NTS LogoSkeptical News for 9 January 2011

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Teacher's firing over religion fair, referee says


Sunday, January 9, 2011 02:58 AM
By Holly Zachariah


A Mount Vernon teacher defied his bosses and ignored the U.S. Constitution when he continually used his eighth-grade science classes to push his own religion, and he should be fired for it, a state hearing officer has concluded.

The Mount Vernon school board put John Freshwater on unpaid leave and voted in 2008 to fire him, saying he taught creationism and intelligent design, failed to remove religious materials from the classroom and burned crosses on students' arms during science experiments.

Freshwater, saying he'd done nothing wrong, fought to keep his job.

Before Ohio teachers can be fired, they are entitled to a hearing before a referee, who then makes a recommendation to the school board. Freshwater's hearing went on sporadically for nearly two years at a cost to taxpayers of at least $700,000.

R. Lee Shepherd, the hearing officer or "referee" assigned to the case by the Ohio Department of Education, issued the report recommending Freshwater's firing late Friday.

It is nonbinding, and the board of education - which includes two different members from when it voted to fire Freshwater - does not have to accept it.

Freshwater could not be reached yesterday, and his attorney, R. Kelly Hamilton, did not return a call seeking comment.

Freshwater's pastor, friend and adviser, Don Matolyak of the Trinity Assembly of God church in Mount Vernon, said Freshwater wouldn't make a comment because the school board hasn't yet acted on the report.

Mount Vernon Superintendant Steve Short said the district wouldn't have a comment until at least Monday.

In the report, Shepherd wrote that Freshwater was a popular middle-school teacher and that most of his students enjoyed his class. His students scored above average on state tests, and he often was recognized for his teaching skills, Shepherd said.

"Unfortunately, John Freshwater was not satisfied with the positive results of his teaching in terms of successful state test scores and the development of a love for the subject of science in the minds of his students," Shepherd wrote.

Instead, "he was determined to inject his personal religious beliefs into his plan."

During the protracted state hearings, Freshwater and his attorney argued that he had been targeted because he refused to remove his personal Bible from his desk.

In 2003, Freshwater asked the district to allow discussions of creationism, as well as evolution, in class. The board refused. The report said that Freshwater "overtly and covertly" began to teach creationism himself.

"He used his classroom as a means of sowing the seeds of doubt and confusion in the minds of impressionable students as they searched for meaning in the subject of science," Shepherd wrote.

District officials gave Freshwater plenty of warnings and opportunities to change his methods, Shepherd said.

He concluded that because Freshwater repeatedly violated the Constitution and district rules and ignored the orders of administrators, he should be fired.

Shepherd said the controversial claims that Freshwater used an electrical laboratory device to burn crosses on students' arms during science experiments were overblown. "Once sworn testimony was presented, it became obvious that speculation and imagination had pushed reality aside," he wrote.

Shepherd said the matter was dealt with administratively and the allegations were not a part of his recommendation to fire.

Yet in December, a judge approved a $450,000 settlement between Freshwater and the family of one of his former students who said he was one of those burned in class.

The money, which will be paid by the district's insurer, was to compensate Stephen and Jenifer Dennis and their son, Zachary, for mental and physical pain and suffering.

Dispatch correspondent Adam Taylor contributed to this story.


UK prepares for trial on religious discrimination charge


By Cheryl Truman at 12:00am on Jan 9, 2011 — ctruman@herald-leader.com Modified at 3:55am on Jan 9, 2011

The University of Kentucky has found itself smack in the middle of a religious discrimination case that is being watched nationwide.

At issue: Whether UK decided not to hire C. Martin Gaskell, a candidate for director of its observatory in 2007, because of his religious views, which both sides have described as evangelical.

In November, U.S. District Judge Karl S. Forester rejected a motion for dismissal filed by the university and allowed Gaskell vs. University of Kentucky to go to trial Feb. 8.

"There is no dispute that based on his application, Gaskell was a leading candidate for the position," Forester wrote in the ruling.

The trial will determine whether a scientist who has posted Internet opinions regarding biblical interpretation of the universe's creation was not hired because of religious discrimination — and, if so, how much the university owes him for lost wages and emotional distress.

The case has drawn nationwide news coverage and ignited the blogosphere with an incendiary debate about faith and science in the academic world.

