NTS LogoSkeptical News for 15 September 2010

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Scientists Converge on SMU to Discuss Death of Darwin's Theory

[Editor's note: This is rich.]

http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/scientists-converge-on-smu-to-discuss-death-of-darwins-theory-102890989.html

4 Nails in Darwin's Coffin Presents New Scientific Challenges to Darwinian Evolution

DALLAS, Sept. 14 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- "The evidence is clear: Darwin was wrong about the origin of new species, organs and body plans," says molecular biologist Jonathan Wells. "We are ready to show the next generation of young scientists just how wrong Darwin was."

Scientists from Discovery Institute, including Dr. Wells and philosopher of science Stephen C. Meyer, will be joined by molecular biologist Douglas Axe and evolutionary biologist Richard Sternberg as they present scientific challenges to Darwinian evolution at Southern Methodist University. The event, sponsored and organized by PULSE and Victory Campus Ministries, is from 7:00-9:30 pm at SMU's Hughes-Trigg Ballroom, where the scientists will also engage in a Q & A session after the movie and presentations.

When Charles Darwin tried to explain away the evidence for intelligent design more than a hundred years ago, the window of evidence in biology was small and narrow. Today that window has exploded into vast worlds of nano-technology, intricate layers of complexity, and irreducible structures of design.

Now the scientific evidence is challenging Darwin's theory of evolution in ways he never could have foreseen as molecular biology and genetics raise new problems for natural selection. Four Discovery Institute scientists have been invited to present new challenges to Darwinian evolution at Southern Methodist University (SMU) September 23, 2010, following a free screening of the acclaimed documentary Darwin's Dilemma: The Mystery of the Cambrian Fossil Record.

Three years ago Discovery Institute funded and organized a two-day conference on the SMU campus titled Darwin vs. Design and featuring several scientists including Stephen Meyer who will also be at this year's event.

"At that event some of the faculty and other Darwin activists around Dallas said that such a discussion has no place on an academic campus and tried to shut down the event," explains Robert Crowther, director of communications for Discovery Institute. "I'm hopeful this time there won't be any such outcries and that students will get to attend and learn about the scientific challenges to Darwin's theory."

For more information about Darwin's Dilemma: The Mystery of the Cambrian Fossil Record, and to see a trailer of the film, visit www.darwinsdilemma.org.

Sponsored by PULSE and Victory Campus Ministries, SMU, this event is FREE and open to the public.

SOURCE Discovery Institute


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

What if Your Kid's Teacher Is [a] Creationist?

http://www.theatlanticwire.com/features/view/feature/What-if-Your-Kids-Teacher-Is-Creationist-2048

Teaching high school biology can be tricky business in America, where 66 percent say that creationism is definitely or probably true and 53 percent say evolution is definitely or probably true (no, we don't understand the overlap either). So what if you belong to the evolution camp, and want your children to learn Darwin's theories, but the local high school biology teacher belongs to the creationism camp? Biological anthropologist Greg Laden has been addressing this question in an ongoing series on his blog, offering advice and discussing the implications.

Laden arrives at the topic after writing advice to high school science teachers who are having class disrupted by a creationist student who rejects the biology curricula. "When Pastor Bob arms your student with creationist claims and sends him or her into your classroom, he is creating not just a disruption or an annoyance, but a professionally dangerous situation for you," Laden writes, advising teachers to tread carefully so as to avoid a lawsuit or giving creationists an excuse to demand you "teach the controversy." The first bit of advice: "You can't talk about religion in your science classroom."

But what about when the roles are reversed and the one advocating creationism in the classroom is the teacher? Laden cites parenting blogger Dale McGowan, who responded to a creationist science teacher by writing a pointed letter asking for more conventional lectures. Laden sighs, "You can't win that kind of discussion." The teacher can "nitpick" their way out of it by insisting the student misunderstood or by saying they are simply explaining the controversy. Laden insists you get more aggressive, calling for "A decisive take-down of a creationist teacher who is in violation of the law."

The teacher is doing something wrong, got caught, and it is perfectly reasonable for the parent, in a more or less irate manner but hopefully reasonably professionally, approaches the school administration (having first contacted, in person, someone at the National Center for Science Education) directly and issues a firm, clear, no-nonsense complaint.

Following up, Laden writes a "template" letter for his readers to use to demand that science teachers cease teaching creationism or intelligent design. Interestingly, his letter allows for the possibility that these teachers are not themselves creationist, but merely bending to pressure from creationist groups. Here's an excerpt:

It is not uncommon for a teacher to hear from creationists that they don't like evolution, or Darwin, or that they want their religious beliefs to shape your curriculum. Those individuals, be they parents or students or someone else, are wrong, and they have no legal, ethical, or moral basis to make such an argument. Nonetheless, they can cause trouble, and that seems to be their intent on occasion. I want you to know that I am a member of the National Center for Science Education as well as our local equivalent, [Fill in the blank with name of state or local group], and if you ever have any pressure from any source to hold back on teaching excellent science, including and especially evolution, you can count on me and those organizations to lend you support in a thoughtful and professional manner.

Laden later points out, "The Institute for Creation Research moved from California to Texas a few years ago in part, it is believed, to set up a masters program for teachers in life sciences." They didn't get certification, but now they're seeking "a degree in 'Christian Apologetics' which would serve a similar purpose as the Creationist MA, and it would have a 'Creation Science' minor. This degree, they claim, is not subject to state certification because it is religious." Future creationist high school teachers of America?

Alternative Medicine Website Continues to Grow

http://www.pr.com/press-release/261909

Website dedicated to providing information on a wide variety of complementary and alternative therapies expands its range

London, United Kingdom, September 14, 2010 --(PR.com)-- Alternative Medicine website (therapy-pages.com) is pleased to announce the addition of five new entries into its already vast collection.

In addition to entries on everything from massage to yoga, it can now count among its pages large amounts of detail on hypnosis, counseling psychology, numerology, occupational therapy and pain management.

The website is designed specifically for people wanting more information on a wide variety of Complementary and Alternative Medicines. It holds no bias and contains entries for both ancient and contemporary therapies.

Bill McRae, founder of therapy-pages.com said, "We now have almost 70 different therapies on the site and hope to grow that over the coming months.

"Our aim is it to get up to 100 by 2011 and with these new additions we are well on our way."

To find out more, visit www.therapy-pages.com

About Us

therapy-pages.com is a website dedicated to providing information on a wide variety of complementary and alternative therapies without bias or prejudice.

Minister withdraws from launch of anti-evolution book

http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/frontpage/2010/0914/1224278831472.html

The Irish Times - Tuesday, September 14, 2010

MINISTER FOR Science Conor Lenihan will not now launch a book in Dublin which describes evolution as a fantasy and a hoax, after the author asked him to withdraw in the wake of controversy on the web.

The Minister was to launch The Origin of Specious Nonsense by John May at Buswells hotel tomorrow, with actors playing the parts of Charles Darwin and King Kong.

But Mr May said last night he had asked Mr Lenihan not to launch the book "because I am so embarrassed that the Minister for Science has been so insulted" and "eviscerated" on a political website. "He doesn't even believe in my central argument," the author said.

Mr May is due to give a talk at the launch on How Evolution Made Monkeys Out of Man .

Mr May is also offering €10,000 to anyone who can prove evolution at a biochemical level. He describes himself on the website www.theoriginofspeciousnonsense.com as "like Abraham Lincoln, self-educated, and might be viewed as a polymath, left school young and commenced my real education".

Speaking to The Irish Times last night, he said Mr Lenihan had agreed to launch the book some weeks ago, but had since requested that his description as Minister for Science be deleted from publicity material about the launch.

Mr May said this had been done "immediately". He said Mr Lenihan had agreed to launch the book as "I am a friend and a constituent".

But he was so "embarrassed" by the insults against the Minister that he had asked him to withdraw.

Speaking from Galway earlier last night, Mr Lenihan said while he "remained to be convinced" by Mr May's arguments, he would be attending the launch in a personal capacity and as he believed "diversity of opinion is a good thing". However following Mr May's request he has withdrawn from the launch.

In publicity material for the launch of his book on the theory of evolution, Mr May accused "Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel C Dennett, et al" of having "sacrificed reason on the altar of Chance, Mutations, Randomness . . ." Mr May called on "the world's atheists, scientists, evolutionists plus tens of millions of their duped followers" to stop pretending they had "any facts whatsoever to support the greatest deceit in the history of science".

Evolution was "a fantasy of farraginous, farcical, fatuous, feculent, facile facetiousness and my book shall lead the charge against this UNSCIENTIFIC HOAX [his emphasis] worldwide".

Last night he described himself as "spiritual" but, like his six children, "free from the infection of organised religion".


Monday, September 13, 2010

Sugar-coating homeopathy should no longer be an option

http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/guest-commentary/sugar-coating-homeopathy-should-no-longer-be-an-option-1.1054538

Tuesday 14 September 2010
Published on 13 Sep 2010

Since we were all agreed a few months ago that there would need to be widespread and painful cuts, it was inevitable that there are now furious objections to any being implemented.

Not a single proposal, from examining whether we can afford to build aircraft carriers to having a look at how many people really need to be on disability benefit, has yet been greeted by approval, or even by resigned acceptance.

Instead, every suggestion of where the axe might fall has been met by cries that this particular economy is "a cut too far"; "vindictive"; "short-sighted"; "bound to undermine the recovery"; "aimed at the sickest/poorest/most vulnerable in society", or by any of the dozens of stock phrases trademarked by special interest groups.

So I'm very much looking forward to the programme on BBC1 tonight which seems to have identified a potential annual saving of £1.5 million from NHS Scotland's budget, and what's more, one which no rational person could possibly oppose: according to the BMA, NHS Scotland should withdraw funding for Glasgow's homeopathic hospital until it proves its effectiveness.

There is no evidence that burning chicken feathers and drawing circles on the floor in coloured chalk plays any physical role in curing any disease. Not only have these methods never been shown to do any good in the most basic scientific tests, such as double blind clinical trials, but those who advocate them are actively resistant to their methods being examined in this way.

