It's all there, even if in some kind of inactive, dormant state.

Apart from being a fabulous demonstration of the investigative power of modern molecular biology, the discovery brings out another interesting point. If sponges had all this genetic apparatus over half a billion years ago or even more, where did it come from? If one adopts a reductionist approach to the evolution of life, it's natural to suppose that the first life forms were simple, that is, they had a small number of genes. The jump in complexity from a few genes to thousands is highly nontrivial.

Creationists are going to love this.

"Ha!" they'll say with glee, "how could something like this happen without the agency of purposeful engineering? Clearly, there was some serious tweaking with primitive life forms to get to this level of complexity." I predict that the argument for the implausibility of the eye will be taken a notch further down the evolutionary ladder.

Biologists, and I hope my distinguished co-bloggers will come in to say hi and set me straight, should easily dismiss any of this nonsense. There is something fundamentally perverse in using scientific evidence at hand as proof of a final argument. What I mean is that one cannot take the data known at present as all the data that can be gathered in order to make a definitive statement. In science, data gathering is an on-going process. Darwin was also attacked for the "missing links" in the fossil record. People wanted a continuous, movie-like progression of life forms, without the jumps that necessarily exist.

This kind of continuity is impossible for at least two reasons. First, there is no way that fossils from all species that existed in the past should have been preserved all the way to the present. Some would decay and others could never fossilize. And even if they could have been preserved, finding them all is virtually impossible; some are forever lost in the depths. Second, there is the punctuated equilibrium hypothesis of Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould, according to which life evolves in tandem with Earth's environmental drama. Huge cataclysms, from asteroid impacts to massive volcanic eruptions, could have disrupted life so as to act as an effective reset button. Given the abrupt change in conditions, there would be a necessary discontinuity: only the real freaky mutants would survive…

In other words, taking the genetic complexity of sponges as evidence for purposeful tampering is like getting to a movie halfway and refuse to admit you missed half of it. Since they lack a skeleton, sponges and jelly-like species don't fossilize. So, it's quite plausible that what we are able to see now is only half the movie. Probably, there were simpler life forms, even multicellular ones like proto-sponges, with a smaller number of genes. The jump in combinatorial possibilities as the genetic code becomes more complex is highly nonlinear.

As in archeology and in cosmology, we have to accept the fact that we will never watch the whole movie. Scenes will always be missing, and the challenge we face is to make sense of the past with only fragmented information. The beauty of science is that we can.

James J. Lee, Hostage-taker and Darwinist

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2010/09/james_j_lee_hostage-taker_and_037811.html

We are thankful that James J. Lee, the hostage-taker who invaded the Discovery Channel building today in Maryland, did no physical harm to his hostages, who have now been safely freed. Lee, a radical environmentalist, was shot and killed. While expressing relief that police action averted a greater possible tragedy, it's worth noting the contents of the late Mr. Lee's reported manifesto, a list of demands he published online, directed at the cable channel. Demand number 7 reads:

Develop shows that mention the Malthusian sciences about how food production leads to the overpopulation of the Human race. Talk about Evolution. Talk about Malthus and Darwin until it sinks into the stupid people's brains until they get it!!

For the sake of the planet, Lee urges the sterilization of "filthy" human beings and suggests airing "forums of leading scientists who understand and agree with the Malthus-Darwin science and the problem of human overpopulation."

Somehow it's not surprising that he was an opponent of religion as well. Demand number 4:

Civilization must be exposed for the filth it is. That, and all its disgusting religious-cultural roots and greed. Broadcast this message until the pollution in the planet is reversed and the human population goes down!

My purpose here, of course, isn't to suggest that Darwinism drives people mad or anything like that, but merely to point out, as I've done in the past, the strange attraction Darwinian theory exerts on some people who are crazy, or wicked, or both. This is a truth that's suppressed again and again, yet it remains true.

Witness the recent examples of Holocaust Memorial Museum shooter James von Brunn, Columbine High School shooter Eric Harris, Jokela High School shooter Pekka Eric Auvinen. Historical figures who drew inspiration, if indirectly, from Darwinian theory include Charles Manson, Mao Tse-tung, Joseph Stalin, Josef Mengele, and of course Adolf Hitler. I've written about this many times before and received much abuse for it, not least when I took up the theme on the Huffington Post. (An editor advised me they will not let me do that again.) There's also an interesting connection between Darwinism and modern occult theories.

Fashionable opinion habitually directs our attention to the evils committed in the name of religion. It's no less relevant to note that such things, and worse, have also been done in the name of other ideologies and worldviews, Darwinism being prominent among them.

Posted by David Klinghoffer on September 1, 2010 3:04 PM | Permalink

BOOK REVIEW: The limits of evolution

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2010/sep/1/the-limits-of-evolution/

By Anthony J. Sadar
The Washington Times

5:41 p.m., Wednesday, September 1, 2010

THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH: THE EVIDENCE FOR EVOLUTION
By Richard Dawkins
Free Press, $30, 480 pages

Just re-released in paperback is Richard Dawkins' latest book, "The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution." As expected from one of the world's leading science writers, educators and popular defenders of neo-Darwinian evolution, the book is a lucid, well-argued case for the existence of a grand evolutionary past for all matter, especially the living kind. Not only an engaging read, the book is beautifully supplemented from its vibrant cover to its spectacular color inserts.

From the onset, Mr. Dawkins points out the disheartening condition that so many people are confused by what the modern theory of evolution entails. Many will argue, for instance, that "evolution is just a theory," without realizing that as a scientific term, "theory" means in essence a "verified hypothesis," not the vernacular "educated guess," which better defines a hypothesis.

In addition, many still believe that evolution espouses the idea that humans "evolved from apes." Although some popular publications may incite this idea, evolution claims only an ancestor in the very distant past common to both humans and certain apes.

Many believe that evolution simply involves "blind chance" and long time periods working on inert materials; and, therefore, as an explanatory power for the existence of life's complexity, the theory of evolution is seriously inadequate from a probability perspective.

However, Mr. Dawkins asserts that evolution is more than blind chance as he discusses many of the projects under way involving intricate computer simulations that appear to confirm reasonable chances for the occurrence of meaningful evolution. (A cogent counterargument to the results of these simulations can be found in "Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design" by Stephen C. Meyer, which I reviewed previously.)

In addition, regarding biology, evolution involves a "systematic increase or decrease in a gene's frequency" in a gene pool. This up-or-down change can be initiated randomly by mutations that "constitute the raw material for evolution by non-random selection." Coupled with adaptation to the environment over many generations, new species can emerge.

As Mr. Dawkins elaborates, this "natural selection" process was demonstrated in a novel laboratory experiment by Michigan State University researchers Richard Lenski and colleagues. In 1994, Mr. Lenski and Michael Travisano published a report on their work that addressed a "10,000 generation experiment with bacterial populations." Subsequent experiments are still in progress and have surpassed 50,000 generations.

The experimental results of these studies (along with other key examples given in the book) clearly show reasonable mechanisms for species modification for what has been called "micro-evolution." But, how strongly do the studies conclusively demonstrate experimental evidence for evolution at a more advanced level, or "macro-evolution"? Here's where micro-evolution - as a demonstrable fact that everyone seems to agree is real - gets confused with macro-evolution - the level of evolution (certainly beyond the genus taxon) with which many take issue.

From the Lenski and Travisano reference, Mr. Dawkins takes graphs that display increases in cell volume and relative fitness through 10,000 generations. But the graphed data seem to be converging on a limit. In other words, changes do not continue indefinitely. And, even a population density graph that shows an abrupt, significant increase and subsequent leveling-off at a new, higher population value after 33,000 generations does not necessitate the conclusion that macroevolution is inevitable.

In fact, the data interpreted rigorously only support ecological specialization and subsequent survival of the species rather than providing substantial evidence for the arrival of a new species.

Nonetheless, Mr. Lenski's experiments aside, consistent with other front-line defenders of evolution, Mr. Dawkins essentially marshals the voluminous data from micro-evolution research and observations to "extrapolate backwards," and, with the help of inference from the fossil record, makes the case for macro-evolution. This approach, although necessary, leaves too much room for "hand-waving arguments" and "just-so stories" that seem to populate much of the proffered evidence for evolution.

Regardless, fans of Richard Dawkins will not be disappointed by this thoroughgoing volume, while those who shudder at even the thought of evolution can profit from the perspective of this masterful writer and scholar.

As I noted in an earlier book review, I have selected "The Greatest Show on Earth" as one of the course textbooks for a course on "ID and Evolution" that I am teaching this fall. I chose "Signature in the Cell" for the intelligent design rationale in this course.

Anthony J. Sadar is a certified consulting meteorologist and principal author of "Environmental Risk Communication: Principles and Practices for Industry" (CRC Press/Lewis Publishers, 2000).

© Copyright 2010 The Washington Times, LLC

Homeopathy Shake-Up Goes Global

http://www.livescience.com/health/homeopathy-treatments-dangers-placebo-effects-100901.html

By Christopher Wanjek, LiveScience's Bad Medicine Columnist

posted: 01 September 2010 08:54 am ET

When is a sugar pill deadly? When it is substituted for real medicine, the Japanese public has come to understand.

The Japanese government is investigating numerous deaths that occurred over the past year resulting from the practice of homeopathy, which has been growing in popularity, particularly among midwives. Several lawsuits are pending.

Deaths include a 2-month-old baby girl born with a vitamin K deficiency, whose mother's midwife administered a homeopathic treatment instead of the much-needed vitamin K injection, well-known to prevent hemorrhaging. The infant died from bleeding in the skull.

Japan may soon join Switzerland and Germany, where governments have concluded that homeopathy is ineffective; national health insurance no longer reimburses for homeopathic treatments there. (Ironically, homeopathy originated in Germany 200 years ago.)

Other European nations might follow suit, too. After a scathing report on homeopathy by the U.K. House of Commons Science and Technology Committee in February 2010, the British Medical Association this August called upon the U.K. National Health Service to refuse payments for homeopathy, to eliminate funding for homeopathic hospitals, and to otherwise instruct doctors to not prescribe, refer, or recommend homeopathy to patients.