The American Association of University Professors, which speaks for its 47,000 members about academic freedom, declined to speak to the individual case but acknowledged the question of religion might be different in the scientific disciplines.

"The American Association of University Professors' longstanding position is that academic personnel decisions should be based on considerations of disciplinary competence, as determined by professional peers," Gregory F. Scholtz, associate secretary and director of the association's department on academic freedom, wrote in an e-mail. "Such considerations tend to exclude a candidate's religious affiliations or beliefs."

However, he noted that in science-related positions, "such affiliations or beliefs might raise legitimate questions about disciplinary competence."

Francis Manion of the American Center for Law and Justice and one of Gaskell's attorneys, asked during a pre-trial conference in U.S. District Court last week whether the case would be going to trial if the issue was one of racial, rather than religious, discrimination. Gaskell's suit claims the university violated the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which banned employment discrimination on the basis of religion.

The case

Gaskell, a lecturer at the McDonald Observatory at the University of Texas at Austin, was an unsuccessful candidate in 2007 when UK searched for a director for its MacAdam Observatory. UK instead hired Tim Knauer, a former student and employee of the UK Department of Physics and Astronomy. UK's July 2010 salary database lists Knauer's salary as $58,642.

In court papers, UK contends those researching Gaskell's qualifications found he had some difficulties with University of Nebraska-Lincoln faculty because he sought to decrease his teaching load and refused to accept the decisions of his colleagues and administrators.

But Manion said there were probably a dozen e-mails among observatory search committee members during the search in which religion was mentioned as something they were considering.

An astrophysics professor, Moshe Elitzur, said hiring Gaskell would be a "huge public relations mistake," according to one e-mail in court records, according to the Associated Press.

"Moshe predicts that he would not be here one month before the Herald-Leader headline would read: 'UK hires creationist to direct new student observatory.' "

Gaskell has said he is not a creationist.

During the search, Sally Shafer, program coordinator with the physics and astronomy department and one of the advisory committee members for UK, found an article titled "Modern Astronomy, the Bible and Creation" on Gaskell's personal Web site. She circulated it to the rest of the committee.

The Web site contains essays in which Gaskell elaborates on his thoughts about the conflicts between evolutionists and creationists, including: "I believe that God has not yet revealed everything to us in the Bible (see Deuteronomy 29:29 and I Corinthians 13:9-10,12) and I know that we don't know all the answers in science yet."

He also wrote that the conflict between evolution and creationism is destructive to both sides.

" 'Creationists' attack the science of 'evolutionists.' I believe that this sort of attack is very bad both scientifically and theologically," he wrote. "The 'scientific' explanations offered by 'creationists' are mostly very poor science and I believe this sort of thing actually hinders some (many?) scientists becoming Christians. It is true that there are significant scientific problems in evolutionary theory ... but the real problem with humanistic evolution is in the unwarranted atheistic assumptions and extrapolations."

Barbara Kris, an attorney for UK, contends the university is just one of 60 employers that rejected Gaskell for employment after he was terminated from his post at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Yet UK is the only employer Gaskell has sued for religious discrimination, according to a UK court filing.

Shafer described Gaskell as "complex and likely fascinating to talk with, but potentially evangelical." Gaskell referred to himself as "evangelical" in his deposition.

Thomas Troland, an astrophysicist who was chairman of the search committee, initially favored Gaskell and expressed dissatisfaction with the committee's movement toward Knauer in an Oct. 19, 2007, e-mail. He raised the issue of whether it was improper to consider "religious views" unrelated to the field of astronomy.

UK's court filing says Troland "wrote the e-mail outlining his concerns about the committee's deliberations in the heat of the moment, over his frustration that the other committee members did not share his high opinion of Gaskell."

Troland's deposition in the case said he no longer believed the committee acted against Gaskell based on religion when it considered him against the other two top candidates for the job.

Read more: http://www.kentucky.com/2011/01/09/1592164/uk-prepares-for-trial-on-religious.html#more#ixzz1AYRVUbFu

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Mothers using alternative medicine presumably are less likely to immunize children


It now seems that mothers in Ireland prefer complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) over MMR vaccine

A groundbreaking study claims that mothers employing CAM are less likely of providing MMR vaccine to their kids. It was noted CAM usage reduces the likelihood of gaining the first MMR at 12 months.