The Glasgow Homeopathic Hospital at Gartnavel does not, as far as I know, use these particular clinical approaches. Instead, it dilutes substances, often herbal extracts, in the ratio of one part to 99 parts water, and then repeats the process at least 29 times. But the dilution method has no more scientific evidence for it than the feather-burning method. The original substance is related to the complaint on the basis of "like cures like" – so that if the patient has a temperature, the "active ingredient" to be diluted will be something which raises temperature.

Those of you who learned about Edward Jenner and Blossom the cow at school (and are therefore almost certainly old enough for the aches, pains and infirmities to be creeping in) may find this superficially appealing. Immunology, we can tell ourselves, demonstrably works. But immunology does not dilute at one per cent 30 times or more. If it did, the active ingredient would be less than one to the power of 1060 , which is less than one part per million million million million million million million million million million of the original substance. What homeopaths argue is the even more powerful dilution of 100 times would dilute the original by more than the total number of atoms in the universe. By that logic, any glass of water already contains enough of every available active substance to be proof against any ailment. Yet illness somehow persists.

There are two defences which are routinely made against this logical objection. The first is that a lot of people maintain that it worked for them when conventional medicine didn't. The second is to say that the rationalist atheistic sceptics who invest all their confidence in science aren't seeing the whole picture. And, actually, there is something to be said for both these responses. Yet neither of them justifies NHS expenditure on homeopathy.

Homeopathy works for some people because the placebo effect is real, and has been shown by double-blind trials and meta-analysis to be real even at second-hand; on, for example, children and pets. This is probably partly to do with expectations and the fact that, if one seeks a treatment after all others have failed and when one feels worst, there is a sporting chance that the passage of time alone will lead to an improvement.

But homeopathy has never been shown to have any measurable advantage over a placebo in any rigorous medical trial. That is why the BMA argues that we should stop spending 10 times per head of population as much as they do in England and Wales on treatments which there is no reason to believe work better than a sugar pill. It might like to extend this argument to other dubious NHS-funded treatments, such as counselling, the state-licensed friendship service which is clinically no more effective than people talking to their families and waiting to feel better.

And the second objection – what might be called the "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio" approach – is no more helpful for homeopathy's defenders. It is true that the mechanisms of some medicine (such as anaesthetics) remain unclear; but they can be shown to be effective when measured against sugar pills. It is true that some traditional remedies have been shown to work: but then, that is the point at which they stop being "alternative medicine" and become "medicine", tout court.

Cocksure certainty in the supremacy of science is an irritant when presented by figures such as Professor Richard Dawkins, recently joined in his atheistic certainty by Professor Stephen Hawking, and as blinkered in its way as the claims of Creationist fundamentalists. To say that science disproves religion is to make a category mistake about two different ways of interpreting the world.

Evolution and M-theory don't disprove the existence of God, even if they do provide ways of describing the universe which don't require a deity (something which philosophers have been able to do for nearly three centuries). But religion concerns itself with the metaphysical (an area Prof Dawkins, like AJ Ayer before him, simply dismisses as nonsensical).

Homeopathy, by contrast, claims physical processes and results, and those do belong to the scientific realm. As such, they should be testable by scientific trials of the sort that all other drugs are subject to. One need not believe that science can describe every aspect of life to think that what purports to be a science must be subject to basic scientific norms.

If the NHS chooses to spend money on sugar pills or saline injections, and people feel better, that is one thing. But every pound of taxpayers' money spent on something which claims scientific validity, but cannot be shown to be any better than placebos, is a pound which isn't there to fund your mother's hip transplant, or your chemotherapy.

By Andrew McKie

The Problem With Alternative Medicine

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/happiness-in-world/201009/the-problem-alternative-medicine

Why "natural" isn't necessarily better

Happiness in this World
Reflections of a Buddhist Physician
by Alex Lickerman, M.D.
Published on September 12, 2010

Americans spend an astounding thirty-four billion dollars on alternative medicine annually. Given that so many of us put our faith in alternative care, I wanted to clear up some common misconceptions about it to help people make wiser choices when and if they turn to it.

WHAT IS "ALTERNATIVE" MEDICINE

In general, alternative medicine is used to describe practices outside the bounds of conventional medicine. It's also often connoted to include practices that haven't been shown to be effective. Mainstream scientists often criticize alternative medicine as charlatanism, arguing that anything alternative that's been proven to work is in fact...mainstream medicine. Advocates of alternative medicine, in contrast, typically point to their personal experiences as proof of the effectiveness of many such "unproven" interventions.

Many people feel more comfortable using natural compounds rather than man-made ones because of a belief that what's natural is, by definition, healthier and safer—but this is a dangerous assumption. Numerous natural compounds are, in fact, poisonous (e.g., cyanide). And natural compounds that have health benefits often have a narrow therapeutic index (meaning the amount that brings benefit is only slightly less than the amount that causes toxicity, making it alarmingly easy for their use to cause harm), like digitalis, a drug derived from the foxglove plant that's been used to treat heart failure since the late 1700s.

Many patients tell me they "don't like to take pills" but paradoxically think nothing of ingesting "natural" herbs or plants. This distinction has always struck me as absurd. Both man-made and natural compounds have effects on biological systems. Nothing about natural compounds makes them more or less effective or safe. How confident we can be that a given compound is both effective and safe has nothing to do with where it comes from but rather with how rigorously its effectiveness and safety have been studied.

This, then, is the main problem I have with alternative medicine, that in general its interventions haven't been subject to rigorous study. I'm open to believing anything, no matter how far fetched it may seem (after all, who would have believed that television would be possible five hundred years ago?). I don't even need to know an intervention's mechanism of action. I just need to know that in well-designed studies it's been proven effective.

And safe. Prima non nocere: first, do no harm—medicine's most important credo. When you're the one with the authority to recommend treatments, you take very seriously the possibility that what you recommend may cause harm. I'm even open to the use of interventions that haven't been proven ineffective as long as there's reason to believe they're safe.

But safety is a tricky thing. First, it never exists as an absolute. That is, an intervention can be safe for some people but deadly to others (e.g., penicillin is safe for almost everyone who takes it—except for those who are severely allergic). Further, "safe" is often a value judgment that varies from person to person and for one person from situation to situation. We may think it obvious that anything with a risk of death isn't safe-but then again, what if that risk of death is less than 1% and we're talking about performing a cardiac catheterization in a patient who's just had a heart attack?

Alternative medicine enthusiasts often point to centuries of use to justify their belief in the safety of many alternative medicine practices (if acupuncture kills or maims, why hasn't it been reported?), but without carefully designed studies, how do we know, for example, that black cohosh doesn't increase the risk of auto-immune diseases like lupus? Certainly, numerous examples exist in which man-made compounds were subject to rigorous study in clinical trials, labeled acceptably safe, and then later discovered not to be (remember phen-fen?). But this is the exception rather than the rule.

DO ALTERNATIVE THERAPIES WORK?

Interestingly, as more and more studies of alternative therapies are being conducted, we're discovering that many of them do work—but not necessarily for the things people believe. Acupuncture, for example, has been suggested to be effective in reducing the nausea associated with chemotherapy. But trials also show for back pain there's a good chance it's no better than placebo.

On the other hand, even when clinical trials show an intervention works, it still may not. Some kinds of experimental designs inherently produce less convincing results than others. And even double-blind, prospective, randomized, placebo-controlled trials—the gold-standard of clinical trial design—often turn out to contain flaws, even those published in well-respected scientific journals. Often these flaws are small enough not to impact the validity of results-but sometimes they do. This is why treatments must often be studied multiple times in multiple ways before they gain acceptance in the scientific community.

People turn to alternative therapies for many reasons. Perhaps because of a bad experience with traditional medicine. Perhaps because personal experience strongly suggests they work (when my wife was pregnant with our son and feeling intense nausea, I tried applying pressure to her wrist at a standard "acupressure" site and was astounded to hear her say, repeatedly, the nausea vanished when I pressed and returned when I released). Perhaps because traditional medicine has no more to offer. Especially when the diagnosis is terminal, what's to lose?

If you're going to go the alternative route, do as much research as you can. Look for treatments that have been shown in some kind of study or studies not to cause significant harm. Look for treatments that at least have some anecdotal reports of success for the specific problem you have. (And I don't mean reports offered by people selling alternative interventions. Though many, if not most, alternative medicine practitioners are genuinely interested in helping others and believe in the effectiveness of the therapies they offer, snake-oil salesmen abound. Beware overconfident statements about efficacy. Remain suspicious about any claims that a given intervention treats or cures a multitude of disparate conditions.)

Traditional treatments aren't inherently superior to alternative ones—they're just better studied. Which doesn't mean that they're effective or safe beyond any doubt—just that they're more likely to be. The praises we should be singing aren't to any one specific intervention, traditional or alternative, but to the scientific method itself, a way of making valid observations about cause and effect in the phenomenal world. It's both a lot harder to do well than many of its proponents understand, yet simultaneously a far more valid means of assessing efficacy than anecdotal reports and length of use could ever be.

If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to explore Dr. Lickerman's home page, Happiness in this World.

30 Reasons Why Man Is Not Descended from Apes

http://www.livescience.com/strangenews/etc/100912-reasons-why-man-not-descended-from-apes.html

Strange News

Submitted by Robert Roy Britt

posted: 12 September 2010 10:55 am ET

The Noah's Ark Zoo Farm in the UK has a presentation about 30 reasons why man is not descended from apes. Given the establishment believes in creationism, that presentation is no surprise. But that school children would attend the place has some educators alarmed. Noah's Ark Zoo Farm, near Bristol, was recently awarded a "quality badge" by the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom.

The council's deputy chief executive defended the decision, the Guardian reports: "An important aim of learning outside the classroom is allowing children and young people access to education that challenges assumptions and allows them to experience a range of viewpoints."

That's a tactic known as "teaching the controversy" — a controversy scientists say does not exist. Evolution is a well-founded theory — among the most solid and important theories in all of science, and among scientists there simply is no controversy. [Special Report: Evolution and Intelligent Design]

Among the teachings of Noah's Ark Zoo Farm is that scientists use "faith" to explain Darwinian evolution. That's just bogus. Scientists use evidence, from the fossil record, from DNA comparisons, and from studies in a host of different fields to conclude that evolution is at work and that humans and apes share common ancestry. The disingenuous materials suggest that gaps in the fossil record require leaps of faith to tie Darwinian evolution together.