Natural or supernatural

Is this big medicine beating up the little herbal practitioner? Not at all. The biggest misconception is that homeopathy is herbal medicine. Herbs have therapeutic value. Homeopathy, however, is devoid of herbs or anything medicinal.

Homeopathic medicines might start with an herb or mineral. Oscillococcinum, the top homeopathic flu remedy, starts with duck liver. Remedies are diluted in 10- or 100-parts water over and over again, based on centuries' old recipes, until there is no longer any original ingredient.

So, the second biggest misconception is that homeopathic pills contain minute concentrations of medicine. Often the news media use the words "highly diluted" when in fact homeopathy is just highly delusional.

Oscillococcinum, for example, has a 200C concentration: One part duck offal was mixed with 100 ("C") parts water; this dilution was added to more water at a 1-to-100 ratio; and the process was repeated another 199 times. In the end, there is one part duck in 100 to the 200th power (or 1 followed by 400 zeroes) parts water.

You are left with simply water. Even the more "concentrated" homeopathic medicines — 24X, or 10 to the 24th parts water— amount to a pinch of medicine sprinkled in the Atlantic Ocean.

Homeopathic practitioners don't deny this little discord with physics. Homeopathy was developed before the troublesome concepts of atoms and molecules. The argument now is that the homeopathic solutions coated upon sugar pills remember the shape of the medicine they once contained.

Alas, this too violates reality. A water molecule's shape is distorted by other molecules for mere picoseconds before settling back to normal; there's no water memory. If this were the case, all water on the planet would be a homeopathic treatment for every ailment, because it once touched every herb, mineral, or animal liver in the homeopathy canon.

You have a homeopathic treatment for food poisoning (arsenic at 24X) coming out of your faucet, provided you cut it a few times with pure water.

Proof or placebo

Plenty of studies show how homeopathy can work; many show how prayer or psychic distance healing can work, too. Homeopathy is rather effective for ailments that go away on their own, such as diarrhea and colds.

As documented in the February House of Commons report, homeopathy is shown to be less and less effective as studies get better and better. This same sentiment has been supported by thorough analyses by doctors in Switzerland and Germany and, for that matter, by the U.S. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, once led by a homeopath, which concludes there's little evidence to support homeopathy for anything.

Unlike many other fields of alternative medicine, dominated by quacks and frauds, homeopathy tends to attract intelligent health practitioners who truly believe in the efficacy of the treatments. Maybe homeopathy is an effective placebo. In that case, if you want the sugar pills to work, forget you read this article.

But please, don't trust homeopathy for your baby.

Got E. coli? Raw Milk's Appeal Grows Despite Health Risks

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=raw-milk-debate

Features - August 31, 2010

Bacterial outbreaks are traced back to nonpasteurized milk, yet proponents claim it is healthier and tastes better
By Terri Peterson Smith

Milk is well known as a great dietary source of protein and calcium, not to mention an indispensable companion to cookies. But "nature's perfect food," a label given to milk over time by a variety of boosters, including consumer activists, government nutritionists and the American Dairy Council, has become a great source of controversy, too. The long-running dispute over whether milk, both from cows and goats, should be consumed in raw or pasteurized form—an argument more than a century old—has heated up in the last five years, according to Bill Marler, a Washington State lawyer who takes raw milk and other food poisoning cases.

A bumper crop of recent illness related to raw milk accentuates the problem. Last month, at least 30 people, including two children, tested positive for strains of campylobacter and Escherichia coli bacteria traced to raw (nonpasteurized) goat milk. In June five people in Minnesota were diagnosed with E. coli traced to raw cow's milk from a local dairy. One, a toddler, was hospitalized after he developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a type of kidney failure that is a potentially deadly E. coli complication.

They are hardly isolated cases. In fact, there have already been more reports of raw milk-related illness outbreaks this year in the U.S. than in any of the past five years.

Such outbreaks are largely preventable if milk is pasteurized, says Robert Tauxe, deputy director of the Division of Foodborne, Bacterial and Mycotic Diseases at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The process (known as high temperature, short time (HTST) pasteurization) was invented more than a century ago and relies on heat at least 72 degrees Celsius for 15 seconds to kill the stew of E. coli, campylobacter, Listeria, salmonella and other microbes that may lurk in milk that comes straight from a cow or goat. Medical experts consider pasteurization as one of the major breakthroughs in public health history. "A triumph," Tauxe adds.

Keeping it real

Raw milk proponents, including The Weston A. Price Foundation, deny its dangers and praise its superior flavor. They believe raw milk obtained from healthy, pasture-fed animals strengthens the immune system in a manner similar to human breast milk and that it cures digestive tract conditions such as Crohn's disease. Sally Fallon Morell, the foundation's president and founder of the Campaign for Real Milk, disputes the claims of raw milk-related illness. "We have analyzed those reports, and 95 percent should go in the trash can because they're biased," she says. "The pasteurization argument is based on 40-year-old science."

Raw milk advocates also claim that pasteurization destroys key nutrients. "Real milk contains a complex system of enzymes, fats, carbohydrates and fragile proteins that are wonders of the microscopic world," Fallon Morell says. "They are destroyed with rapid heating."

That assertion is debatable. As with any cooking process, pasteurization causes some chemical change, says Jennifer Nelson, a nutritionist with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., although she says that nutrition researchers are still testing to see if nutrients, enzymes and other health-related components are significantly altered. Whatever the nutritional change, Nelson cautions, "Raw milk can carry pathogens that can cause illness and death." Certain high risk groups should never drink raw milk: infants, growing children, the elderly and people who are immune compromised because their immune systems may not be strong enough to fight off the pathogens often found in raw milk, she adds.

Given the number of disease outbreaks related to raw milk, one might expect the demand for raw milk to dry up. Not so—in fact, demand for raw milk has risen faster than cream in a milk bottle, commanding prices as high as $10 per gallon. Despite the warnings of public health officials, including the Web site Real Raw Milk Facts, raw milk has become a national cause célèbre, and dairymen who sell it have become local folk heroes.

"It's a political issue," Fallon Morell says. "It's also a health, small farm and economic issue. I'm not advocating that we all go back and live on farms, but the pendulum has gone too far in the direction of industry. What we need [are] small farms with Space Age technology."

Those watching from the sidelines wonder if opponents can find common (and safer) ground. Food journalists as well as people who comment in online discussions on the topic often suggest that drinking raw milk is a personal choice that cannot hurt anyone but the person who drinks it. Tauxe disagrees, adding, "If a child comes to a day care center with E. coli, it can be passed to your child, spread through feces in diapers."

No Germs, Less Taste

It seems like some new technology might have come along by now, an alternative to HTST pasteurization, that would make milk safe without delivering what some people think is an inferior product with less taste and nutrition. Yet, few alternatives have emerged since the days of Pasteur, according to University of Minnesota (U.M.) associate professor of veterinary public health, ?Jeff Bender. Each of the available alternatives has a downside: For example, some believe that low-temperature pasteurization (also known as batch processing) yields a tastier product. This process heats the milk up to a minimum temperature of 62 degrees C where it remains for 30 minutes, thereby taking longer than standard HTST pasteurization.

Another example, irradiation—sometimes called "cold pasteurization"—uses ionizing radiation from electrically charged particles (such as x-rays and gamma rays) to kill harmful bacteria and other organisms in meat, poultry, seafood and spices. But, Bender says, irradiation changes the taste of milk. He also says that high-pressure processing methods, whereby food is subjected to pressures of 3,500 to 7,000 kilograms per square centimeter to kill microorganisms, work well in solid foods such as ham but are far too expensive to use on liquids.

Bombarding the milk with sound waves in a process called sonication may hold potential as an alternative. Sonication heats milk to a temperature well below what the U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires for pasteurization, killing the microbes without causing milk proteins to denature and hence alter the flavor, according to investigators from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, who at the Institute of Food Technologists' annual meeting in July presented data showing that their team used the process to knock out coliform bacteria. In addition, they said, sonication takes roughly half as much energy as high-temperature pasteurization.

Sonication may be the way forward but, for the time being, high-temperature, short-time pasteurization remains the most proven method for zapping the most germs from milk while maintaining quality, speed, and lower cost. Says Bender, who is also director of U.M.'s Center for Animal Health and Food Safety and himself a farmer, "After 100-plus years, there is still no better alternative."

Ultimately, the demand for raw milk appears to be as much an issue of personal freedom and the desire to obtain food directly from small farms as it one of nutrition. Yet no matter where the milk comes from or how clean the dairy, raw milk still poses a danger, Tauxe says. "Animals and bacteria are natural companions," he adds. "Normal-looking and tasting milk from a healthy cow can still be contaminated—even in the udder, before the milk leaves the cow."

For people who want to more closely connect with small farms, Tauxe suggests seeking out local artisanal dairy producers who pasteurize. "It's not the size of the farm," he says, "it's the temperature of the milk."


Monday, August 30, 2010

'Creationist' zoo in row over school visits

http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/education-news/2010/08/18/creationist-zoo-embroiled-in-row-over-school-visits-91466-27083388/

Aug 18 2010 by Gareth Evans, Western Mail

A ZOO popular with school trips from across Wales has become embroiled in a controversial row over what it is teaching children.

Noah's Ark Zoo Farm in Wraxall, near Bristol, is regularly used by Welsh schools for trips and its website boasts numerous testimonials from them.

But it has now been strongly criticised by the National Secular Society (NSS), which campaigns against religious influence in public and political life, and has criticised the zoo's "creationist" views.

The group accused the zoo, which has received national recognition for its education provision, of blurring fact and propaganda in the delivery of its views.

The zoo's website claims science has attempted to "remove any notion of God from our understanding of life".

It says: "This is unjustified and we look to put the case for the Creator across to those who wish to investigate.

"Is it right for Darwin's evolutionary theory to be portrayed as 'fact' in today's scientific media and the idea of God generally abandoned?

"After looking at the current explanations for origins and evolution, it is our view that the evidence available points to widespread evolution after an initial creation by God.