The only known means to avoid measles may be a vaccination with MMR. Apparently CAM cannot be used as a substitute for vaccination and hence, a deadly ailment like measles cannot be avoided. At the time of the study, Dr. Anna Clarke from the UCD School of Public Health and Population Science, University College Dublin and colleagues linked lower levels of immunization with children of mothers from more disadvantaged backgrounds.

On completion of the study, an overall uptake rate of 88.7 percent was registered by the scientists. The combined measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine is administered at 12 months and again at 4-5 years in Ireland. It was concluded that 91 percent kids in Ireland supposedly receive their first MMR by the age of 24 months.

The study was published in the journal Vaccine.

Minister hopes to promote Christian discussion of evolution via webinars


By Bob Allen
Thursday, January 06, 2011

FREELAND, Wash. (ABP) -- A self-proclaimed "evolutionary evangelist" will launch an online series of roundtable discussions for Christians to talk about evolution and the future of their faith on Jan. 15.

The six-part seminar, titled The Advent of Evolutionary Christianity: Conversations at the Leading Edge of Faith, will feature 38 Christian leaders and scientists in a dialogue about how evolutionary theory can deepen rather than challenge faith.

"Science-rejecting creationism and faith-rejecting atheism are not the only games in town," says Michael Dowd, series host and author of the best-selling book Thank God for Evolution. "Tens of millions in the middle -- represented by the amazing diversity of thought leaders participating in this teleseries -- see no conflict between faith and reason, heart and head, Jesus and Darwin."

Panelists for the initial 90-minute conversation followed by questions and answers scheduled at 2 p.m. EST, Saturday, Jan. 15, include Paul Smith, co-pastor of the formerly Southern Baptist-affiliated Broadway Church in Kansas City, Mo. The congregation dropped "Baptist" from its name after the Missouri Baptist Convention withdrew fellowship in 2004 over its welcoming-and-affirming policy toward gays, but remains a member of the Alliance of Baptists.

Subsequent panels include Professor Ken Miller, co-author of the most widely-used biology textbook in America and lead witness in a 2005 trial in Pennsylvania in which a judge ruled unconstitutional the teaching of "intelligent design" in public schools.

Karl Giberson, vice president of the BioLogos Foundation, a conservative evangelical group that promotes integrating faith and science, is a guest for an 8 p.m. ET program Tuesday, Jan. 18, on "The Evolution of Faith and Reason."

Brian McLaren, author of books including A New Kind of Christianity and named by Time magazine as one of America's 25 most influential evangelicals, will join a panel Jan. 25 discussing "Evolving Church."

Since 2002, host Dowd, a former pastor of American Baptist and United Church of Christ congregations, and his wife, science writer Connie Barlow, have spoken to more than 1,100 religious and secular groups as itinerant preachers of what they call Evolutionary Christianity. Recently Barlow took his gospel online with a series of podcasts about the story of a creation he says is 14 billion years old.

While many Christians reject evolution as random, meaningless and godless, Dowd says that rightly understood evolutionary thinking can bring deeper meaning to God's story of love and saving grace as revealed in the Bible.

Dowd reads the Bible through Big History, a multi-disciplinary study that arose in the 1980s and looks for common themes and patterns on all time scales from the Big Bang to modernity. He describes the Great Story, humanity's common creation story of cosmic genesis over billions of years, as including but also transcending the Christian story.

When the Bible was written, he says, people believed the world was flat, stationary and at most only a few thousand years old. Stars were seen as pinprick holes in a canopy of the heavens that allowed God's glory to shine through and energies and forces that everyone experiences were described with a language incorporating angels, demons and spirits.

There is nothing wrong with that, he says, but people today live in a different world that uses different metaphors and analogies for understanding reality. If Christians persist in using only biblical language and metaphors, Dowd says they are going to miss much of what God is doing in the here and now.

Instead of threatening faith, Dowd believes that scientific facts "are God's native tongue" for communicating a reality "far more majestic and awe-inspiring than the biblical writers could have possibly imagined."

He said ancient writers, for example, did not understand how evolution of the brain might produce instincts that were once needed for survival but now serve as temptation toward vices like gluttony or sexual promiscuity. They were "spot on," however, describing the experience with stories like the fall of Adam and Eve and Paul's observation in Romans 7: "I do not know why I do the things I do. I do not do what I want to do. But I do the things I hate."