The farm also promotes a view that Earth is not 4.5 billion years old, as science says, while keeping arms-length from the ludicrous belief of the most staunch creationists that Earth is just a few thousand years old and humans co-existed with dinosaurs. "We believe the earth is much older than 6,000 years but much younger than 4.5 billion years," the farm's web site states.

The farm plants seeds of doubt about evolution in other creative ways, such as with this passage that suggests the great diversity and complexity of life could not have arisen from evolution — a process scientists have in fact described very well and supported very thoroughly, but that a divine designer must be involved: "Researchers notice design in every cell and in every bone, but it's like the proverbial elephant in the room: no one dares mention the obvious implications for a God-excluding view of reality."

Creationism has creeped into U.S. classrooms in recent years, too. A recent study found that 12 percent of high school biology teachers present creationism or intelligent design in a positive light in the classroom, despite a federal court's recent ban against it.

Paul Sims sums up what's wrong with all this — teaching creationism as a viable alternative to evolution — in the Guardian this way: "Proponents of 'teach the controversy' would have us believe that this is the purpose of education – to allow children to think for themselves, it is necessary to teach them things that aren't true alongside things that are. But if a child leaves school thinking that humans don't share a common ancestor with other apes, isn't the truth just that the education system failed them?"

For the record, reason No. 30 that man is not descended from apes, according to the Noah's Ark Zoo Farm (via another article by Paul Sims): "Man and apes cannot share a common ancestor because "Our belief in God can give us power to love the unlovable and values that are greater than physical life itself." No there's some solid science that should give any Darwinist pause!

Will the real Catholic please stand up?

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/09/will_the_real_catholic_please.php

Category: Creationism
Posted on: September 13, 2010 7:31 AM, by PZ Myers

Nominally, the Catholic church has no beef with evolution — they've got their own official twisted logic in which God did some invisible indetectable hocus-pocus somewhere in the documented evidence of evolution. Sometimes, though, that seems as thin and neglected as church doctrine on contraception. Here's an article on catholic.org that is pure unadulterated creationism, flatly denying the facts of human evolution because it contradicts the Magisterium of the Church on original sin and our exclusive descent from Adam and Eve.

It's unclear how this particular site is associated with the official Catholic church, but one thing should be clear: practicing Catholics seem to ignore official papal decrees fairly routinely, and there are a lot of creationist Catholics.

The other thing of note in this particular article is the blatant quote-mining going on. One mention is of this strange Jesuit I first heard of on the Larry King interview of Stephen Hawking, Robert Spitzer — this article makes him sound like he's anti-evolution, and he actually is, but it's in that waffling pettifogging traditional Catholic way of accepting the evidence but imagining a lot of god-diddling in the background.

What made me sit up and notice, though, is that in the opening paragraph, it cites John Tyler Bonner as a prominent scientist who questions evolution. Whoa. JT Bonner is the guy who got me excited about developmental biology when I was an undergraduate and picked up a copy of his On Development: The Biology of Form at the UW bookstore. He was a prominent supporter of evolution and against creationism in the 1960s. He wrote The Evolution of Complexity by Means of Natural Selection, The Evolution of Culture in Animals, Life Cycles: Reflections of an Evolutionary Biologist, and First Signals: The Evolution of Multicellular Development. And now they're insinuating that he's on the side of the creationists.

How stupid do they think their readers are?

Amusing Quotation on Creationism and the Bible

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/2010/09/12/amusing-quote-on-creationism-and-the-bible/

Chris Mooney

Recently in Hungary, I got to meet professor C.P. Kyriacou of the University of Leicester. We were both serving as pre-party entertainment for a recent Austria Biosciences postdoc retreat, and so we ended up hanging out a good bit together.

Anyways, not only is Kyriacou a marvelous guy, but after hearing my talk about the various wars on science and reason, he shared a quotation with me that he uses in a lecture on anti-evolutionism. It's pretty hilarious. Here goes:

Several thousand years ago, a small tribe of ignorant near-savages wrote various collections of myths, wild tales, lies, and gibberish. Over the centuries, these stories were embroidered, garbled, mutilated, and torn into small pieces that were then repeatedly shuffled. Finally, this material was badly translated into several languages successively. The resultant text, creationists feel, is the best guide to this complex and technical subject.

– Tom Weller, Science Made Stupid, 1985



Saturday, September 11, 2010

How Evolution Gets Used and Abused in the Science-Religion Debate

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-denis-alexander/ideology-science-and-reli_b_707733.html

Dr. Denis Alexander.Director, The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion
Posted: September 7, 2010 07:32 PM

The ideological uses of science very often become tangled up in the debate between science and religion. Theories that for the scientist do practical work in the laboratory to make sense of certain data, and help map out the direction for future research, can be deployed in the world outside for or against various political, social, religious or anti-religious agendas. In the process the science becomes socially transformed, the original meanings of words in scientific discourse conveying quite different connotations.

This trend goes back a long way, as well illustrated by the authors in the recently published Biology and Ideology: From Descartes to Dawkins (Denis R. Alexander and Ronald L. Numbers, eds, Chicago University Press, 2010). The 13 essays in this volume illustrate the many and varied ways in which biology in particular has been utilized for a wide range of political, religious, and social purposes from 1600 to the present day. The purposes may be beneficial, benign, or harmful in their outcomes, but all are "ideological" in the broadest sense of not being intrinsic to biology itself.

With the benefit of hindsight, historians more than others are in a good position to discern such uses and abuses of biological ideas. Whereas the twentieth-century abuses of genetics in eugenics and in racist ideologies are obvious and thoroughly described in the present volume, less obvious are the subtle ways in which the same biological ideas have been used during the same period for quite opposite ideological purposes in different countries, as described by Prof. Shirley Roe and Prof. Peter Hanns Reill. The supposedly "materialistic" biology that in France was utilized by the philosophes to subvert the social order in the eighteenth century was in Britain used as a key resource for natural theology, whereas in Germany it was being used politically as an analogy for the structure of nation-states.

Today the ideological uses of biology continue on as much as they ever did. In his chapter entitled "Creationism, intelligent design, and modern biology," Prof. Ronald Numbers describes how the biological theory of evolution has been invested with ideological overtones, particularly in North America, ever since Darwin published his On the Origin of Species in 1859. For some evolution became a philosophy that threatened to undermine notions of man "made in the image of God." For others, evolution became a political threat to the social order, subverting campaigns to achieve greater rights for the oppressed.

This was particularly the case for the original President Obama who never was, the thrice-defeated Democratic candidate for the presidency of the United States, and campaigner for liberal reform, William Jennings Bryan (1860-1925). Early in 1922, as Numbers recounts, Bryan helped to launch a crusade aimed at driving evolution out of the churches and schools of America. But Bryan's motivation was as much political as religious. He had become alarmed by the way that the philosophy of "might is right" reputedly fueled German militaristic ambitions during the First World War. Benjamin Kidd's Science of Power (1918), a book that influenced Bryan, purported to demonstrate the historical and philosophical links between Darwinism and German militarism.

It was Bryan's campaign that helped launch the creationist movement of the early 1920s, leading in turn to the infamous Scopes Trial of 1925. The movement benefited from another leading campaigner of the same era, the Canadian Adventist George McCready Price, who agreed with Bryan that the First World War, during which Germany put "the ruthless ethics of Darwinism ... into actual practice," provided ample evidence of the threat evolution posed to human freedom.

What Numbers brings out so clearly in his chapter is the way in which the theory of evolution was socially transformed into a bogey-man for virtually anyone who had an axe to grind. Rather than simply explaining the origins of biological diversity, it became an icon of materialism, or militarism, or atheism, or socialism, or capitalism. In fact evolution has been deployed since 1859 in support of almost every "ism" that exists, many of them mutually exclusive. All kinds of ideological barnacles became attached to the theory to the extent that the actual biology was obscured in the process.

Ironically, as Prof. Alister McGrath makes clear in his chapter entitled "Evolutionary biology in recent atheist apologetics," the presentation of evolution by the "new atheists" is in fact very similar to that of the creationists and more recent proponents of Intelligent Design. Opposite poles are often more similar to each other than either side might be prepared to admit.

In the hands of Prof. Richard Dawkins, evolution becomes an ultra-Darwinian philosophy in rivalry with the idea of creation. Dawkins argues that there are at present only three possible ways of seeing the world: Darwinism, Lamarckism, or God. The last two fail to explain the world adequately; the only option is therefore Darwinism. In such claims, McGrath notes, evolution becomes exalted to a metanarrative, infused with the ideological rhetoric of atheism.

The ideological uses and abuses of science are bad for science education, because so often the science gets lost in the rhetoric. They are also bad for religion, because scientific theories are always provisional, open to refutation, and simply not up to the herculean task of refereeing between pro- or anti-religious arguments. Darwinian evolution, for example, just happens to be the inference to the best explanation for the origins of all the biological diversity on planet earth. It's a stunningly successful theory, but it's best just to let scientific theories do the job that they're good at, and not invest them with ideologies that have nothing to do with the science.

Texas Medical Board settles complaint against Dr. Rea

http://planetthrive.com/2010/09/texas-medical-board/

sources: mcall.com, tmb.state.tx.us

Great news for supporters of William J. Rea, M.D., director of the Environmental Health Center-Dallas and Planet Thrive columnist! The Texas Medical Board has settled it's complaint against him from 2007, when they charged him with pseudoscience and claimed he injected patients with jet fuel, natural gas, and other harmful substances. Dr. Rea defended his treatment approach, explaining that the injections he uses are electromagnetic imprints of those substances and not actually the substances themselves (similar to homeopathy). Rather than suspend Dr. Rea or take away his license to practice medicine as many of his patients feared might happen, the Board merely issued sanctions requiring him to inform patients that his treatment is not FDA approved and that it's therapeutic value is disputed. This is a huge win for physicians practicing environmental medicine and their patients!