"While we don't profess to have all the answers, we think people should have the freedom to believe in God and know that it makes good sense in relation to the world around them – a freedom frequently restricted by mainstream science and broadcasting."

Online links to visitor information, conservation and education have a 12-page introduction to "evolution and creation".

Noah's Ark Zoo Farm, which supports the view that life was created by a divine force, is among a series of attractions to be awarded the Learning Outside the Classroom mark.

A popular choice for school trips, Rogerstone Primary in Newport and T Sign Primary in Caerphilly are among several visitors quoted on the zoo's website.

An unnamed teacher from Rogerstone Primary said: "The trip was informative, educational and fun. We were all impressed with the friendly staff, the excellent facilities and the welfare of the animals."

Tessa Kendall, senior campaigns officer for the NSS, asked: "Do teachers and parents realise that along with getting close up to animals, children are also being exposed to propaganda?

"Parents should be clearly told what kind of place this is before signing their children up. Not only is it a creationist zoo, it's a Christian one so children from other faiths or none are effectively being told their beliefs – or lack of them – are wrong.

"Noah's Ark may be suitable for a Sunday school trip but not for a school trip to teach children about science and nature, especially if teachers are not qualified or able to separate fact from propaganda and explain to children that creationism is a minority view based on faith, not facts."

But the not-for-profit organisation, run by trained priest Anthony Bush and his wife Christina, insists its religious beliefs were not "forced on or taught to" children as part of its educational programme.

Spokeswoman Sammi Luxa, said the zoo's website was often misunderstood.

"Noah's Ark Zoo Farm has frequently maintained and communicated the content of our education programme and the limits of religious content in our zoo," she said.

"There are some research pages on our website and some displays at the zoo which explore the different theories of how the world came about the different arguments of evolution and creation.

"This is a small section of the zoo for adults to read and view if they wish. This religious element to the zoo is simply not forced on or taught to children. Noah's Ark Zoo Farm hosts thousands of school trips and visitors from Wales every year who all have a great time visiting our attraction."

Noah's Ark was expelled from the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums last December over its alleged relationship with a circus.

Claims by the Captive Animal Protection Society that there were serious animal welfare problems at the zoo were proved "grossly unfair" by North Somerset council in March.

Caerphilly and Newport councils had yet to comment as the Western Mail went to press last night.

Ray M. Davis Jr.: Why schools should teach creationism

http://www.gainesville.com/article/20100829/NEWS/100829390/1109/sports?Title=Ray-M-Davis-Jr-Why-schools-should-teach-creationism-

Published: Sunday, August 29, 2010 at 11:45 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, August 29, 2010 at 11:45 a.m.

I was thinking about the controversy of whether or not the theory of intelligent creation should be taught in our schools, and realized that the main charge in our schools is to impart knowledge. Whether or not I believe in the theory of creationism, there are well over a billion people on this planets that do. Therefore this must be included with any other major theories.

I heard one candidate for the school board insisting that any theory other than his was to be disregarded. That is that position of those who truly have closed minds and does nothing but force upon our students only one train of thought. Therefore in their future years what is the likely hood that they will have optional information will they have than that which they have been taught?

What education should employ is a atmosphere where all thoughts can be explored. Creationism should not necessarily be coupled with a religion, as religion should be presented in a different context or class. The design of intelligent creation dates back to the earliest years of man.

To deny a complete look to all major theories we must be careful not to stifle the mind from exploring other avenues of the same topic. In fact it should be encouraged. Evolution has not been clearly defined to the point that it is no longer theory but 100 percent fact. Scientist and others are still attempting conclusively prove the Big Bang Theory. However this fails because of a core requirement. That is; where did the stuff come from that caused the big bank theory? Some say another big bang, and so on. Somewhere there had to be a beginning, thus this could be a basis of creationism or intelligent origin.

Personally I firmly believe in all being created by a supreme intelligence or being. In my religion, both in church and elsewhere, I learn and apply my belief. My point is that man has yet to prove conclusively this theory of evolution to the exclusion of others, and therefore other theories such as intelligent creation should be place in the equation. Especially since as do billions of the inhabitant of this globe.

Ray M. Davis, Jr.,

Alachua


Sunday, August 29, 2010

The human factor

http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2006/jul/29/politicsphilosophyandsociety.books

After 40 years of studying the problem of consciousness, Nicholas Humphrey believes it was natural selection that gave us souls. God, he insists, had nothing to do with it

Andrew Brown The Guardian, Saturday 29 July 2006

The distance between a neurone and a human mind seems very great, and to many philosophers and scientists quite impossible for science to cross. Even if minds are made from brains, and brains are made from billions of neurones, there seems no way to get from one sort of thing to the other.

Nicholas Humphrey's whole life as a scientist has been spent on that journey: in the 1960s he was part of the first team to discover how to record the activity of single neurones in a monkey's visual cortex; nearly 40 years later, he has reached a grand theory of how consciousness might have arisen in a Darwinian world, and why it might give us reasons to live.

The journey has been like the path of a neurone, full of twists and branchings and decisive contacts that altered its course. He has worked with monkeys in laboratories and in the wild. He has been a media don, a campaigner against nuclear weapons and the holder of a chair in parapsychological research who was dedicated to debunking even the possibility of telepathy or survival after death. He is an atheist, and the man who suggested to Richard Dawkins the analogy of viruses of the mind for religions; yet nowadays he talks as if spirituality were the thing that makes us human.

There is a self-confidence to this rather headlong life which stems, he thinks, in part from his background in the aristocracy of Cambridge. His father was an immunologist and FRS, his mother a psychiatrist and niece of John Maynard Keynes. In all, six of his relatives were fellows of the Royal Society, and one of his grandfathers, AV Hill, had won a Nobel prize. He never doubted he wanted to be a scientist: "It was what everyone around me was doing; the idea that I could have been professional at any other thing never really crossed my mind. I have to say there was a certain snobbishness about our attitudes. Anyone who didn't live in a large house didn't really count. Anyone who didn't have 15 cousins didn't count, and anyone who didn't have tea with a Nobel-winning grandpa wasn't really worth talking to either."

This sounds arrogant, but it is arrogance recollected after chastening. His career, which started out with great promise, has not run entirely smoothly. At first he wanted to be a physicist. At Westminster School, where he was educated, there was an inspired science teacher who devised a way for his pupils to measure the speed of light as it travelled the length of a London street and back. But when Humphrey went up to Trinity in 1961 on a scholarship to read mathematics and physics, he was disappointed in the course. He began to be fascinated by biology instead.

Though to many scientists biology feels messy and incoherent, to Humphrey it was much more logical and elegant than chemistry or physics: "Once I got into biology my eyes were open to a world of phenomena, a world of explanations, which had a kind of perfection I hadn't found before. There is no unifying theory in chemistry like evolutionary explanations in biology." As an ambitious young man, he set his sights on the biggest biological mystery he could find - human consciousness - so he switched to psychology, and began to work with monkeys under Larry Weiskrantz.

Humphrey was part of the team that first discovered how to record the activity of single nerve cells in a monkey's brain. Two other members later got Nobel prizes for this work, which underlies an enormous amount of subsequent research, since it made it possible to trace the ways in which the visual cortex receives and processes signals from the eyes. It was known in principle what was happening, but now the exact brain cells involved in image processing could be found and monitored.

His next discovery was wholly unexpected and is still hard to believe. In the laboratory was a monkey named Helen, who had been blinded when her visual cortex was cut with a scalpel. Humphrey decided to see what contact he could establish with the monkey, and got enough reaction to keep going. Over a period of seven years, he managed to coax out a sort of sense of sight. He played with the monkey, took her for walks, and did everything to persuade her that she could see: "Through this very intense and personal relationship - daily wondering what it was like to be her, and trying to get inside her mind - I began to get, I think, some insights into the general nature of consciousness. "It was like being part of a miracle. It wasn't really as if I had touched her with a healing hand, and made the blind see, but there are all those parables and models - and it was a bit like that."

Even four decades later, his excitement and pain are evident when he thinks of this. "It was a very sad moment when the monkey was killed. Of course she had to be. It was very important to know exactly what the lesion was. So [they] did it while I was away. I found it quite disturbing, though I think the research was interesting and important ... I wouldn't want to criticise anyone else who'd want to do it."

His next project was even more ambitious: to work on the aesthetic senses of a monkey. "It wasn't - not exactly - to make amends, but something like that was on my mind when I decided to work on aesthetics. I thought I would find out what monkeys would like doing if they had the choice."

This work was, very largely, a failure. He found that monkeys were strongly affected by colour, but shapes and sounds meant little to them. His first marriage was breaking up (he is now married, with two children, to an American psychologist), so in 1972 he went off to Rwanda for three months, to study mountain gorillas with Dian Fossey. Again, the question of what made us different arose: what had been the spur, or the reward, for human evolution, for our language and our consciousness. The answer he then came up with has been very influential. Variously known as "Machiavellian" or "social" intelligence, it is the idea that our brains evolved to cope not with the world around us, but with the people - or proto-people - of our ancestors' social groups.

Consciousness, in this theory, is a knowledge of what is going on in our own minds, and we have it so that we can better understand what is going on in the minds of those around us, so that we can manipulate them and avoid being manipulated in our turn. This fits human consciousness into a normal biological framework: it offers the possessor of bigger and better brains the kind of advantage that natural selection can see and work on.

For most of the 20th century consciousness had been out of bounds for scientists, and even for behavioural psychologists. Humphrey's original theory was one of the first signs that it could become a legitimate and fruitful area of scientific study. By the late 1970s he was a rather glamorous figure, living with the actress Susannah York, agitating against nuclear weapons - "We were always up on plinths in Trafalgar Square" - and in 1982 he was invited by Channel 4 to write and present a 10-part series on his theory. So he asked for leave of absence from the university and, when it was refused, resigned to make the programmes.

"I have tended to think that life's there as an exploration - don't pass up opportunities, whatever they are - and to have a certain sense that I'll be OK. At certain points I haven't. I've taken risks and then I'm very nearly not OK." He likes to quote Lord Byron: "The great object of life is sensation - to feel that we exist, even though in pain."