"For far too long the public debate has been a battle of extremes," Dowd said in a press release. "After nearly a decade on the road sharing the good news of evolution, I felt called to convene a coalition of Christian leaders who embrace scientific evidence as divine communication. By focusing on values and perspectives that we all share, rather than on our differences, we are discovering extraordinary common ground."

There is no cost to participate in the live, interactive event, but registration is required at http://evolutionarychristianity.com/.


Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.

"Creationism's evolving strategy"

January 7th, 2011

Writing in the January 2011 issue of Americans United for Separation of Church and State's journal Church & State, Sandhya Bathija reviewed the developments in the creationism/evolution controversy since the Kitzmiller v. Dover case. Warning, in the words of her subtitle, "Five years after a landmark court ruling against 'intelligent design,' evolution opponents are still on the prowl," she allowed that there's good news to accompany the bad news: "it's clear the decision gave the science community new momentum to ramp up instruction on evolution."

"After the large amount of publicity from Dover," NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott explained, "the science community is much more attuned to why individual scientists as well as their representative science societies have to take an interest in these local education issues." The article quoted confirmation from Education Week, which recently reported (November 17, 2010), "the ruling ignited an unprecedented push by scientists and education researchers to become more directly involved in integrating evolution in science classes."

Among the efforts cited by both Bathija and Education Week were Evolution Readiness, a project of the Concord Consortium and Boston College aimed at producing curricula for introducing evolution in the elementary grades; the Evolution Education Research Center, founded by Brian Alters (vice president of NCSE's board of directors) and with participants at Harvard University, McGill University, and now Chapman University; and the journal Evolution: Education and Outreach, edited by Niles Eldredge (a Supporter of NCSE) and Gregory Eldredge.

Citing Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer's Evolution, Creationism and the Battle to Control America's Classrooms (Cambridge University Press, 2010), however, Bathija explained that creationists have regrouped, modifying their tactics and trying again. Richard Katskee, a former attorney for Americans United for Separation of Church and State who helped to represent the plaintiffs in Kitzmiller, commented, "The Kitzmiller court exposed intelligent design as what it is — dressed-up creationism — so the Discovery Institute had to go back to the drawing board."

After reviewing various episodes in the renewed creationist campaign, such as the advent of "academic freedom" antievolution bills, the 2008-2009 debate over the treatment of evolution in Texas's state science standards, and the recent assault on evolution in textbooks in Louisiana, Bathija summarized, "Texas and Louisiana will continue to remain on the watch list for civil liberties groups and the scientific community." So will the new Congress, she added: "John Boehner (R-Ohio), incoming speaker of the House of Representatives, has supported teaching creationism in public schools," referring to his misuse of the so-called Santorum Amendment.

Minister to offer rational defense for God's existence


January 7, 2011

By Matt Smith/msmith@trcle.com
The Cleburne Times-Review Fri Jan 07, 2011, 10:57 AM CST

Local minister Mark Wood plans to offer a rational defense for the existence of God, truth, miracles and the reliability of the New Testament from 7:30-9:30 p.m. Jan. 15 and 16 at Granbury High School.

Wood, who serves as minister of community missions and evangelism at Field Street Baptist Church, said he chose the secular setting in hopes of attracting Christians as well as atheists, agnostics and the undecided to attend.

The event, hosted by CrossExamined, is titled "I Don't Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist," which is also the title of a book coauthored by Frank Turek or CrossExamined.

Wood encouraged everyone to attend the two-day event, which he said "should be interesting" given that invitations have been sent to several atheist organizations in Granbury and the Metroplex.

"Everyone wants the truth, and I'm on the same journey," Wood said. "What I'm hoping to accomplish is to put a stone in peoples' shoe, metaphorically speaking."

Wood said he's not sure what to expect crowd wise, but added that he's promoted the event on Facebook and through flyers posted around Granbury.

"The first night we address two questions," Wood said. "Does God exist? Does truth exist? We're going to look at that the first night not by using the Bible, other than to reference it, but by scientific and philosophical methods."

Scientific principals, seen by some as proof God does not exist, actually bolster the evidence proving His existence, Wood said.

The second night focuses on whether miracles are possible, and the reliability of the New Testament, which leads into whether Jesus Christ is who he said he was.

A question and answer session follows each night's presentation.

The event should benefit believers and nonbelievers alike, Wood said, in that it will, Wood hopes, encourage everyone to dig deeper into their beliefs and the reasons for them.