Here are the exact sanctions issued by the Texas Medical Board:

On August 27, 2010, the Board and William James Rea, M.D., entered into a Mediated Agreed Order requiring Dr. Rea to present a revised informed consent form to patients undergoing injections for chemical/environmental sensitivity that states that the injections contain only the "electromagnetic imprint" of the agents in question, the therapy is "not FDA approved," and the therapeutic value of the therapy is disputed. In addition, Dr. Rea shall not start using any formulations that contain any amounts of substances classified as hazardous or carcinogenic by the EPA. The Order was based upon Dr. Rea's failure to obtain informed consent from five patients diagnosed with chemical sensitivity and/or environmental sensitivity before performing tests, treatments or procedures."

In an interview with The Morning Call in 2008, Dr. Rea shared his belief that the complaints were generated by insurance companies that wanted to avoid paying for patients' treatments – and were not made by patients themselves. The fact that the Board essentially gave him a slap on the wrist may reflect an overall trend of mainstream medicine acknowledging that there are benefits to some of the more alternative treatments available today. Leigh Hopper, a spokeswoman for the Texas Medical Board, agreed that "it is definitely a unique order – we struck a balance between making sure patients have access to alternative medicine and making sure it's safe."

What's new on NCSE's YouTube channel

http://ncse.com/news/2010/09/whats-new-ncses-youtube-channel-006162

September 7th, 2010

Eugenie C. ScottNCSE is pleased to announce the addition of a further batch of videos to NCSE's YouTube channel. Featured is "The Great Debate" (in three parts), filmed at the American Museum of Natural History in 2002, with Kenneth R. Miller and Robert Pennock debating William A. Dembski and Michael Behe; the debate was introduced by Richard Milner and moderated by NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott. (A complete transcript of the debate is available on NCSE's website.)

Also featured is "McLean v. Arkansas 20 Years Later" (in four parts), filmed at the American Association for the Advancement of Science's annual meeting for 2001, with Stephen Jay Gould, Francisco Ayala, and Harold Morowitz, who all testified as scientific expert witnesses in 1982's McLean v. Arkansas trial, as well as Ronald L. Numbers and NCSE's Scott, discussing the seminal case in which a federal court found teaching creationism unconstitutional.

And there's "What Would Darwin Say to Today's Creationists?" — delivered by Scott to the University of Chicago's 2009 conference celebrating the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of the Origin of Species — and "Inside Creationism's Trojan Horse," delivered by Barbara Forrest, Professor of Philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University and member of NCSE's board of directors, to the Center for Inquiry in June 2007. Tune in and enjoy!

George C. Williams dies

http://ncse.com/news/2010/09/george-c-williams-dies-006171

September 10th, 2010

George C. WilliamsThe eminent evolutionary biologist George C. Williams died on September 8, 2010, at the age of 84, according to the Evolution & Medicine Review blog (September 10, 2010). Born in Charlotte, North Carolina, on May 12, 1926, Williams served in the U.S. Army from 1944 to 1946, and then studied at the University of California, Berkeley, where he received his A.B. in zoology in 1949, and the University of California, Los Angeles, where he received his Ph.D. in biology in 1955. During his academic career, mostly at the State University of New York, Stony Brook, he published a string of important work, including the books Adaptation and Natural Selection (1966), Sex and Evolution (1975), Natural Selection (1992), Why We Get Sick (coauthored with Randolph M. Nesse, 1994), and Plan and Purpose in Nature (1996). His honors include induction in the National Academy of Sciences (1993) and the Crafoord Prize in Biosciences (1999).

A long-time member of NCSE, Williams was concerned about creationism. In a brief 1996 article in Biology and Philosophy, he defended his treatment of genetic information in Natural Selection against "intelligent design" advocate Phillip Johnson's misrepresentations of it: "Johnson's argument is based on some obvious fallacies," he explained, "such as information requiring an intelligent author." In 1999, he reviewed the early "intelligent design" anthology Mere Creation for the Quarterly Review of Biology, writing that the contributors "reject the idea that a strictly trial-and-error process of natural selection can account for the functional design of organisms, and propose that a creator's wisdom has been directing evolution. They make no attempt to deal with the many examples of egregious unwisdom seen in functionally arbitrary and sometimes maladaptive historical legacies, which suggest a creator with no understanding or concern with what he was imposing on organisms."

Inconsistent Reasoning Governs Evolutionary Interpretations of Feathered Dinosaurs

[Editor's note: The DI (surprise) again steps into a controversy they think will help their cause.]

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2010/09/inconsistent_reasoning_governs038061.html

Nature news is reporting another feathered dinosaur. The title of the Nature news article says, "Crested dinosaur pushes back dawn of feather." This dinosaur is from around 130 mya, but feathers are already known from the bird Archaeopteryx around 150 mya. So how does it push back the origin of feathers?

Their reasoning is that the feathers on this new species, dubbed Concavenator corcovatus, appear in a different lineage than the one that supposedly led to birds. Since "such structures [feathers] are unlikely to have evolved separately in both groups" they use evolutionary reasoning to infer that "the common ancestor of the two predatory dinosaur branches, 'could have been feathered'." This pushes the origin of feathers back to "Middle Jurassic (175 to 161 million years ago)." Again, their reasoning which "pushes back the dawn of feathers" is entirely evolutionary, not based upon actually finding feathers.

Keep in mind, however, that they didn't find actual feathers on this fossil. They only think they found quill knobs--attachment points for feathers. As the Nature newspiece says:

But it is the bumps on the dinosaur's arms that have caused a stir: the researchers think that they may have been part of structures that anchored quills to the creature's bones.

If all it takes to establish feathers are a few quill knobs, then why exclude a fossil called Protoavis, with many other birdlike features, from having feathers? Protoavis' discoverer Sankar Chatterjee wrote, "The presence of feathers is inferred indirectly from the development of quill knobs." (Chatterjee, The Rise of Birds. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997)

So why do many scientists oppose Protoavis being a bird, or at least related to birds? The reasoning against Protoavis being a bird, again, is governed by evolutionary considerations. As Michael Benton explains, it would wreak havoc with standard evolutionary story:

However, if Protoavis is a bird (Chatterjee, 1995), then the point of origin of the group moves back to the late Triassic, and that would distort many parts of the phylogeny, not only of birds, but also of Dinosauria in general.

(Michael J. Benton, 1998. "The quality of the fossil record of vertebrates." pp. 269-303, in Donovan, S. K. and Paul, C. R. C. (eds), The adequacy of the fossil record. Wiley, New York)

In other words, the problem with Protoavis is that it appears in the fossil record around the same time as the earliest dinosaurs. If it's a bird, then it seems highly unlikely that birds are descended from dinosaurs. In fact, in such a case it wouldn't be clear what birds are descended from. This scenario is obviously disfavored by many evolutionists.

Benton's admissions about Protoavis make it all the more striking that he's quoted in the Nature newspiece as follows:

the bumps on Concavenator's arms 'look exactly like insertions on rather massive flight feathers on bird wings', says Michael Benton, a palaeobiologist at the University of Bristol, UK.

Concavenator's promoters are saying "We're going to have to conceive of more dinosaurs as being more like birds." But to establish Concavenator as a bird-like feathered dinosaur, they must accept inconsistent evolutionary reasoning, which, if applied consistently to fossils like Protoavis, could undermine the entire dino-to-bird evolutionary theory

Posted by Casey Luskin on September 10, 2010 1:03 PM | Permalink


Friday, September 10, 2010

Evolution education update: September 10, 2010

All sorts of new videos on NCSE's YouTube channel, plus a clarification on the status of the ICR's School of Biblical Apologetics.

WHAT'S NEW ON NCSE'S YOUTUBE CHANNEL

NCSE is pleased to announce the addition of a further batch of videos to NCSE's YouTube channel. Featured is "The Great Debate" (in three parts), filmed at the American Museum of Natural History in 2002, with Kenneth R. Miller and Robert Pennock debating William A. Dembski and Michael Behe; the debate was introduced by Richard Milner and moderated by NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott. (A complete transcript of the debate is available on NCSE's website.)

Also featured is "McLean v. Arkansas 20 Years Later" (in four parts), filmed at the American Association for the Advancement of Science's annual meeting for 2001, with Stephen Jay Gould, Francisco Ayala, and Harold Morowitz, who all testified as scientific expert witnesses in 1982's McLean v. Arkansas trial, as well as Ronald L. Numbers and NCSE's Scott, discussing the seminal case in which a federal court found teaching creationism unconstitutional.

And there's "What Would Darwin Say to Today's Creationists?" -- delivered by Scott to the University of Chicago's 2009 conference celebrating the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of the Origin of Species -- and "Inside Creationism's Trojan Horse," delivered by Barbara Forrest, Professor of Philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University and member of NCSE's board of directors, to the Center for Inquiry in June 2007. Tune in and enjoy!

For NCSE's YouTube channel, visit:
http://www.youtube.com/user/NatCen4ScienceEd

For the transcript of the AMNH debate, visit:
http://ncse.com/creationism/general/forum-intelligent-design-held-at-american-museum-natural-his

For information about the Chicago conference, visit:
http://darwin-chicago.uchicago.edu/

For the decision in the McLean case, visit:
http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/mclean-v-arkansas.html

IS ICR OUT OF THE WOODS YET?

As noted in the September 3, 2010, Evolution Education Update, the Institute for Creation Research claims that its new School of Bible Apologetics, offering a Master in Christian Education degree, is "exempt from licensing by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board." In a frequently asked questions section of its website, however, THECB states that religiously affiliated institutions are not exempt from state oversight either under the First Amendment to the Constitution or under the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act. A story noting the prima facie inconsistency was posted to NCSE's website on September 3, after the Update was sent.

But the ICR is apparently out of the woods after all. The Texas Administrative Code provides, "The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board does not regulate Religious Institutions of Higher Education which offer degrees only in religious disciplines" (19 Tex. Admin. Code 1.7A, sec. 7.9). It appears that THECB failed to clarify the relevant frequently asked questions of its website section in light of the Texas Supreme Court's decision in HEB Ministries, Inc. et al. v. Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (235 S.W.3d 627 [Tex. 2007]), which established that THECB does not have oversight over institutions that offer exclusively religious education and training.