When the television series was finished, he could not get another academic job in England. Margaret Thatcher had come to power and the universities were shrinking. He was rescued by his friend Daniel Dennett, who found him a job at Tufts University, near Boston, and the two men worked closely together for years. In the mid-1990s he was able to move back to Cambridge, to a chair devoted to parapsychological research: since the whole burden of his interest in the subject was that he did not believe in it, he wrote Soul Searching, a book arguing that telepathy must be in principle impossible, and that Jesus was a conjuring charlatan like Uri Geller.

Yet, at the same time, he was developing a new and more complex theory of consciousness, which puts something like the soul at the centre of human existence. In his new theory the clue to the "hard problem" of consciousness - the problem of why and how minds appear from matter - is attacked head-on. The fact that we find it so difficult and so threatening to believe, as he says, "that there is nothing more to human experience than the churning of chemicals and electrons within the brain" seems to him to contain the kernel of the solution to the hard problem. If it is so difficult for us to think that way, then the difficulty might in some sense have been designed by natural selection.

Human beings, he writes, "have a self that seems to inhabit a separate universe of spiritual being. As the subjects of something so mysterious and strange, we humans gain new confidence and interest in our own survival, a new interest in other people, too. This feeds right back to our biological fitness, in both obvious and subtle ways. It makes us more fascinating and more fascinated, more determined to pursue lives wherever they will take us. In short, more like the amazing piece of work that humans are."

The theory is, like every other theory of consciousness, extremely controversial. After 200 years in which science has appeared to dethrone God and deny the possibility of the soul, Humphrey is the first man to claim that science can agree that we have souls - but that it was natural selection, not God, which gave us them.

Inspirations

Philosophical Investigations by Ludwig Wittgenstein
Gödel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter
The Autobiography of Charles Darwin
D'où venons-nous? Que sommes-nous? Où allons-nous? by Paul Gauguin (Boston Museum of Fine Arts)
Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Metaphysics and the limits of science

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2010/aug/28/philosophy-science

Serious scientists know that they cannot explain all the major puzzles of existence

Mary Midgley The Guardian, Saturday 28 August 2010

Is physical science – as some people say – omnicompetent? Can it (that is) answer all possible questions? If, for instance, we ask why human beings sometimes behave so appallingly – or how we know that they shouldn't behave so appallingly; or what is the best way to deal with inner conflicts; or whether depression is a physical or a mental trouble – can we look to the physical sciences for an answer? How would we even start to hunt for it there?

This idea that science is an all-purpose oracle dealing with every kind of question is surely very odd. Yet that promise was confidently launched in the 1930s and has proved a very powerful myth. Faith in it seems (perhaps understandably) to be getting even stronger now as more traditional faiths are sidelined. Thus, the psychologist Nicholas Humphrey writes confidently in his book, Soul Searching, that the inventors of modern science meant it to provide "a sufficient explanation for everything that is or might be", and it has indeed now managed to do this:

"Two hundred years later this programme for a self-sufficient science has succeeded beyond the dreams of its inventors … The major puzzles of existence have been pulled to pieces [by] all-conquering and consuming scientific rationality. Indeed, the basic laws that govern everything have turned out to be fewer in number and, to those who understand them, simpler and more beautiful than anyone originally guessed. So successful has it been that many scientists would now say, and even fear, that there will soon be little left for them to do." (Emphasis mine.)

What can this mean? Talk of basic laws surely means physics; yet this seems wild. Lord Kelvin is well known to have been mistaken when he made that claim, and today's physics – besides being incredibly complicated – is notoriously uncertain how to reconcile its views on two crucial topics: general relativity and quantum mechanics. Physicists, in fact, are not offering any all-purpose key to the universe, nor (of course) ought they to. Serious scientists know that their enquiries are endless; any answers always raise a swarm of new questions.

Neither, of course, do physicists claim to deal with the "major puzzles of existence". In fact, the success of 17th-century physics was due wholly to its founders seeing the need to limit its scope – to separate out physical questions from others that were entangled with them. When Isaac Newton said that he felt he was only a child picking up shells on the shore of an infinite ocean, he did not mean merely that it might be a couple of hundred years before physicists managed to discover and explain everything. He meant that life as a whole is radically mysterious. The sciences deal only with a tiny fragment of it; other kinds of questions need quite different forms of answer.

Humphrey, however, is convinced that something called science has indeed in some way solved the mind-body problem, apparently by proving that "there is no need for a life-force … no need for a human soul to explain the difference between consciousness and unconsciousness". But of course that was never the point.

Our problem here is to understand the relation between these two things – between our inner and outer life, between consciousness and its objects, between the vulnerable self and the world it has to deal with. This is not a physical problem. It is a problem about how to understand and face life as a whole. And it is not about to go away.

Mary Midgley is a moral philosopher

Intelligent Gestation Theory

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/08/intelligent_gestation_theory.php

Category: Creationism • Humor
Posted on: August 29, 2010 7:42 AM, by PZ Myers

In case you've been wondering what was going to come after Intelligent Design, here's a similar hypothesis I stumbled across, Intelligent Gestation Theory.

Hello fellow Christians and Atheists,

My name is Erik Lumberjack. I'm founder and chief scientist of the recently formed Intelligent Gestation Institute. Our goal is apply insights gained from Intelligent Design to combat the current Theory of Pregnancy, i.e., that humans develop gradually from a sperm and egg. Our FAQs below provide more details.

Thank you and best regards, Eric Lumberjack

OPEN LETTER TO KANSAS SCHOOL BOARD

Thank you for teaching Intelligent Design alongside the Theory of Evolution. Our children deserve to hear multiple viewpoints. I'm concerned, though, that only one Theory of Pregnancy is currently being taught.

Namely, that humans develop in gradual stages from an initial sperm and egg. First looking like a salmon, and then a lizard, and only after long and slow development finally resembling a human.

As founder and chief scientist of the Intelligent Gestation Institute, I request that equal time be given to Intelligent Gestation, an alternative approach that is gaining increasing support within the scientific community.

These are key points regarding Intelligent Gestation for your reference.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Question: Then why does the mother's stomach get bigger?

Answer: Scientific studies have shown that it's impossible for human breasts alone to hold the amount of milk required to nurture infants. That's why the body gradually prepares by storing milk in the mothers' stomach. Scientific evidence of this can be seen by observing cows.

Question: But sonograms show pictures of developing infants, don't they?

Answer: Experiments have shown that ultrasound equipment creates sound waves that cause milk to curdle. So medical staff are creating these images, and then the very same staff are interpreting the images that they themselves created. This can hardly be called scientific.

Question: Then where do babies come from?

Answer: Let's not base conclusions on anecdotes, but look at the case for which we have the most recorded evidence. When the key figure of human history was born, textual research has shown that he was begotten as son when a dove descended from the heavens. More than 2,000 original texts agree on this point, many of them dating back to several years from the original event, when eye witnesses were still living. In addition to this, the past 2,000 years of historical observation have also taught us where babies come from. The stork -- which the genome project has just recently proven to be of the same ovarian family, genus and phyla as the dove. The probability of this coincidence occurring by chance alone has been calculated at less than 1 over a number so large that it is greater than the number of subatomic particles in the entire state of Arkansas.

Question: Is Intelligent Gestation faith based?

Answer: No. Unlike the Theory of Pregnancy, it is based on observable and testable scientific fact.

Please contact us if you would like more details, or free samples of the textbooks that we are preparing for your school use.

Thank you, and best regards,

Erik Lumberjack

Founder and Chief Scientist
Intelligent Gestation Institute

Web site: https://sites.google.com/site/intelligentgestationinstitute/
Alternate site: http://www.intelligent-gestation.com

Contact info: erik.lumberj...@gmail.com

FAQ FOR SCIENTISTS

Question: But why does the mother's stomach get smaller immediately after childbirth?

Answer: When the infant arrives, the milk transfers from the mother's stomach to the mother's breasts in preparation for breast feeding. How else could a mother feed her child? We challenge scientists to provide us with one example where a mother has breast fed her child from her stomach.

Question: But I've seen photos of children being born directly from their mothers.

Answer: Photos can be retouched. But more importantly, why are you looking down there?

Question: Delivery rooms are sealed off. How could a stork or dove get in?

Answer: Ships are made of reinforced steel, but mice have entered them for centuries. We challenge scientists to produce one example of a ship without a mouse.

Question: I've been in delivery rooms and never seen a stork or dove.

Answer: Absence of evidence of stork is not evidence of absence of stork. We don't notice mice either, but one day we open our refrigerator door and notice the cheese is missing. The result speaks for itself.

Question: But I've seen an egg cell divide in science class after being joined by a sperm.

Answer: Imagine that you're an egg and a sperm collides with you at the equivalent of 2,000 kilometers per hour. You would divide as well.

Question: Does this mean that you're not opposed to stem cell research?

Answer: We are not opposed, but our scientists don't expect viable medical applications. Any experiments done on stem cells would surely only be applicable to similar plants with similar stems.

Question: Why is the Intelligent Gestation Institute speaking out at this time?

Answer: If our children are taught in school that humans develop in their mothers' wombs from something that looks like a catfish, and then a gecko, and then a reces monkey, and finally a human, it's not a small step for them to believe later on that man evolved from ape. This reduces humans to something purely physical and degrades our worth as spiritual beings. If our children believe they descended from heaven, they will try to act heavenly. But how will our children act if they are taught they come from come? How will they be encouraged to act morally? To be honest, our scientists are disappointed that the Intelligent Design community has thrown in the towel so readily on this very important issue.

Question: Would you be willing to debate Richard Dawkins on this issue?

Answer: It would look good on his resume, but we're not so sure about ours. We would consider such an opportunity, but must take care not to elevate his theories to appear to have the achieved the status of true science.

Question: What are the academic qualifications of the scientists at your institute? We've been told that your chief research scientist has a B.Sc. degree from the Livestock University of Kentucky with a major in roast beef and a minor in mashed potatoes.

Answer: That is completely unfounded and we're disappointed that the secular press has stooped to using add homily arguments to try to discredit us.

Question: In summary, is there any decisive evidence that you can give us?