"There's a lot of fuzzy thinking out there," Wood said, when asked what prompted the event. "In the post 9-11 world there's been a rise of new atheism going, a type of evangelical atheism trying to gain converts. Weak arguments, but it's swept through a lot of our young people.

"What I'm hoping to do is to inform the dialog. Also, I believe God exists and Christ exists, and so I believe this matters."

Being a Christian, Wood said he would be remiss not to argue for and promote the existence of God and truth when asked why it might not be better to let those with different beliefs simply live and let live.

Wood said he remains hopeful, albeit realistic, about the difference the event might make.

"People typically don't change their entire view overnight," Wood said. "I'm not expecting the hard-boiled atheist to change his mind right away, eventually maybe, maybe never. But for them, and people still making up their mind, they may re-assess what they believe, and why, down the road."

Another hope, Wood said, is that attendees with different viewpoints will listen and talk to, not at, one another.

"I expect it will be civil," Wood said. "I think it's a good opportunity for individuals to actually find out what people believe, to at least bolster to dialog and debate. I think a lot of people who are Christian, or atheist, have never talked to each other."

Terry McDonald, chairman of Metroplex Atheists and coordinator of the Dallas Fort Worth Coalition of Reason, said Thursday that he had not heard about the Granbury event, and has no current plans to attend. The DFW Coalition of Reason being the organization who purchased advertising space on four Fort Worth city buses in December to post signs reading Good without God.

"Not having heard about it, and not knowing the format, it's hard for me to judge or comment on that specific event," McDonald said. "If it's a debate, I've been to several of those, and don't think they're very effective. You usually have the Christians in the group think the Christian- side and the atheists the atheist-side, and it's usually a big waste of time."

Nonetheless, McDonald said he supports interaction and conversation between Christians and atheists.

"Conversations with Christians, one-on-one or in a group, as opposed to debate, is worthwhile," McDonald said. "Discussing not so much the things that divide us, but the things we have in common I think certainly has possibility."

McDonald said he welcomes, and has participated in many such, conversations.

"Which we never do with [the goal] to try to change peoples' minds," McDonald said. "Because that's not very effective, and not the goal, but with the idea that we can begin to understand each other better. And it seems to work out well I think."

Granbury High School is located at 2000 W. Pearl St. in Granbury.

Disclaimer: This editor graduated from Granbury High School.

Scientist proves conservatism and belief in climate change aren't incompatible


MIT professor Kerry Emanuel is among a rare breed of conservative scientists who are sounding the alarm for climate change and criticizing Republicans' 'agenda of denial' and 'anti-science stance.'

January 05, 2011|By Neela Banerjee, Washington Bureau Reporting from Cambridge, Mass. — According to the conventional wisdom that liberals accept climate change and conservatives don't, Kerry Emanuel is an oxymoron.

Emanuel sees himself as a conservative. He believes marriage is between a man and a woman. He backs a strong military. He almost always votes Republican and admires Ronald Reagan.

Emanuel is also a highly regarded professor of atmospheric science at MIT. And based on his work on hurricanes and the research of his peers, Emanuel has concluded that the scientific data show a powerful link between greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

"There was never a light-bulb moment but a gradual realization based on the evidence," Emanuel said. "I became convinced by the basic physics and by the better and better observation of the climate that it was changing and it was a risk that had to be considered."

As a politically conservative climatologist who accepts the broad scientific consensus on global warming, Emanuel occupies a position shared by only a few scientists.

In much the same role that marriage and abortion played in previous election cycles, denial of climate change has now become a litmus test for the right.

The vast majority of Republicans elected to Congress during the midterm election doubt climate science, and senior congressional conservatives — Republican and Democrat — have vowed to fight Obama administration efforts to curtail greenhouse gas emissions.

That's why scientists such as Emanuel rattle the political pigeonholes. Some are speaking out, using their expertise and conservative credentials to challenge what many researchers consider widespread distortions about climate change.

Texas Tech atmospheric scientist Katharine Hayhoe is an evangelical Christian who travels widely talking to conservative audiences and wrote a book with her husband, a pastor and former climate change denier, explaining climate change to skeptics.