For the ICR's claim about SOBA, visit:
http://www.icr.org/soba/faq/#q11

For the THECB's FAQs, visit:
http://www.thecb.state.tx.us/index.cfm?objectid=68C1D2AE-9624-1AA4-11A049B0B40E8FA9

For the story (since updated) on NCSE's website, visit:
http://ncse.com/news/2010/09/icr-not-out-woods-yet-006161

For the relevant section of the Texas Administrative Code, visit:
http://info.sos.state.tx.us/pls/pub/readtac$ext.ViewTAC?tac_view=2&ti=19

For the decision in HEB Ministries v. THECB, visit:
http://www.supreme.courts.state.tx.us/historical/2007/aug/030995.htm

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

Subscribe to NCSE's free weekly e-newsletter:
http://groups.google.com/group/ncse-news

NCSE is on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter:
http://www.facebook.com/evolution.ncse
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NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today!
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Creationists seek to insert their own brand of 'truth' into education

http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/blog/2010/sep/10/creationism-education-teaching-children

Being open to new ways of thinking should be encouraged. But blindly "teaching the controversy" shouldn't Paul Sims is the news editor of New Humanist magazine and blogs at blog.newhumanist.org.uk

guardian.co.uk, Friday 10 September 2010 13.15 BST

Thirty reasons why man is not descended from apes may seem an unlikely thing for children to learn on an educational school trip. But that's just one of the treats in store at Noah's Ark Zoo Farm, a creationist establishment near Bristol which was recently awarded a "quality badge" by the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom.

The council's deputy chief executive, Elaine Skates, defended the decision by saying she believed that "an important aim of learning outside the classroom is allowing children and young people access to education that challenges assumptions and allows them to experience a range of viewpoints."

What Skates is endorsing here, though probably unwittingly, is a notion known as "teach the controversy". The term was coined by the Discovery Institute, America's most notorious creationist organisation, as a means of arguing for the teaching of Biblical creation alongside evolution in US schools.

Operating ostensibly from the principle of free speech, its proponents argue that the purpose of education is to allow children to reach their own conclusions, as though there are no facts, and all knowledge is subjective.

Perhaps it sounds reasonable to be open-minded. But those arguing for "teach the controversy" in this area do so disingenuously – it's a convenient way of inserting their own brand of "truth" into education.

There are controversies in all disciplines, including science. But the scientific "controversies" covered by the teach-the-controversy brigade tend to highlight problems that don't actually exist. Just look at the examples provided by Answers in Genesis, a website run by Ken Ham who is also founder of Kentucky's Creation Museum. Here you can learn why the Earth is 6,000 years old, or why "dinosaurs make perfect sense in light of the biblical history of creation and the Flood".

Away from creationism and intelligent design, the main area in which "teach the controversy" has been invoked is climate change, with conservatives in some US states campaigning for children to be taught alternative explanations to anthropogenic global warming. There is even evidence of creationists adding climate change to their list of controversies, in order to create the impression that their concern is not with religion, but with the balanced teaching of science in general.

We're used to hearing about these things happening across the Atlantic, but "teach the controversy" appears to be making inroads in the UK. The decision to award Noah's Ark Zoo the "quality badge" was welcomed by no less a figure than Ann Widdecombe, who used her weekly Daily Express column to accuse critics of the zoo, particularly the British Humanist Association, of stifling free speech. "The British Humanist Association does not believe that children should be allowed even to discuss creation or to be exposed to any evidence that might support it," she said.

But what "evidence" for Biblical creation might children observe at Noah's Ark? Having spent a delightful summer's day there last year, I can confirm it's a lovely zoo – there are tigers and giraffes, a petting zoo for the really little ones and lots of fun slides in the picnic area. But try and learn anything about natural history, and things become less straightforward. Ever wondered why birds sing? To "praise their maker", of course. How about why rhinos are practically bald? "It is likely that God's earliest design for the rhino had both nose horns and hair, but these were lost in some species later." Stroll over to the "Noah's Ark Exhibition", which contains a "scale model" of the ark, and things take a turn for the sinister – "All the people in the world come from Noah's sons Shem, Ham and Japheth. Caucasian from Japheth, Semitic from Shem, and Negroid/Mongoloid/Redskin from Ham." It's everything you need for a school trip – fluffy animals, slides and creationist racial theory.

In his recent documentary, Faith School Menace?, Richard Dawkins witnessed the effects of "teach the controversy" first hand, meeting a class of 15-year-olds at a Muslim faith school who all believed evolution to be false. Writing on Comment is Free the day after the documentary was broadcast, Erfana Bora, a science teacher at an Islamic school in Leicester, suggested this isn't a problem – in faith schools like hers, students learn one perspective in science lessons and the other in religious studies, and then "literally make their own minds up as to what they believe". It makes for an inquisitive class too, with pupils approaching Bora with questions like "Do humans really share a common ancestor with apes?" She didn't say how she answers this question – does she tell them yes, or does she say that while scientists would say yes, Qur'anic scholars (who the pupils are used to seeing as authority figures) would say no?

Proponents of teach the controversy would have us believe that this is the purpose of education – to allow children to think for themselves, it is necessary to teach them things that aren't true alongside things that are. But if a child leaves school thinking that humans don't share a common ancestor with other apes, isn't the truth just that the education system failed them?

Paul Sims is the news editor of New Humanist magazine and blogs at blog.newhumanist.org.uk


Thursday, September 09, 2010

Derbyshire: "Mommy, You're Stupid! You're Stupid, Mommy!"

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2010/09/john_derbyshire_at_national_re038031.html

John Derbyshire at National Review was AWOL for a while but I'm glad to see he's back in action, abusing us in his accustomed style. He is one of those Darwinists like PZ Myers who's always at least an enjoyable read notwithstanding that part of the enjoyment lies in the way the actual content tends to boil down to something little above the level of "Mommy, you're stupid! You're stupid, Mommy!" (This is our three-year-old Saul's current best shot at a counterargument when crossed.) Thus it's a relief to find that on his vacation from Darwin advocacy, John has learned nothing.

On James Lee, briefly famous gunman and hostage-taker at the Discovery Channel headquarters, Derbyshire chides those who took a glance at Lee's Darwin-heavy manifesto and pointed out the obvious. Writes John, "It ought to be a well-established principle that you can't deduce anything at all from a lone act of insanity, but when you have an axe to grind, the temptation can be irresistible."

Who deduced anything? Not me. Observe, quote, correlate, yes. Deduce, no.

Yet John writes:

David Klinghoffer at the Discovery Institute, a creationist think-tank, chimed in with the observation that James Lee seems to have believed in the preposterous and utterly discredited theories of Charles Darwin, along with fellow Darwinists Charles Manson, Mao Tse-tung, Joseph Stalin, Josef Mengele, and of course Adolf Hitler. That doesn't quite compute. Wouldn't a Darwinist wish for his species to be successful, not go extinct? But no doubt the Discovery Institute people can discover a response to that.

Huh? I don't know what a hypothetical Darwinist "would wish for," I only know what these monsters drew from Darwin's notion of inevitable ongoing warfare between superior and inferior races by which the species advances, which they translated into their own terms.

No one who's read what I wrote, citing sources and quoting directly, about those individuals (and others) could doubt the Darwinism of their thinking. John, it's clear, didn't use his time off to consider the historical evidence.

He goes on to note that Lee was against war so therefore, "Perhaps we should be fingering Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa here as well as ol' Chuck Darwin." Ignoring the lame sarcasm, this, again, still makes no sense at all. No one who drew on Gandhi or Mother Teresa for inspiration has, as far as I know, gone on to pursue dreams of genocide, eugenics, or racial or class warfare.

If they did, if there were a pattern of their doing so, and if Gandhi or Mother Teresa were cited the way Darwin was in Lee's demands, that would be of interest. It's "ol' Chuck Darwin" and his influence that forms the interesting pattern of which James Lee is a small instance. And that, John, is the point.

Posted by David Klinghoffer on September 9, 2010 9:09 AM | Permalink


Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Designed, Yes -- Just Not by God: The Remarkable Implications of Clarke's Third Law

In public debates (and personal discussions) with Michael Shermer and Massimo Pigliucci, I've met an argument, advanced by both skeptics, which opens interesting and largely unexplored territory in the ID vs. naturalism controversy. In a new article, the science writer and astronomer John Gribbin steps into the same territory, a speculative region familiar to fans of science fiction, not to mention philosophy students with time on their hands and imaginations liberated (perhaps) by alcohol. Back in my early teens, when I lived on a steady diet of science fiction and first saw Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey, I could have discussed these ideas well into the night. A short blog post will have to suffice today.

This figure (below), from Massimo Pigliucci, helps to describe the issue:


Both Pigliucci and Shermer have grasped that causation by a higher intelligence does not necessarily entail causation by a benevolent God -- and the former possibility, they think, might follow as a reasonable inference from physical evidence. This was the point, incidentally, of Richard Dawkins's speculations, at the end of the movie Expelled, about extraterrestrial intelligence possibly causing the origin of life on Earth. These physical effects might appear to us as "magic," meaning inexplicable by our current science. Arthur C. Clarke's famous Third Law -- "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" -- is the wonderfully pithy bumper sticker version of the argument.

In his new article, Gribbin speculates that our entire universe -- not just life on Earth -- may be an artifact, i.e., caused by intelligence (but not by God! -- the Big Guy is still off-limits to science, on this view). If we take Clarke's Third Law seriously, we find that many of the usual categories of the ID vs. naturalism debate begin to fracture under the strain. In particular, the adjectives "natural" and "supernatural" start to show cracks immediately.

Wild and speculative, obviously. For those who want to sober up (pun intended), Elliott Sober's essay "Intelligent Design Theory and the Supernatural -- The 'God or Extra-Terrestrials' Reply" provides another perspective.

One could run an entire graduate philosophy of science seminar, exploring the many implications of Clarke's Third Law. In fact, I may do that some day soon.

(Issue for the reader to mull: why would causation by a higher, but non-divine, intelligence, be a reasonable scientific inference, whereas causation by God [however defined] would not? What separates the two inferences, logically?)