Answer: It basically comes down to this. Which is more likely, that we developed in our mothers' wombs through an unimaginably large number of intermediate stages and then due to purely physical forces and blind chance ended up as human beings that are fine tuned to an order of magnitude of 10 to the 1,000th power, or that we're a bundle from heaven? Occam's razor makes the answer more than obvious. Let me give an example. Let's say you're walking on a beach and find a baby wrapped in a blanket on the sand. Which is more likely, that an intelligent being left the baby there, or that someone came on the beach? People that make extraordinary claims must provide extraordinary evidence to support those claims. The burden of proof lies with them, not us. Our Institute is prepared to offer $100,000 to anyone who will pop a nut on national TV and form something as intricate as the human eye from sperm. And anyways, if humans developed in their mothers' wombs from something that looked like a catfish, how come you don't see catfish walking among us today and giving interviews on TV?

'Prettifying' Darwin

http://www.christianpost.com/article/20100828/prettifying-darwin/

Sat, Aug. 28, 2010 Posted: 12:46 PM EDT

The American literary critic Frederick Crews once spoke of defenders of evolutionary theory who attempt to make Darwinism appear more congenial to the Christian faith than it truly is. These defenders, Crews wrote, present a vision of Darwin and Darwinism that "is often prettified to make it safe for doctrines that he himself was sadly compelled to leave behind." The prettifying of evolution continues, even in today's edition of The Wall Street Journal.

Writing in the paper's weekly "Houses of Worship" column, John Farrell argues that the 60th anniversary of the Roman Catholic Church's encyclical Humani Generis should be cause for celebration, since that historic document, issued by Pope Pius XII, "confirmed, in broad terms, that there is no intrinsic conflict between Christianity and the scientific theory of evolution."

Farrell argues that "Pius XII deserves credit for having the foresight to openly address the science when so many other denominations were either in deep denial or not interested in the challenge evolution poses for Christianity." In other words, those "other denominations" had better get in line and affirm evolution as well.

Papal encyclicals are, by definition, official and authoritative statements of the Catholic magisterium. They often signal significant changes in Catholic theology and teaching. By any measure, Humani Generis was a statement of true historical significance. Pope Pius XII did indeed state that there is no intrinsic conflict between Catholic teaching and evolution. He did not lay claim upon a biblical authority for this verdict, but instead presented the document as a statement of papal authority. From 1950 forward, the Roman Catholic Church has been presented as being at peace with the theory of evolution, and this is often thrown in the face of evangelicals in public argument.

Of course, papal encyclicals hold no authority among evangelical Christians, who reject Catholic claims of papal and magisterial authority and see these as directly subversive of biblical authority. Nevertheless, the anniversary of Humani Generis does hold lessons evangelicals ought to note, and these surface, at least partially, in John Farrell's column, "Catholics and the Evolving Cosmos."

Farrell argues that Humani Generis "laid out the Catholic Church's accommodation with evolution," but then adds, "provided Christians believed the individual soul was not the product of purely material forces, but a direct creation by God." Now, that is a huge qualification of the Catholic "accommodation with evolution." Indeed, current mainstream models of evolution simply do not allow for the notion of a divinely-created soul. As a matter of fact, the reigning physicalist and materialist understandings that underpin evolutionary theory do not really leave any room for the existence of the soul at all.

But there is more to the conditions Pius XII put on his church's acceptance of evolution. In the crucial words of paragraph 37, the Pope wrote this:

When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains that either after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled with that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the Teaching Authority of the Church propose with regard to original sin, which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which, through generation, is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own.

Thus, the Pope added the necessity of an historical Adam to his conditions for the acceptance of evolutionary theory. John Farrell does include this qualification in his article, but only after stating earlier that the only qualification was the divinely-created nature of the soul. Farrell presents an accurate account of the Pope's concern: "Pius declared that it was not apparent how such a theory of a founding population of humans, and not a single couple, could be reconciled with original sin. That Catholic doctrine regards the Fall as an historical rebellion against God; a sin actually committed by an individual and which is passed on through the generations from him to all men and women."

The Roman Catholic Church officially affirms that Adam was an historical figure who is indeed the genetic and physical father of all humanity, and it also affirms the doctrine of original sin. Liberal Catholic theologians may deny this teaching, but it stands as the official teaching of the Catholic Church. This is where John Farrell sees a problem, even as he celebrates the anniversary of Humani Generis. Genetic research, he asserts, "has settled this question against Pius." Geneticists have proved, he reports, that "the level of genetic variation present in the species today rules out a founding population with less than several thousand individuals."

Farrell explains that the Catholic Church accepted this reality, at least to some extent, with the 2004 statement Communion and Stewardship, but he also accepts that there is "unfinished business when it comes to evolution and Christian theology." He then affirms the work of the late Catholic theologian Karl Rahner, who "re-interpreted Genesis in light of evolution, arguing that the story of Adam and Eve needed to be read metaphorically." He also applauds John Haught at Georgetown University, who proposes "that the new cosmology of the expanding universe and the evolution of life require a more dynamic sense of God's role in a world that is still not complete, a work in progress."

Actually, John Haught argues that the entire structure of Christian theology should be recast in light of evolution. In his recent book Making Sense of Evolution, Haught asserts that "Darwin has altered our understanding of almost everything that concerns theology."

Let no one doubt just how comprehensive Haught's alteration of Christian theology will turn out to be. "Other disciplines such as geology, cosmology, anthropology, psychology, sociology, computer science, and medicine have already undergone a major retooling in the wake of Darwin's findings," he asserts. "Can theology realistically expect to escape a major metamorphosis?"

In Making Sense of Evolution, Haught provides ample evidence of what this "major metamorphosis" would mean. Every doctrine is brought to terms with evolutionary theory, including God. The revised deity of Haught's evolutionary model is inseparable from his creation and stripped of sovereignty.

This kind of theological revisionism is not limited to Roman Catholic theologians, of course. John Weaver, a former Baptist minister and geologist who currently teaches at Regent's Park College at the University of Oxford, also argues that we must surrender belief in an historical Adam and an historical Fall. Adam is a symbolic, rather than a genetic head of humanity, he asserts. As for the Fall, he argues: "Within the movement of evolutionary development, there must have been a moment when Homo sapiens came to full moral consciousness for the first time." He suggests that a proposed "bottleneck" in the evolutionary past probably reduced human populations to "fairly low numbers for a time," and that this made "the significant moment of moral choice even more critical for humankind as a whole." The historicity of Genesis 3 is just dismissed.

The 60th anniversary of Humani Generis should serve as a reminder that evolutionary theory does indeed present Christian theology with an inevitable conflict. In the course of arguing the opposite, John Farrell actually makes this point with profound clarity. Humani Generis did not go far enough, he insists, even as he points to "unfinished business" between the Roman Catholic Church and evolution.

The Catholics will sort out their theological questions for themselves. For evangelicals, the direct lesson is that any accommodation to evolutionary theory comes with huge and inescapable theological costs. There is no way to affirm an historical Adam while holding to any mainstream model of evolution, and there is no way to affirm the Gospel without an historical Adam.

Furthermore, accommodations to evolutionary theory never end. There will always be "unfinished business" that will demand further theological concessions.

This is where the prettifying of Darwinism hits the wall. The real meaning of evolution's central doctrines runs directly counter to the central doctrines of Christianity. Accommodation with evolution is a disastrous doctrinal strategy.

Adapted from R. Albert Mohler Jr.'s weblog at www.albertmohler.com. R. Albert Mohler, Jr. is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. For more articles and resources by Dr. Mohler, and for information on The Albert Mohler Program, a daily national radio program broadcast on the Salem Radio Network, go to www.albertmohler.com. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to www.sbts.edu. Send feedback to mail@albertmohler.com. Original Source: www.albertmohler.com.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.
Christian Post Guest Columnist

Copyright © 2010 Christianpost.com


Saturday, August 28, 2010

Seminary president says evolution 'incompatible' with Christian faith

http://www.abpnews.com/content/view/5635/53/

By Bob Allen
Wednesday, August 25, 2010

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (ABP) -- According to the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, evolution and Christianity are not compatible.

"The theory of evolution is incompatible with the gospel of Jesus Christ even as it is in direct conflict with any faithful reading of the Scriptures," Albert Mohler, head of the Louisville, Ky., school, wrote in his blog.

Mohler's Aug. 25 blog posting was an open letter in response to an Aug. 21 Huffington Post article that accused him of making false statements about Charles Darwin, the English naturalist who originated the concept of natural selection to explain the diversity of life.

Karl Giberson, vice president of the BioLogos Foundation, a Christian group formed to promote harmony between science and faith, reacted in the Huffington Post to comments critical of Darwin by Mohler delivered June 19 at an annual conference of Ligonier Ministries, founded by Calvinist theologian and pastor R.C. Sproul.

Giberson first questioned Mohler's critique of Darwin in an open letter July 6 on the BioLogos website. After waiting two months for a response, Giberson concluded in the Huffington Post article that Mohler "does not seem to care about the truth and seems quite content to simply make stuff up when it serves his purpose."

In his June speech, Mohler argued for the "exegetical and theological necessity" of affirming the universe is no more than several thousand years old and was created in six 24-hour days as recorded in Genesis.

Mohler said Bible passages like Romans 8 attribute death, pain and disaster to the fall of Adam as recorded in Genesis 3.

"We end up with enormous problems if we try to interpret a historical fall and understand a historical fall in an old-Earth rendering," Mohler said, referring to the school of interpretation that views a metaphorical reading of the creation passages in Genesis as compatible with both Christianity and evolutionary science. "This is most clear when it comes to Adam's sin."

"Was it true that, as Paul argues, when sin came, death came?" Mohler asked. "Well just keep in mind that if the Earth is indeed old, and we infer that it is old because of the scientific data, the scientific data is also there to claim that long before the emergence of Adam -- if indeed there is the recognition of a historical Adam -- and certainly long before there was the possibility of Adam's sin, there were all the effects of sin that are biblically attributed to the fall and not to anything before the fall. And we're not only talking about death, we're talking about death by the millions and billions."