A physicist by training, John Cook is an evangelical Christian who runs the website skepticalscience.com, which seeks to debunk climate change deniers' arguments. Barry Bickmore is a Mormon, a professor of geochemistry at Brigham Young University and the blogger behind Anti-Climate Change Extremism in Utah, where he recently rebuked Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) for his climate views and posted editorials mentioning his Republican affiliation.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Evolution education update: January 7, 2011

A classic creationism/evolution debate from 1981 is now available. Plus the first antievolution bill of the year surfaces in Kentucky, and developments in a lawsuit involving a North Carolina teacher who claims she was punished over evolution.


A debate on evolution versus creationism at Brown University in 1981 was so popular that the event had to be held in the largest building on campus -- a hockey rink. There's no need for skates and sticks, though: the debate between Kenneth R. Miller and Henry M. Morris is now available from NCSE. A transcript is posted on NCSE's website, and the complete audio, with illustrations, is posted on NCSE's YouTube channel.

The debate was memorable for both participants. In a 2000 review of Miller's Finding Darwin's God (HarperCollins, 1999), Morris wrote, "He was clearly the most superficially convincing protagonist against creationism I ever encountered in my more than 30 creation/evolution debates," while Miller often -- as in the Brown alumni magazine in 2005 -- credits the debate with inspiring his passion for the creationism/evolution controversy.

NCSE is grateful to Kenneth R. Miller and Henry Morris III of the Institute for Creation Research for their permission to post the debate and the transcript, and to Robert L. Camp, Richard B. Hoppe III, Jason Rosenhouse, and Christopher Nedin for helping to transcribe the debate. At NCSE, Glenn Branch compiled and proofread the transcript, Robert Luhn processed the audio, and Steven Newton selected the YouTube illustrations.

For the transcript, visit:

For the audio version, visit:

For Morris's review of Miller's book, visit:

For the story in the Brown alumni magazine, visit:


Kentucky's House Bill 169 would, if enacted, allow teachers to "use, as permitted by the local school board, other instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner." Dubbed the Kentucky Science Education and Intellectual Freedom Act, HB 169 was introduced in the Kentucky House of Representives on January 4, 2011; the sole sponsor of the bill is Tim Moore (R-District 26).

In the previous legislative session, Moore introduced HB 397, which was substantially similar to the so-called Louisiana Science Education Act, Louisiana Revised Statutes 17:285.1, except for introducing the phrase "advantages and disadvantages of scientific theories." HB 397 died in committee on April 15, 2010. Where HB 397 explicitly cited "the study of evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning" as examples of scientific theories for which supplementary instructional materials would be used, HB 169 is silent.

Kentucky is apparently unique in having a statute (Kentucky Revised Statutes 158.177) that authorizes teachers to teach "the theory of creation as presented in the Bible" and to "read such passages in the Bible as are deemed necessary for instruction on the theory of creation." But it is unclear whether teachers take advantage of the opportunity. The Louisville Courier-Journal (January 11, 2006) reported that in a November 2005 survey of the state's 176 school districts, none was teaching or discussing "intelligent design."

For information on HB 169, visit:

For KRS 158.177 (PDF), visit:

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


Was a North Carolina middle school science teacher unjustly treated when she was reassigned to a different job after a complaint about her presentation of evolution in the classroom? That is the question at issue in a lawsuit originally filed in 2007.

In early 2005, the parents of a girl in Pamela Hensley's eighth-grade science class alleged that Hensley gave their daughter a low grade in retaliation for her comments during the class discussion on evolution, complaining that she was "antagonistic and rude when her beliefs are challenged by true 'Christian' students." After investigating, the principal concluded that there was no retaliation. According to Hensley, however, the parents lobbied the district to force her to apologize, to transfer her, and to revise its curriculum to "include a religious view of the teaching of science."

Hensley was eventually asked by the school district to sign a letter of apology; regarding it as containing false statements as originally drafted, she refused. She was then transferred, mid-year, to a different position in the district. She was told that the incident "remains a source of tension and distraction within the school system, and it has diminished your credibility at North Johnston Middle School." The new position was a remedial language arts position, which Hensley contends is a "make-work position" and not suitable for her in light of a congenital hearing problem.

In 2007, Hensley filed a complaint in the Johnson County Superior Court, subsequently removed to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, alleging that the district's actions violated her rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution, the North Carolina Constitution, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Americans With Disabilities Act. On December 23, 2010, the court dismissed all of Hensley's claims except for her Americans With Disabilities Act claim.

There is presently no indication in the court documents whether Hensley is going to continue with the case or not. Selected documents from the case, Hensley v. Johnston County Board of Education, are available on NCSE's website.