Posted by Paul Nelson on August 31, 2010 12:00 PM | Permalink


Monday, September 06, 2010

Academic Elites Don't Appreciate Uppity Scientists Who Buck the Consensus

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2010/09/here_come_more_threats_to037901.html

[Editor's note: Scroll to the end and notice how Crowther compares Sternberg and Gonzalez to Galileo.]

Robert Crowther

Here come more threats to academic freedom, not unlike those seen by intelligent design proponents and Darwin skeptics. Over the years we've covered many, many cases like this where someone who expresses doubt about Darwinian evolution is harassed, fired, denied tenure, and so on.

"The significance of this is a threat to academic freedom and it's also a threat to academic science," Siegel said. "If scientists have to produce work that meets a certain view to keep their jobs, researchers are going to stop publishing negative findings for fear of being fired."

No, they will simply stop researching period in the subject areas that get them in trouble. The average scientist can find lots of fruitful areas of research that won't get her in hot water with the pointy-headed elites who's all-seeing academic eyes keep a watch out for anything that is out of line with the current orthodoxy. And journal editors will avoid publishing controversial papers for fear of reprisal. If you are already overwhelmed in your job, you are unlikely to take on a risky paper. Better to just steer clear of such areas.

But of course we all know that Academia (may it last forever in all its gloriousness) doesn't drum people out because their views differ from the established consensus.

"If 100 people conclude one thing and another person concludes something completely different, then it's natural for his credibility to be called into question," Maxwell said.

Just ask Galileo. Or more recently, Sternberg or Gonzalez.

Posted by Robert Crowther at 1:09 AM | Permalink

I get email

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/09/i_get_email_64.php

Category: Creationism • Kooks
Posted on: September 5, 2010 4:43 PM, by PZ Myers

It's an unfortunate fact of google life that links to my criticisms of Kent Hovind pop up quite high in google listings, so I'm always getting these letters from pissed-off creationists who are shocked, shocked, shocked that there they are, innocently searching for information on their hero, when Pharyngula rises up and dares to criticize the great bible-thumping convicted tax cheat.

In addition to the usual incoherence and refusal to offer any scientific support for their position, these letters are usually marked by a rather sniffy attitude of offended sensibilities and surprise that web pages criticizing creationism actually exist. It must be scary to step outside the church.

Here's the latest. I've put my impressions in red.

To whom this may concern; [this was sent to my personal email account; does he think a committee lives here?]

I had a look at your web site today and frankly can't figure out [count me unsurprised] just what all the uproar is concerning "scientists" such as yourself feeling that you have to spend so much effort [it's easy, I assure you] trying [trying?] to discredit Kent Hovind [he's a convicted felon and phony with an unaccredited degree] and/or others in his field the way that you do! If indeed he is the ignorant individual [yep] that you attempt to

[don't ask me why he inserted these odd random line breaks]

portray him as, "writing like a fourth grader" [excuse me, that would be "second grader"] as you say, then why should you waste such valuable research time slandering him? [it takes very little time to dismantle Hovind; why are you wasting your valuable time writing to me?]

My guess is, as I have watched this whole rairoading [he was convicted, and his own testimony and behavior indicted him] of him and his organization

[mystery line breaks!]

come about, that individuals and groups for that matter with your particular mind-set are either scared to death [he's a worm, not a snake] of the debate [there is no debate] between creationism [bullshit] and Darwinian evolution [science. We win!], or that you simply do not have the intellectual cahonas [??? Do you mean "cojones"?] to engage creationists such as Mr. Hovind in any real truth [he has none to share]- revealing discourse concerning the subject.

What are you afraid of? [ebola, senility, and bad clams]

I find it quite revealing indeed that when the "non-believers" in the world bash Christians as a bunch of prudish [QFT], bible thumping [QFT], homophobic [QFT], hate mongering [QFT] flat earthers [QFT] that nobody really seems to care [it's the banality of a pedestrian truth]; in fact it has become something of a national pass-time [???] it would seem. But!!!!! [are you wearing your underpants on your head?], suggest for a moment that the so-called [what other scientific community is there?] scientific community has at the very least bought into a theory that has been highly questionable at best since it's inception [nope—enthusiastically embraced by the scientifically literate at its inception, and become more and more strungly supported since], and the mobs are ready to light torches and take up their pitchforks! [personally, I prefer a cyber-pistol]

With all due respect [dishonest again], I find your tactic of attacking Mr. Hovind [I think it's entirely appropriate to criticize tax cheats and creationists—why should he be exempt?], and on such ridiculous grounds as his doctoral dissertation no less [it's true, his dissertation was rather ridiculous], quite an immature stretch to say the least [given that "Dr" Dino calls himself a degreed scientist on the basis of that thesis, examining its quality is entirely reasonable]. This is exactly the kind of thing [what? that we examine scholarly claims?] that tells me that not all scientists are anywhere near to being the "rational thinkers" [I question the ability of Hovind fans to recognize such] that we're

[another line break interlude]

always being reminded of in this God hating society [I wish] that we are living in.

Get some backbone about yourself sir and take a look at ALL the evidence [curious fact: these cranks are always telling me I missed some key evidence, but they never quite get to the point of telling me what it is], not just the convenient parts as you and yours are so quick to accuse creationists of doing. [instead of whining, you could have actually cited some evidence…but I think these jokers know I'll joyfully tear their 'facts' apart]

Sincerely, W.C. Revere [email says "William McKinney", but signs it "W.C. Revere". Don't play games, please.]

I get these fairly regularly. There's some odd combination of oblivious hero-worship and total cluelessness about the internet in Kent Hovind fans that sparks a need to rage at me. I don't reply, but I do feel like sending them links to Fark or /b/ just to wake them up a little more to the medium they're using.

IPFW Distinguished Lecturer presentation looks at 'fuss' over evolution

http://www.news-sentinel.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20100906/LIVING/9060303

By Kevin Kilbane of The News-Sentinel

It's been 150 years. But the theory of evolution remains just as controversial in some people's minds as it did when Charles Darwin published his "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection" in 1859.

Nationally known expert Eugenie C. Scott will speak about "Why the Fuss about Darwin and Evolution?" during a presentation Wednesday at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. The event is free and open to the public.

Scott is executive director of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, Calif. The nonprofit center provides resources for parents, school officials and citizens wanting to ensure evolution is included in public school science education.

Scott, speaking by phone from the center, said she will discuss the relationship between science and religion and the relationship between science and creationism — the view that God created each species on Earth rather than allowing them to evolve over billions of years. She also plans to leave time for questions from the audience.

She became interested in the topic of evolution vs. creationism while a graduate student in the early 1970s, and has been working on it ever since.

"I think there is inherent fascination with science and evolution," she said of her interest.

The science interest includes the new discoveries and developments.

For example, a huge number of new human-like fossils have been discovered over the last 15 years, Scott said. Those fossils provide a lot of evidence about the evolution of the human species. Recent work in the fields of molecular and chemical biology — especially in the area of embryology — also have advanced the knowledge about genetic material passed down in species through time.

Scott said the three faiths most strongly tied to sacred documents — Christianity, Judaism and Islam — contain the most followers who oppose teaching about evolution. Those believers typically hold the strictest views about how literally their faith's sacred document should be interpreted.

But as with the debate 300 years ago over whether the Earth orbits the sun or our solar system orbits the Earth, Scott thinks evolution eventually will be accepted widely as people's attitudes change over time.


Sunday, September 05, 2010

I get to start teaching again this week!

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/09/i_get_to_start_teaching_again.php

[Editor's note: PZ Myers is an indefatigable blogger for evolution and against all kinds of anti-intellectual BS. A couple of weeks ago he met a harder reality in the form of a heart that needed immediate attention. His blogging barely missed a beat. Here is the latest.]

Category: Academics • Creationism
Posted on: September 5, 2010 9:36 AM, by PZ Myers

Oh, boy, it's been a while. I was out for the first few lectures (which I am grateful to my colleagues for covering), so in my introductory biology class I get to plunge straight in to Darwin, Darwin's finches, and Sean Carroll's The Making of the Fittest. No preludes, baby, I'm diving right in.

And then I stumble across CreationConversations, which is kind of like the Ask A Biologist website, if it were staffed by idiots. People write in, and the gang there, which seems to be mostly junior league suck-ups to Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis, tries to answer from the Biblical perspective. It's simply sad and pitiful. Here's an example of the kinds of questions they get:

I am starting ninth grade biology. I know that we will be learning about evolution. I've been doing a lot of reading and have a very solid belief in creation. I was wondering how I should go about talking to my friends and other students about creation and the lie of evolution in and out of the classroom. I've tried talking a few times about it with my closest friends and it is sad to see that their beliefs are so firmly rooted in evolution that they have never questioned it. I fear not only for my friends but for my generation seeing as they have been taught nothing but evolution for their entire life. Many of them don't even believe in God. How can I show not only my friends, but other students, that evolution is wrong?

First of all, I'd have to tell this student he's living in the paranoid fantasy land of most Christians: it's highly unlikely, unless he's at a very good school, that he will be confronted with much evolutionary theory, and the odds that his faith will be challenged at all is vanishingly small. In fact, if he's perturbed at all, all he has to do is squeak something about Jesus and the teacher will probably run away as fast as possible — not because they're afraid of your stupid questions, but because obnoxious evangelical parents can make the teacher's professional life a seething hell.

Also, most of his peers will not have been exposed to much evolution at all, but if they go to church, they've probably gotten mega-doses of creationism. There will be no persecution. His biggest disappointment will be that he won't get to be a martyr.

College, of course, will be an entirely different matter.

The answers he gets at the site are amazing for their semi-delusional thinking: most are entirely confident that they've got buckets of apologetics and evidence, and they're mainly warning the poor kid to go easy on the defenseless evolutionists. They so rarely face serious opposition in the schools that they fantasize that the pile of crap on their site actually has some weight to it; but really, creationists rely completely on cultural intimidation to cow their opposition.