Giberson, author of Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution, objected primarily in the Huffington Post article to Mohler's suggestion that evolution was "invented" to prop up Darwin's worldview rather than to explain observations in the natural world. He called it a "common misrepresentation" that evangelicals use to discredit evolution.

In his earlier blog post, however, Giberson questioned other statements in Mohler's address. They included: "We need to recognize that disaster ensues when the book of nature or general revelation is used in some way to trump Scripture and special revelation."

"I am taking you to mean that we should not let information from outside the Bible change our minds about what is inside the Bible," Giberson wrote.

"The example in your talk would suggest that information from geological records, radioactive dating, cosmic expansion and so on -- all of which suggests that the universe is billions of years old -- should not persuade us to set aside the natural reading of Genesis which suggests that the Earth is young," he wrote. "Is this a fair statement of your position?"

Giberson observed that the "natural reading" of Psalm 93 is that the Earth is fixed and cannot be moved. "Indeed this was thrown at Galileo and got him in trouble for proposing an 'unbiblical' astronomy."

He said "natural" readings of other Bible passages also suggest that slavery is OK and the moon is a light-creating body similar to the sun and "not just a big rock."

"Is there not a long list of examples where general revelation has forced us to set aside special revelation?" Giberson asked in his open letter to Mohler.

Mohler conceded in his blog to one statement that "appears to misrepresent to some degree Darwin's intellectual shifts before and during his experience on the Beagle" but otherwise proclaimed that "I stand by my address in full." He said he plans to address some of the issues raised by Giberson in the coming months.

"If your intention in Saving Darwin is to show 'how to be a Christian and believe in evolution,' what you have actually succeeded in doing is to show how much doctrine Christianity has to surrender in order to accommodate itself to evolution," Mohler admonished Giberson.

"In doing this, you and your colleagues at BioLogos are actually doing us all a great service. You are showing us what the acceptance of evolution actually costs, in terms of theological concessions."

-30-

Now one third of patients try New Age cures

http://www.herald.ie/lifestyle/health-beauty/now-one-third-of-patients-try-new-age-cures-2314224.html

By Fiona Dillon

Friday August 27 2010

NEARLY a third of patients have visited a complementary and alternative medicine practitioner in the past 12 months.

A groundbreaking study has examined for the first time here the use of such treatments among patients attending an urban general practice in Co Dublin.

Complementary and alternative medicine is defined as a group of diverse medical and healthcare systems, practices and products that are not generally considered part of conventional medicine.

The six most common types of treatment used by respondents in the study over the past 12 months were: massage therapy (39.8pc), acupuncture (37.5pc), aromatherapy (18.4pc), reiki (18.2pc), reflexology (17pc) and chiropractic (15.9pc).

The survey found that 81pc of complementary and alternative medicine users were women. A total of 39pc of respondents between the ages of 31 and 43 had received such a treatment within the past 12 months, compared to only 1pc of people in the 70- to 82-year-old age group.

Treatment

Nearly 42pc of respondents indicated that they had received such treatment for an illness for which they had already sought conventional advice and 27pc used complementary and alternative medicine therapy to improve general health or prevent ill health.

The authors said this study demonstrated that the most popular treatments included massage and acupuncture, which was similar to findings in UK studies. However the popularity of the mind-body energy therapy "reiki" was higher than in other international studies.

More than half -- 53pc -- of respondents decided on what type of practitioner to use based on a personal recommendation from a friend or relative, while 13.9pc based their decision on a recommendation from a GP or other healthcare professional. Only 5pc were guided by the internet.

The authors of the study, Dr Fiona Mc Kenna and Ms Fionnuala Killoury, said doctors should be aware of the increasing popularity of complementary and alternative medicine. They said GPs should consider asking about the use of such treatments as a routine part of history-taking.

fdillon@herald.ie - Fiona Dillon

When Evolutionary Psychology Collides With Morality

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2010/08/when_evolutionary_psychology_c037691.html

In 2006, the New York Times published an exceedingly long book review titled "An Evolutionary Theory of Right and Wrong," covering Harvard evolutionary psychologist Marc D. Hauser's theories of the evolution of human morality. "Religions are not the source of moral codes," stated the review when describing Hauser's ideas, further noting that this claim, "if true, would have far-reaching consequences." The review observed that "[m]atters of right and wrong have long been the province of moral philosophers and ethicists," but after Hauser's work, "[m]oral philosophers may not welcome a biologist's bid to annex their turf." So who has authority over morality: evolutionary psychologists, or theologians?

In his book, Moral Minds: How Nature Designed Our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong, Hauser explains that evolutionary psychologists have domain in this field. He argues that morality needs to be divorced from religion:

As Henry Wadsworth Longfellow noted, echoing a majority voice concerning the necessity of religion as a guiding light for morality, "Morality without religion is only a kind of dead reckoning--an endeavor to find our place on a cloudy sea by measuring the distance we have run, but without any observation of the heavenly bodies." I will argue that this marriage between morality and religion is not only forced but unnecessary, crying out for a divorce.,3

Hauser views evolutionary accounts of morality as directly opposing traditional religious accounts of the origin of morality: "Either a divine power created our universal moral sense or evolution did."2 He further contends that "universal incidence of [certain moral judgments] is derived from some source other than the divine. Biology would be the logical candidate."3

When seeking to explain the origin of morality, Hauser holds that it is "dangerous" and even "irrational" to believe it comes from religion. He therefore "prefer[s] the Darwinian pulpit":

What is dangerous is not the idea that we are endowed with a moral instinct--a biologically evolved faculty for delivering universal verdicts of right and wrong that is immune to religion and other cultural phenomena. What is dangerous is holding to an irrational position that starts by equating morality with religion and then moves to an inference that a divine power fuels religious doctrine. This step forces religious people to concede that religious doctrine provides an incoherent account of people's moral judgments. It's a conclusion that ought to lead people to search for inspiration outside the church. I personally prefer the Darwinian pulpit.,4

I have always found explanations of the evolution of morality issued from atop the Darwinian pulpit to be as boring as they are unconvincing. Evolutionary psychology is a deceptively simple game: All you have to do is identify some survival-advantage conferred upon an individual exhibiting the observed behavior. If you can do that, your ideas are taken seriously, no matter many inherent contradictions they contain. National Academy of Sciences member Philip Skell eloquently explains in The Scientist why evolutionary psychology is not a robust theory:

Darwinian explanations for such things are often too supple: Natural selection makes humans self-centered and aggressive -- except when it makes them altruistic and peaceable. Or natural selection produces virile men who eagerly spread their seed -- except when it prefers men who are faithful protectors and providers. When an explanation is so supple that it can explain any behavior, it is difficult to test it experimentally, much less use it as a catalyst for scientific discovery.5

Hauser is currently writing a book titled Evilicious: explaining our evolved taste for being bad. I don't think it will be hard to guess what Hauser's book will say: There are many opportunities for Darwinian survival advantages to be conferred upon the occasional cheater. Having read a few books on Darwinian psychology, I've found it dreadfully predictable; I think I know what Hauser's forthcoming book will say without having read it.

But if bad behavior is so useful to survival, why do we humans have moral codes that punish it? Marc Hauser is presently finding out the answer to that question. According to news reports, Hauser himself has been cheating at the game of evolutionary psychology.

An article in USA Today explains that Hauser has recently been found guilty of "eight instances of scientific misconduct":

In a letter sent to Harvard faculty today, dean Michael Smith confirms a university investigation found "eight instances of scientific misconduct" by Hauser. A research paper has been retracted as a result of the finding, another corrected, and a Science paper has a correction under discussion; "five other cases" were also investigated, according to the letter.

An article in Chronicle of Higher Education recounts what happened:

According to the document that was provided to The Chronicle, the experiment in question was coded by Mr. Hauser and a research assistant in his laboratory. A second research assistant was asked by Mr. Hauser to analyze the results. When the second research assistant analyzed the first research assistant's codes, he found that the monkeys didn't seem to notice the change in pattern. In fact, they looked at the speaker more often when the pattern was the same. In other words, the experiment was a bust.

But Mr. Hauser's coding showed something else entirely: He found that the monkeys did notice the change in pattern--and, according to his numbers, the results were statistically significant. If his coding was right, the experiment was a big success.

Apparently this was not an isolated incident:

As word of the problem with the experiment spread, several other lab members revealed they had had similar run-ins with Mr. Hauser, the former research assistant says. This wasn't the first time something like this had happened. There was, several researchers in the lab believed, a pattern in which Mr. Hauser reported false data and then insisted that it be used.

According to the letter from Hauser's dean, "I confirm that Professor Marc Hauser was found solely responsible, after a thorough investigation by a faculty investigating committee, for eight instances of scientific misconduct."

Leading primatologist Frans de Waal had the following to say about the implications of this tragedy:

[I]t leaves open whether we in the field of animal behavior should just worry about those three articles or about many more, and then there are also publications related to language and morality that include data that are now in question. From my reading of the dean's letter, it seems that all data produced by this lab over the years are potentially in question.

Intellectual fraud is a serious barrier to all who seek the truth, and no one--myself very much included included--rejoices when a scientist of any persuasion is found guilty of academic misconduct. Nonetheless, it seems to me that evolutionary psychology has now failed doubly: The behavior modeled by evolutionary psychology's most brash, anti-religious proponents is as uncompelling as their Darwinian explanations for that behavior.

Hauser gave a forced apology stating: "I am deeply sorry for the problems this case has caused to my students, my colleagues, and my university."

This incident raises simple questions that strike at the heart of evolutionary psychology: If bad behavior is so advantageous to survival, why do we humans endorse a universal moral code that seeks to ferret it out? Is there something greater at work here which transcends the mere demands of survival and reproduction?

References Cited:

[1.] Marc D. Hauser, Moral Minds: How Nature Designed Our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong xx (HarperCollins, 2006).

[2.] Marc D. Hauser, "Our Universal Moral Grammar's Immunity to Religion," in What Is Your Dangerous Idea? 60 (John Brockman, ed., Harper Perennial 2007).

[3.] Id. at 60-61.

[4.] Id. at 61.