Here's one representative answer they give:

My counsel is to check your attitude when you decide to confront an issue in class. Be sure that you are humble and respectful of others' feelings. No one, especially a teacher, likes to look the fool in front of their peers or their students. Since the science controversy is firmly rooted in worldviews, when you begin to deconstruct their presuppositions, they can get defensive. It is far better to sow seeds of doubt and let an issue go, than to argue your point to a crushing conclusion. You may win battles that way, but lose the war, so to speak.

As Justin suggested, be the best possible student you can be. Learn the expected answers, but continually analyze the fallacies and presuppositions purveyed in class. A ninth grade biology course is a survey course, so you will be given a lot of generalizations. Don't be arrogant or belittling when you decide to question one of these ideas. Look for the underlying truths in what you are learning. You will discover that, unless your teacher or the textbook author(s) are on a mission to convert students to evolution, you probably won't even discuss it except tangentially in most of the topics.

Awww, how sweet. What this fellow is unaware of is that this poor student has nothing to be arrogant about — if he actually met a teacher who was able and willing to confront his misconceptions, he'd be hung out to dry. The answer also reflects a common creationist myth: the Big Daddy fable, in which the gentle, polite Christian boy humiliates the hysterical, dishonest Evilutionist professor by calmly refuting every piece of evidence brought up in the classroom.

It never happens.

In my experience, the reverse is true. The poor kid gets flustered and his story falls apart in a few moments' conversation, and he looks like a total dork — I don't enjoy these situations at all, because then I have to struggle to keep him from abject humiliation while explaining how thoroughly wrong he is. That's the nasty part of these pro-creation sites that they don't talk about: they are cheerfully encouraging students to have a false sense of competence, and then shooing them off into the lion's den to be publicly mauled, while the cowards back at CreationConversations, who are the ones I really would enjoy eviscerating in the classroom, are taking it easy with their back-patting congregations of equally ignorant kooks, lying their asses off to children.

Oh, well. The good news is that students come out of our biology classes here at UMM well-prepared to shred the frauds of creationism.

Design – yes; Designer – no: Prof Stephen Hawking takes a swipe at God in Creationism

http://www.asiantribune.com/news/2010/09/05/design-%E2%80%93-yes-designer-%E2%80%93-no-prof-stephen-hawking-takes-swipe-god-creationism

Sun, 2010-09-05 09:35 — editor
Hemantha Abeywardena writes from London…

Professor Stephen Hawking, the wheelchair-bound Cambridge theoretical physicist, placed himself at the centre of a spiritual storm on Thursday by ruling out the role played by God in the creation of universe.

"The Big Bang was the inevitable laws of physics and did not need God to spark the creation of the universe," declared the learned professor and popular author through his voice synthesizer to appease a significant audience of physicists and laymen alike, most of them happened to be atheists who embraced the news with euphoric jubilation.

Much to the dismay of Prof Hawking's fans, however, in a rare gesture of solidarity, the religious leaders representing Christianity, Catholicism, Judaism and Islam lost no time in collectively rebuking the professor for crossing the red line and going too far with the aid of his only functioning faculty in his battered physique – the intellect.

In actual fact, Professor Hawking hasn't gone far enough – in reaching the periphery of the creation, which is the whole issue.

The news coincides with the publication of his new book, The Grand Design. It is reported that Professor Hawking had said in his book: "Because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the Universe exists, why we exist." If that was not mischievous enough along theological lines, he added this to make it crystal clear where he stood on the issue: "It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the Universe going."

A 'Miniature Bang' erupted throughout the world of scientific media as the controversial views trickled in, creating a mini parallel universe in its own right. And it is expanding too while emaulating its big brother, the existing one.

Prof Hawking may have a problem with accepting the God as its creator, but he can undoubtedly claim to be the 'god' of the secondary universe that he created on Thursday. It may not have generated much light, or shed any light on anything that we don't know at present, but the ferocity of the debate – both for and against – has certainly made enough heat to sustain the whole exercise for a long time – perhaps, at least, until the professor writes another book on the subject.

Professor Hawking knows very well that there are billions of human beings – Christians, Catholics, Muslims, Hindus and Jews – who believe in God and Buddhists who have a problem with God – with the prefix 'G'- but not with god – with the prefix 'g', judging by the existence of places of worship for them in every single Buddhist temple. So, Professor Hawking clearly underestimated the offence he committed worldwide by laying bare the stuff that was close to his chest.

Just to add another statistic to the existing mysteries that triggered off the debate in the first place, Professor Hawking apparently contradicted himself with the latest opinion; in his most famous publication, A Brief History of Time, this is what he said about God in 1988: "If we discover a complete theory, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason — for then we should know the mind of God." In his new book, he even took a philosophical swipe at great Newton for his belief in Trinity.

Professor Hawking does not offer a new theory of his own by excluding the Almighty in the creation of universe. Nor does he encourage his followers to look back at the beginning from another perspective. All he does is cashing in on his near-cult-status in another universe – the universe of academia, not God - as a brilliant mind, in order to stir up a debate – just for the sake of it - while inviting both the wrath and cynisism of the religious establisments in equal measure, because all this came out on the brink of publishing a book.

Professor Hawking is far more luckier than his predecessors who got into trouble by touching on the subject, which up until recently, was taboo . The atmosphere in the western world is fast becoming more and more conducive for people who share the same wavelenght with Prof Hawking to air their views. Nowadays, most people, especially the Chirstians, are too embarassed to admit that they are religious let alone to be Christians, something that was not very fashionable a few decades ago.

In this context, Prof Hawking knows that he would neither be lynch mobbed by the Christians for his views nor be subjected to what Galileo went through after saying that the earth orbits the Sun. On the contrary, he is becoming more and more popular for kicking in a cornerstone of Christianity and firmly on course to the stardom through a passage of reason; some people in the western Europe – the indigenous folks - just can't stand the church or what it stands for, even if they are branded as committed Pagans.

Stephen Hawking, the Lucasian professor of Mathematics at Cambridge, was holding the very post that Sir Issac Newton held, until his retirement last year. It appears that Prof Hawking agrees with Newton's ideas – the law of gravity, laws of motion etc, except Newton's association with God. That is why he almost said in his new book that the universe was created with the laws of gravity – which can be interpreted as the Laws of Newton!

The strangest thing in the whole issue is the reluctance on the part of the intellectuals to take Prof Hawking on – at least in public; they include plenty of Christian, Hindu, Muslim and Jewish physicists. That doesn't mean every physicist agrees with Prof Hawking. There are even theologian particle physicists who pursue their careers while passionately nurturing their faith.

Some have understandable sympathy towards Prof Hawking due to his severe physical disability; those who don't agree with them think the handicap provides him with an impervious shield to protect him from smears and counter arguments. Those who don't agree with either camp, just take the view adopted by Buddhists – not to waste energy and time on a topic that human intellect will never ever fully comprehend, the real Beginning.

Prof Hawking who recently said that aliens exit and we should not come into contact with them, however, made a cardinal mistake in the belief that his opinion would stand the test of time, even if he dismissed those of the others that included the intellectual giants like Newton.

It is equally important to note that Prof Hawking may have stood on the shoulders of giants like Faraday, Newton and Einstein for peeping into the unknown before coming up with a series of hypotheses. The irony is the greatest of the great did not have a problem with their faith when they made wonderful discoveries in the realm of physics. Michael Faraday, the greatest experimental physicist ever, even belonged to a religious sect called the Sandemanians; his faith did not get in the way when he discovered electromagnetism - without any formal education whatsoever while hailing from a very humble background. On the contrary, the faith made him a noble human being who shunned both fame and fortune.

Theories in physics have been evolving exactly like those of the evolution. Newton's Laws of motion, for instance, stood unchallenged for well over three centuries until Einstein came up with the Theory of Relativity in 1905: Einstein said that mass of an object is not constant in contrast to what Newton believed; Einstein proved that it depends on the speed of the object in question at a given moment – and Newton's theory partially collapsed overnight, as Einstein proved to be correct. Einstein made mistakes too with his ambition in pursuing a unified theory.

So, we can expect Prof Hawking making mistakes too by his selective acceptance of 'fire' without the 'spark' that caused it.

So, there are millions of folks who question the professor about his conveniently-chosen first point of creation – the Big Bang. They, quite justifiably, ask who created the space where the bang took place in the first place or who brought about the laws of gravity that the professor was referring to, in his new book. In short, they are not prepared to accept Prof Hawking's point as the real Beginning. So, professor Hawking has to dig much deeper into the universe with his incisive mind and then find out when and where 'something' came from 'nothing', to satisfy this particular audience by offering them an insight into the real beginning.

Going by the book of Genesis in the Holy Bible, Christians believe that God created the universe. When both atheists and non-Christians throw the sensible question as to who created the God, they just take a leap of faith and accept that He is self-existent without a beginning or end. It may appeal to their hearts but not heads – and the debate comes to an abrupt end. So, the question lingers on to be answered by intellectuals.

If Professor Hawking really wants to solve the mystery, he can draw some inspiration from Einstein's famous equation, E=MC^2, which says that the mass and energy are interchangeable: mass can be turned into energy - as in nuclear bomb - or vice versa, to grasp the mind-boggling question. Perhaps, our beloved Sathya Sai Baba of Puttapathi may provide him with some hints about turning energy into mass – by materializing some ash in his palm from nothing – when Prof Hawking looks at his computer, of course.

The religious texts, written by chosen scribes with the aid of an invisible presence, are not the stuff for logical analysis using finite human intellect. They were not produced the way Harry Potter was written by J K Rowling.

We all agree that physicists, both theoretical and experimental ones, made the life easier for us by their discoveries and inventions for which we are eternally grateful. However, by straying into the little-known spiritual realm for short incursions they do more harm than good to the field they say they are committed.

When I was writing this relatively long article, I couldn't stop admiring my underpants for the comfort it provided me with, to keep me still for a few hours. It had a great design and I was instantly attracted to it at my favourite clothes store. It has a designer too – and it was great Calvin Klein.

I am fond of finding a design without a designer in my earthy life so that I can make a constructive contribution to the great debate of creation. Otherwise, I vent my frustration with a very big yawn before seeking solace in my Buddhist upbringing: just don't waste your energy on something that you will never have a clue about.


Friday, September 03, 2010

God did not create the universe, says Hawking

http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE6816EI20100902

By Michael Holden

LONDON | Thu Sep 2, 2010 6:45pm EDT

LONDON (Reuters) - God did not create the universe and the "Big Bang" was an inevitable consequence of the laws of physics, the eminent British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking argues in a new book.

In "The Grand Design," co-authored with U.S. physicist Leonard Mlodinow, Hawking says a new series of theories made a creator of the universe redundant, according to the Times newspaper which published extracts Thursday.

"Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist," Hawking writes.

"It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going."

Hawking, 68, who won global recognition with his 1988 book "A Brief History of Time," an account of the origins of the universe, is renowned for his work on black holes, cosmology and quantum gravity.

Since 1974, the scientist has worked on marrying the two cornerstones of modern physics -- Albert Einstein's General Theory of Relativity, which concerns gravity and large-scale phenomena, and quantum theory, which covers subatomic particles.

His latest comments suggest he has broken away from previous views he has expressed on religion. Previously, he wrote that the laws of physics meant it was simply not necessary to believe that God had intervened in the Big Bang.

He wrote in A Brief History ... "If we discover a complete theory, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason -- for then we should know the mind of God."

In his latest book, he said the 1992 discovery of a planet orbiting another star other than the Sun helped deconstruct the view of the father of physics Isaac Newton that the universe could not have arisen out of chaos but was created by God.

"That makes the coincidences of our planetary conditions -- the single Sun, the lucky combination of Earth-Sun distance and solar mass, far less remarkable, and far less compelling evidence that the Earth was carefully designed just to please us human beings," he writes.

Hawking, who is only able to speak through a computer-generated voice synthesizer, has a neuro muscular dystrophy that has progressed over the years and left him almost completely paralyzed.

He began suffering the disease in his early 20s but went on to establish himself as one of the world's leading scientific authorities, and has also made guest appearances in "Star Trek" and the cartoons "Futurama" and "The Simpsons."

Last year he announced he was stepping down as Cambridge University's Lucasian Professor of Mathematics, a position once held by Newton and one he had held since 1979.

"The Grand Design" is due to go on sale next week.

(Editing by Steve Addison)

Ray Comfort says Prof. Stephen Hawking is "unscientific"

http://www.examiner.com/atheism-in-los-angeles/ray-comfort-says-prof-stephen-hawking-is-unscientific

September 2nd, 2010 5:20 pm PT.
Only a few short hours ago (Sept. 2), the British newspaper The Times published extracts from a new book by Stephen Hawking where he asserts that modern physics leaves no role for God in the creation of the Universe... and already a storm of protest is brewing.

Among the first out the gate with criticism of Hawking is New Zealand-born evangelist and author, Ray Comfort. While Prof. Hawking is a physicist and Britain's most eminent scientist, Comfort is best known for stunts like his 2009 giveaway of 170,000 copies of Darwin's On Origin of Species to university students. The books were printed by Comfort and included a 50-page preface by Comfort himself where he attempts to refute the Theory of Evolution in favor of biblical creationism.

Comfort is also well-known for a Youtube video he and ex-child-star Kirk Cameron appeared in where they offer a banana as evidence of intelligent design and refer to that tropical fruit as "the atheists' nightmare."

In The Time's extracts of Stephen Hawking's new book, The Grand Design, the physicist writes,

"Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist."

"It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going."

Ray Comfort, author of Nothing Created Everything -- the scientific impossibility of atheistic evolution, says (according to Christian News Wire) that this means Prof. Hawking is violating the basic laws of science.

"It is embarrassingly unscientific to speak of anything creating itself from nothing," says Comfort. "Common sense says that if something possessed the ability to create itself from nothing, then that something wasn't nothing, it was something -- a very intelligent creative power of some sort."

"Hawking has violated the unspoken rules of atheism," the evangelist adds. "He isn't supposed to use words like 'create' or even 'made.' They necessitate a Creator and a Maker. Neither are you supposed to let out that the essence of atheism is to believe that nothing created everything, because it's unthinking. It confirms the title of another book I wrote, called, You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, but You Can't Make Him Think. Nor should an atheist speak of gravity as being a 'law,' because that also denotes the axiom of a Law-giver. Laws don't happen by themselves. But look at how careless the professor was, with his, 'The Big Bang was the result of the inevitable laws of physics and did not need God to spark the creation of the Universe.'"

According to his Wikipedia biography, Ray Comfort has no degrees or formal training in either theology or science.

Evolution education update: September 3, 2010

The Institute for Creation Research appears to concede defeat in its lawsuit over its graduate school. Plus selected content from RNCSE 30:3 is now available on-line.

ICR CONCEDES DEFEAT OVER ITS GRADUATE SCHOOL

The Institute for Creation Research is apparently conceding defeat in its lawsuit over the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board's 2008 decision to deny the ICR's request for a state certificate of authority to offer a master's degree in science education from its graduate school. The United States District Court for the Western District of Texas, finding that "ICRGS [the Institute for Creation Research Graduate School] has not put forth evidence sufficient to raise a genuine issue of material fact with respect to any claim it brings," granted summary judgment to the defendants in a June 18, 2010, ruling. It was not until the September 2010 issue of the ICR's Acts & Facts, however, that the ICR seems to have publicly commented on the decision, with Henry Morris III, the ICR's chief executive officer, writing, "ICR's legal battle is over."

Information about the graduate school vanished from the ICR's website over the summer of 2010, but writing in Creation Ministries International's Journal of Creation (forthcoming 2010; 24 [3]: 54-55), Chris Ashcraft reported, "On 25 June 2010 the ICR board of directors voted to close the Grad School," citing a June 30, 2010, e-mail from Henry Morris III. Replacing it, apparently, is the ICR's School of Biblical Apologetics, which offers a Master of Christian Education degree; Creation Research is one of four minors. The ICR explains, "Due to the nature of ICR's School of Biblical Apologetics -- a predominantly religious education school -- it is exempt from licensing by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Likewise, ICR's School of Biblical Apologetics is legally exempt from being required to be accredited by any secular or ecumenical or other type of accrediting association."

For the court's ruling (PDF), visit:
http://ncse.com/webfm_send/1380

For NCSE's collection of documents from the case, visit:
http://ncse.com/creationism/legal/institute-creation-research-graduate-school-v-paredes-et-al

For Morris's article in Acts & Facts, visit:
http://www.icr.org/article/5527/

For Ashcraft's article (PDF), visit:
http://nwcreation.net/articles/Is_there_a_future.pdf

For the ICR's explanation of SOBA's status, visit:
http://www.icr.org/soba/faq/#q11

CATCHING UP WITH RNCSE

Selected content from volume 30, number 3, of Reports of the National Center for Science Education is now available on NCSE's website. Featured are George F. Bishop, Randal K. Thomas, Jason A. Wood, and Misook Gwon's "Americans' Scientific Knowledge and Beliefs about Human Evolution in the Year of Darwin" and Shelley Emling's "Mary Anning: Fossil Hunter." Plus reviews of Richard Dawkins's latest as well as books for children about the Scopes trial, Darwin's adventures, and even Darwin's marriage.

If you like what you see, why not subscribe to RNCSE today? The upcoming issue (volume 30, number 5) features articles debunking young-earth creationist claims about geology, with Kevin R. Henke on helium diffusion in zircons, Lorence Collins and Barbara Collins on the formation of polonium halos, and Tom Ballieul on the creationist use of polonium halos (which have been billed as "creation's tiny mystery"). Plus there's the usual batch of news, reviews, and commentary. Don't miss out -- subscribe (or renew) today!

For the selected content from RNCSE 30:3, visit:
http://ncse.com/rncse/30/3

For subscription information, visit:
http://ncse.com/membership

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

Subscribe to NCSE's free weekly e-newsletter:
http://groups.google.com/group/ncse-news

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http://www.facebook.com/evolution.ncse
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NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today!
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Got throat cancer? You must not have been breathing right

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/09/got_throat_cancer_you_must_not.php

Category: Kooks • Skepticism
Posted on: September 2, 2010 9:01 PM, by PZ Myers

Here's a swami with his magic breathing advice for coping with throat cancer. How these guys can dispense bogus medical advice and not get lynched by angry cancer patients is a mystery.

At least he looks really goofy when he curls his tongue and breathes. Now if only there were some yogic enchantment that could do something about his creepy squink eye…

Ayurvedic doctor fined for causing woman's death in Chhattisgarh

http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report_ayurvedic-doctor-fined-for-causing-woman-s-death-in-chhattisgarh_1432832

Published: Friday, Sep 3, 2010, 2:36 IST
By Pankaj Sharma | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

Sending a strong message to practitioners of alternative medicine who often resort to allopathy, the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) has ordered an ayurvedic doctor to pay Rs2.5 lakh as compensation for causing the death of a woman.

Preetam Lal approached NCDRC for damages alleging his 28-year-old wife, Pramila, died after Chhattisgarh-based doctor Prem Singh Verma gave her an injection in 2002.

Pramila had visited Verma seeking cure to weakness developed after she gave birth to a child. The doctor administered her an injection for a fee of Rs80, but she did not get relief. Instead, she developed severe pain in her leg and sought reexamination.

When Verma did not help, she visited the government district hospital. Doctors there said her condition was a result of a reaction due to wrong medicine. She was later shifted to a private hospital but did not survive.

Following her death, Preetam Lal filed a complaint with the district consumer forum, which directed Verma to pay a compensation of Rs2.5 lakh for medical negligence.

Aggrieved, the doctor moved the state commission, which upheld the district forum's decision but reduced compensation.

Dissatisfied, Preetam Lal approached NCDRC, which said, "We find that there is enough evidence that the respondent [Verma], who was not a qualified doctor in allopathic medicine, gave the injection to the petitioner's wife in contravention of the law, because of which she fell ill."

"The cause of death clearly indicates that the injection given by an unqualified person caused severe reaction, resulting in her death. In these circumstances, the death of the petitioner's wife is attributable to the wrong injection given by the respondent who in any case was illegally posing himself as a doctor," NCDRC said.