[5.] Philip Skell, "Why Do We Invoke Darwin? Evolutionary theory contributes little to experimental biology," The Scientist (August 29, 2005).

Posted by Casey Luskin on August 27, 2010 2:12 PM | Permalink

A Biologist Misunderstands Intelligent Design (Again)

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2010/08/a_biologist_misunderstands_int037571.html

In an earlier article, I pointed out biologist Kathryn Applegate's astonishing attempt to attribute the bacterial flagellum to "magic" rather than intelligent design. But I neglected to point out another problem with her critique of ID: She apparently does not understand what the theory of intelligent design actually proposes. Applegate's misunderstanding becomes clear early-on when she asserts: "Despite the strong appearance of special design, most scientists, myself included, believe the evidence points to a gradual development for the bacterial flagellum." Applegate here treats intelligent design as the opposite of "a gradual development of the bacterial flagellum." But no intelligent design theorist would do that. Many intelligently-designed things in nature may well develop through a gradual process. That's not the issue. The issue is whether things can develop through a gradual process that is undirected.

This is precisely what modern Darwinian theory proposes, claiming that all the highly-functional complex features we find throughout nature were produced by an undirected process that did not have them in mind. According to Darwinism, natural selection is blind to the future and cannot select for future functionality. According to intelligent design theorists, selecting for future functionality is exactly what intelligent agents do, and therefore the highly-functional complexity we find in nature provides good evidence for intelligent causation, whether the process of development was gradual or not.

The fact that Applegate so egregiously misunderstands intelligent design makes me wonder how many books and articles she has actually read by the intelligent design theorists she thinks she is critiquing. Alas, Applegate's ill-informed critique is all too typical when it comes to the opponents of intelligent design, most of whom seem content to attack a straw-man version of ID rather than the real thing.

Posted by John G. West on August 26, 2010 9:00 AM | Permalink


Friday, August 27, 2010

Evolution education update: August 27, 2010

NCSE's Steven Newton takes on the latest crop of misleading headlines. Plus a preview of Iain McCalman's Darwin's Armada.

"DARWIN WAS NOT WRONG"

Writing at the Huffington Post (August 26, 2010), NCSE's Steven Newton debunked the latest round of "Darwin was wrong" sensationalism in the media. A recent paper in Biology Letters, Sarda Sahney, Michael Benton, and Paul Ferry's "Links between global taxonomic diversity, ecological diversity and the expansion of vertebrates on land," was widely proclaimed as showing that Darwin was wrong. But Newton commented, "These reporters really should have 1) talked to the authors, 2) read the Biology Letters paper, and 3) familiarized themselves with what Darwin wrote. When I talked to lead author Sarda Sahney, of the University of Bristol, she told me unequivocally: 'We are not in any way suggesting Darwin was wrong.'" After briefly describing the real significance of the paper, which represents "a refinement of the details of how evolution happens," Newton lamented the prospect of these misleading reports fueling creationist efforts to undermine the teaching of evolution: "Once misguided, sensationalist headlines such as these start to spread, this poisonous misinformation -- despite all the hard work and research of scientists -- becomes a tool for those who reject science."

For Newton's article, visit:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/steven-newton/darwin-was-not-wrong--new_b_696132.html

EMBARK WITH DARWIN'S ARMADA

NCSE is pleased to offer a free preview of Iain McCalman's Darwin's Armada: Four Voyages and the Battle for the Theory of Evolution (W. W. Norton, 2009). The excerpt discusses Alfred Russel Wallace's voyages, culminating with his insight about natural selection: "Whatever it was that triggered Wallace to think about Malthus, it had given him the key to the mechanism that drove evolution. He was not to know that Malthus had done exactly the same for Charles Darwin in 1837-38, when Darwin reread Principle of Population after returning from his Beagle voyage. 'The more I thought it over,' Wallace recalled, 'the more I became convinced that I had at length found the long-sought-for law of nature that solved the problem of the origin of species.' He had found the motor that explained how varieties were driven to become new species, in competition with the parent species that had originally produced them." According to the New York Times Book Review, "[McCalman's] narratives are as much bildungsroman as scientific analysis, showing how the four voyagers were steeled and transformed by the demands of the sea and the wondrous unfamiliarity of life on distant shores."

For the excerpt from Darwin's Armada (PDF), visit:
http://ncse.com/files/pub/evolution/Excerpt--DarwinsArmada.pdf

For information from the publisher, visit:
http://books.wwnorton.com/books/Darwins-Armada/

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
800-290-6006
branch@ncse.com
http://ncse.com

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How Much Did Darwin Get Wrong?

http://news.discovery.com/earth/how-much-did-darwin-get-wrong.html

Analysis by Michael Reilly
Wed Aug 25, 2010 04:59 PM ET

A study in Biology Letters written up in the BBC earlier this week has found an interesting wrinkle in Darwin's theory of natural selection. In short, evolution may not be as driven by competition as once thought.

In the classic view of "Darwinism" (itself a misleading phrase, perhaps), organisms compete over resources for the right to survive and reproduce. Those that are successful pass on their genes. Those that can't cut it die out.

But looking at the fossil record over the last 400 million years, Sarda Sahney and colleagues at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom found that patterns of evolution don't always match this trend.

Instead, species tend to move away from competition into new ecological niches. And sometimes they just get lucky.

For example, the evolution of birds allowed a whole group of animals to take to the skies. The extinction of the dinosaurs, which had for millions of years ruled the landscape, opened the door for mammals to colonize the planet.

Darwin's "wrongness" on this point or any related to evolution is in the eye of the beholder. Religious leaders who advocate creationism have campaigned mercilessly against his ideas (and against science in general), seeking to sew false controversy in the tenets of natural selection whenever and wherever possible.

But even intellectually honest media outlets have proclaimed "Darwin was Wrong" many times over. In reality what they're doing, and what this latest study has done, is point out that Darwin's thoughts on evolution were profound and far-reaching, and while they almost invariably remain true to this day -- surprise! -- in 150 years, scientists have managed to discover a few new things about how evolution works.

The BBC's somewhat breathless blurb beneath the headline reads, "Charles Darwin may have been wrong when he argued that competition was the major driving force of evolution." But a more proper way of characterizing it would be that this was one facet of natural selection that he didn't immediately foresee.

There are plenty of examples of this. Darwin didn't know what DNA was, and therefore couldn't have predicted the complexities of modern genetics. He didn't understand that certain situations in the natural world could confer advantages upon organisms that worked as a group instead of as selfish individuals -- in other words, he didn't have an explanation for altruism.

But when a theory survives a century and a half of rigorous scientific skepticism and scrutiny, and is bolstered by mountains upon mountains of experimental evidence -- as the notion of natural selection has, and is -- it may not be the be all and end all of science. But it's a fair bet that the idea, and its creator, are right.

Catholics and the Evolving Cosmos

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703846604575447493644515142.html

HOUSES OF WORSHIP AUGUST 27, 2010
By JOHN FARRELL

This month marks the 60th anniversary of the papal encyclical "Humani Generis," that laid out the Catholic Church's official relationship with Darwinian evolution. The pastoral letter, issued on Aug. 12, 1950 by Pope Pius XII, confirmed, in broad terms, that there is no intrinsic conflict between Christianity and the scientific theory of evolution. Considering that this was three years before the nature of DNA was even discovered, the pope's foresight in deciding to address the topic is remarkable.

Eugenio Pacelli, as Pius XII was known until his papacy, 1939-958, was the first pope to regard science and technology as subjects deserving their own encyclicals, or pastoral letters to Catholics world-wide.

For example, one of Pius's longest (and last) encyclicals, "Miranda Prorsus" ("Utterly Amazing," on Motion Pictures, Radio and Television), issued detailed guidelines on how Catholics in the entertainment industry should conduct themselves. In these days of downloadable pornography, and movies and music rife with sex and violence, the pope's enthusiasm for the positive social potential of entertainment, what he termed "food for the mind especially during the hours of rest and recreation," is touching.

In an ironic way the pope's hopeful attitude leaves one with a much stronger sense of dismay over how the industry has evolved—or devolved—than if he had simply issued a blanket condemnation of the media as a whole.

But it was another encyclical that earned Pius XII a chapter in the annals of the history of science. "Humani Generis" (Of the Human Race) laid out the Catholic Church's accommodation with Darwinian evolution—provided Christians believed the individual soul was not the product of purely material forces, but a direct creation by God.

This remains the position of the Catholic Church, one which was affirmed by the late Pope John Paul II in his celebrated 1996 address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. But if one reads Pius XII's encyclical today, especially in light of recent developments in genomics, it turns out the issue is more complicated.

While Pius was willing to concede that there was reason to believe the human body was the product of evolution, he was adamant that the special status of Adam as the father of the human race should not be a matter of question. "For the faithful," he wrote, "cannot embrace that opinion which maintains either that after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents."

Pius declared that it was not apparent how such a theory of a founding population of humans, and not a single couple, could be reconciled with original sin. That Catholic doctrine regards the Fall as an historical rebellion against God; a sin actually committed by an individual and which is passed on through the generations from him to all men and women.

Subsequent research into genomics, however, has settled this question against Pius. It's not that scientists cannot trace human ancestry back far enough to an Adam and Eve; it's that in principle, the level of genetic variation present in the species today rules out a founding population with fewer than several thousand individuals.

A document drawn up for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2004, Communion and Stewardship, tacitly accepted the founding population theory of human origins. Communion and Stewardship was not widely publicized within the Catholic Church, and certainly did not make its way down to the pulpits for the general churchgoer in the way that an official encyclical would. And this raises the question of unfinished business when it comes to evolution and Christian theology.

For example, if the soul is to be considered a direct creation of God, distinct from the evolution of the human body, what does this tell us about its fundamental nature? Does the soul any longer have a nature, in the classic sense that medieval theologians inherited from Aristotle? Or is it to be understood in the more dualist terms of Descartes, a position previous popes have not approved? Should a future pope elaborate on this?

Certainly Catholic theologians have not been shy about addressing the questions that evolution raises for doctrines like original sin and the immateriality of the soul. In the 1960s, Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner re-interpreted Genesis in light of evolution, arguing that the story of Adam and Eve needed to be read metaphorically.

John Haught at Georgetown writes that the new cosmology of the expanding universe and the evolution of life require a more dynamic sense of God's role in a world that is still not complete, a work in progress. Father Denis Edwards at Flinders University in Australia treats the second person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, as a more active partner in the development of the evolving cosmos.

Whether the arguments of the theologians will move a future pope to broaden the Catholic Church's acceptance of evolution remains to be seen. So far, Pope Benedict XVI has not shown the same interest in evolution as his predecessor.

But on this 60th anniversary of "Humani Generis", Pius XII deserves credit for having the foresight to openly address the science when so many other denominations were either in deep denial or not interested in the challenge evolution poses for Christianity.

Mr. Farrell is the author of "The Day Without Yesterday: Lemaître, Einstein and the Birth of Modern Cosmology. " (Basic Books, 2006)

Copyright 2009 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

Morality Check: When Fad Science Is Bad Science

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703846604575447843736639542.html

Friday, August 27, 2010 As of 12:02 AM EDT New York
The Wall Street Journal Opinion Journal By ERIC FELTEN

Harvard University announced last Friday that its Standing Committee on Professional Conduct had found Marc Hauser, one of the school's most prominent scholars, guilty of multiple counts of "scientific misconduct." The revelation came after a three-year inquiry into allegations that the professor had fudged data in his research on monkey cognition. Since the studies were funded, in part, by government grants, the university has sent the evidence to the Feds.

The professor has not admitted wrongdoing, but he did issue a statement apologizing for making "significant mistakes." And beyond his own immediate career difficulties, Mr. Hauser's difficulties spell trouble for one of the trendiest fields in academia—evolutionary psychology.

Mr. Hauser has been at the forefront of a movement to show that our morals are survival instincts evolved over the millennia. When Mr. Hauser's 2006 book "Moral Minds: How Nature Designed Our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong" was published, evolutionary psychologist and linguist Steven Pinker proclaimed that his Harvard colleague was engaged in "one of the hottest new topics in intellectual life: The psychology and biology of morals."

Not so long ago, the initial bloom already was off evolutionary psychology. The field earned a bad name by appearing to justify all sorts of nasty, rapacious behaviors, including rape, as successful strategies for Darwinian competition. But the second wave of the discipline solved that PR problem by discovering that evolution favored those with a more progressive outlook. Mr. Hauser has been among those positing that our ancestors survived not by being ruthlessly selfish, but by cooperating, a legacy ingrained in our moral intuitions.

This progressive sort of evolutionary psychology is often in the news. NPR offered an example this week with a story titled "Teary-Eyed Evolution: Crying Serves a Purpose." According to NPR, "Scientists who study evolution say crying probably conferred some benefit and did something to advance our species."

What that "something" "probably" is no one seems to know, but that doesn't dent the enthusiasm for trendy speculation. Crying signals empathy, one academic suggested, And as NPR explained, "our early ancestors who were most empathic probably thrived because it helped them build strong communities, which in turn gave them protection and support." Note the word "probably," which means the claim is nothing but a guess.

Christopher Ryan is co-author of the recent book "Sex at Dawn," itself an exercise in plumbing our prehistoric survival strategies for explanations of the modern human condition. But he is well aware of the limits of evolutionary psychology. "Many of the most prominent voices in the field are less scientists than political philosophers," he cautioned last summer at the website of the magazine Psychology Today.

Evolutionary psychologists tell elaborate stories explaining modern life based on the conditions and circumstances of our prehistoric ancestors—even though we know very little about those factors. "Often, the fact that their story seems to make sense is the only evidence they offer," Mr. Ryan wrote. "For them, it may be enough, but it isn't enough if you're aspiring to be taken seriously as a science."

That's where Mr. Hauser's work comes in. We may not be able to access the minds or proto-societies of Homo habilis, but we can look at how the minds of modern apes and monkeys work, and extrapolate. Unlike the speculative tales that had become the hallmark of evolutionary psychology, primate research has promised to deliver hard science, the testing of hypotheses through experiments.

Mr. Hauser's particular specialty has been in studying the cognitive abilities of New World monkeys such as the cotton-top tamarins of South America. He has cranked out a prodigious body of work, and bragged that his field enjoyed "exciting new discoveries uncovered every month, and rich prospects on the horizon," He and his colleagues, Mr. Hauser proclaimed, were developing a new "science of morality." Now his science is suspect.

As rumors swirled that Harvard was about to ding Mr. Hauser for scientific misconduct, prominent researchers in the field worried they would be tarnished by association. The science magazine Nature asked Frans de Waal—a primatologist at Emory University and author, most recently, of the widely read book "The Age of Empathy: Nature's Lessons for a Kinder Society"—about what Mr. Hauser's predicament meant for his discipline. He was blunt: "It is disastrous."

Mr. Hauser had boldly declared that through his application of science, not only could morality be stripped of any religious hocus-pocus, but philosophy would have to step aside as well: "Inquiry into our moral nature will no longer be the proprietary province of the humanities and social sciences," he wrote. Would it be such a bad thing if Hausergate resulted in some intellectual humility among the new scientists of morality?

It's important to note that the Hauser affair also represents the best in science. When lowly graduate students suspected their famous boss was cooking his data, they risked their careers and reputations to blow the whistle on him. They are the scientists to celebrate.

Though there is no doubt plenty to learn from the evolutionary psychologists, when an intellectual fashion becomes a full-blown fad, it's time to give it the gimlet eye.

Write me at EricFelten@wsjtaste.com

Copyright 2009 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

Darwin Was Not Wrong--New Study Being Distorted

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/steven-newton/darwin-was-not-wrong--new_b_696132.html

The Huffington Post August 27, 2010

Steven Newton Programs and Policy Director for the National Center for Science Education

Posted: August 26, 2010 04:37 PM

Science fares poorly in the media. Most news outlets devote little attention to scientific topics, and if they do have a website with a science section, it is likely to be filled with technology and medical reporting, rather than scientific discoveries. When scientific topics are reported, they are consistently misunderstood and spiced-up with such sensationalism that the original significance is contorted beyond all recognition.

Such misreporting has happened again--this time involving Charles Darwin and evolution.

A recent paper in the journal Biology Letters, "Links between global taxonomic diversity, ecological diversity and the expansion of vertebrates on land," by Sarda Sahney, Michael Benton, and Paul Ferry, has caused quite a stir.

The normally-staid BBC wrote of this paper,

Charles Darwin may have been wrong when he argued that competition was the major driving force of evolution.

A Huffington Post piece repeated much of the original BBC article, but felt the need to shout its headline in capital letters:

Darwin May Have Been WRONG, New Study Argues.

AOL News added:

Was Darwin Wrong? An Alternative Theory Emerges

With such sensationalist headlines, readers might get the impression that this new study has single-handedly overthrown one of the best-documented scientific theories in history. Creationists will no doubt pass out copies of these articles at school board meetings as final proof against evolution, just as the Discovery Institute trumpeted an inflammatory New Scientist cover article ("Darwin was Wrong") to the Texas School Board during one of its 2009 meetings. Those who attack evolution will be heartened by these articles and believe that a challenge to evolution has finally been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

The reality is, of course, quite different.

These reporters really should have 1) talked to the authors, 2) read the Biology Letters paper, and 3) familiarized themselves with what Darwin wrote. When I talked to lead author Sarda Sahney, of the University of Bristol, she told me unequivocally:

We are not in any way suggesting Darwin was wrong.

Reporters could have learned this from the Biology Letters paper itself. This paper discusses the role of the "expansion and contraction of occupied ecospace" in animal diversity, arguing that on the large scale, ecospace should be considered a prime factor. A press release for the paper noted that when examining large-scale changes in biodiversity, the data suggest:

Animals diversified by expanding into empty ecological roles rather than by direct competition with each other.

This paper does not argue that Darwin's conception of small-scale competition within species is incorrect. It does not argue that new species arising out of accumulating changes is a flawed concept. It does not argue Darwin was wrong.

Mass extinctions in Earth's past have provided opportunities for the large-scale, dramatic ecospace expansions discussed in this paper. But we can also understand this idea with an analogy to a more familiar topic: Darwin's famous Galápagos finches. These birds occupy small, parched islands, on which perennial drought severely limits vegetation. This creates a situation of scarcity in which even small differences in beaks may confer significant advantages. As the pioneering work of Peter and Rosemary Grant shows, competition on a month-by-month, year-by-year scale shapes the evolution of these birds even today.

Now imagine that a new volcanic island erupts in the Galápagos chain. Suddenly an expanse of new, un-colonized land is available; new food sources will grow there. How will this new land affect finch diversification? That's the kind of question being addressed here.

This Biology Letters paper explores expansions and contractions of ecospace--not questions about whether evolution is wrong. This paper suggests a refinement of the details of how evolution happens. Refinements are part of the process of science, and should not be mistaken for attacks.

Those who do attack evolution--from young earth creationists at Answers in Genesis to intelligent design creationists at the Discovery Institute--do so for reasons outside of science. Answers in Genesis, which runs the Creation Museum in Kentucky, tries to link evolution with abortion, racism, and genocide. The Discovery Institute opposes evolution as part of their broader culture war on "materialism." By defeating evolution, they hope (in the DI's words) to undo the "destructive moral, cultural, and political legacies" of materialist philosophy. Clearly, these motivations are not about science.

Some did get this story right. Michael Reilly at Discovery News refrained from hyperbole and reported this article as perhaps "one facet of natural selection that [Darwin] didn't immediately foresee." Jerry Coyne, a professor of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, wrote an informative critique of the Biology Letters paper and concluded:

It's bizarre to see every modern discovery through a lens of either supporting or refuting [Darwin's] ideas. If we did that, every paper in genetics could be sold to science journalists as showing that Darwin was wrong about inheritance!

News outlets need to take greater responsibility for the way they report science stories. Once misguided, sensationalist headlines such as these start to spread, this poisonous misinformation--despite all the hard work and research of scientists--becomes a tool for those who reject science.