For the court's recent order (PDF), visit:

For documents from the case, visit:

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

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

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Thursday, January 06, 2011

The Miller/Morris debate


January 5th, 2011

A debate on evolution versus creationism at Brown University in 1981 was so popular that the event had to be held in the largest building on campus — a hockey rink. There's no need for skates and sticks, though: the debate between Kenneth R. Miller and Henry M. Morris is now available from NCSE. A transcript is posted on NCSE's website, and the complete audio, with illustrations, is posted on NCSE's YouTube channel.

The debate was memorable for both participants. In a 2000 review of Miller's Finding Darwin's God (HarperCollins, 1999), Morris wrote, "He was clearly the most superficially convincing protagonist against creationism I ever encountered in my more than 30 creation/evolution debates," while Miller often — as in the Brown alumni magazine in 2005 — credits the debate with inspiring his passion for the creationism/evolution controversy.

NCSE is grateful to Kenneth R. Miller and Henry Morris III of the Institute for Creation Research for their permission to post the debate and the transcript, and to Robert L. Camp, Richard B. Hoppe III, Jason Rosenhouse, and Christopher Nedin for helping to transcribe the debate. At NCSE, Glenn Branch compiled and proofread the transcript, Robert Luhn processed the audio, and Steven Newton selected the YouTube illustrations.

Attacks on Science: Predictions for the New Year


January 5, 2011 11:57AM
Post by Lauri Lebo

2011 will be the year that the phrase "supplemental materials" will emerge at the forefront of the creationism battles. Over the past several years, recommendations that supplemental materials be introduced in public school science classrooms have been part of anti-evolution bills in states across the country as a way to sneak creationist literature into the curriculum. Because they are not subject to the same formal adoption process as official textbooks, supplemental materials used in local school districts could rely on some seriously dubious source matter. (Discovery Institute material, perhaps?) Expect the battles over this issue to take place in Texas and Louisiana.

Because of financial constraints, the Texas Board of Education has decided to delay the adoption process of new science textbooks, which had been scheduled for this spring. Lacking new up-to-date textbooks, school districts may instead use supplemental materials. Outgoing board member and young earth creationist Don McLeroy said last year that the provision allowing supplemental materials is one of his proudest achievements.

Meanwhile, in Louisiana, creationists, led by members of the fundamentalist Christian organization Louisiana Family Forum, have lost their battle to defeat science textbooks that include legitimate science. It's doubtful that its creationist supporters are just going to accept defeat. So, look for them to try to sneak in anti-evolution supplemental materials into local local school districts.

In other news, keep an eye out for ongoing developments about Kentucky's planned $150 million Noah's Ark theme park, which is receiving substantial tax incentives from the state.

Also, get ready in the new year for Congress' new Republican majority's touted plans to conduct witch hunts against climate change scientists. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), the incoming chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, vowed he will hold hearings on the "Politicization of Science," to fuel attacks on the reality of climate change.

To paraphrase Bette Davis' great line in All About Eve, "Fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy ride."

Theistic evolution debate as heated as ever


Terry Hurlbut
Creationism Examiner

January 5th, 2011 6:34 pm ET

The debate on theistic evolution, or the proposition that change over a long, long time constitutes the real story of creation yet somehow does not negate God, remains as heated as ever, to judge from this year-in-review article from a theistic evolutionist, and this response by a dedicated Christian apologist.

BioLogos is an organization with a mission to reconcile faith and science. Sadly, their understanding of faith and science is deeply flawed. By "science" they really mean "the dominant consensus of the age," which consensus happens to include:



Common descent

Naturally a consensus that includes uniformitarianism includes "deep time," hence an old earth. In that model, the greatest catastrophe, or cataclysm, that earth has ever known never occurred, Adam was just another neolithic farmer or hunter-gatherer, and nothing in the Bible is reliable beyond the story of Abraham or perhaps of King David.

BioLogos chief Darrel Falk accepts this consensus uncritically, and expresses his monumental frustration that any Christian in this "scientific age" has the gonadal fortitude to disagree with him. Yet his understanding, both of God's creation and of what he calls "the entire scientific enterprise," is flawed. For example:

To this day, I have not been able to identify a single person who holds a science faculty position in any Biology, Geology or Physics Department at any secular research university in the world who would agree with Dr. Mohler's view of creation. Not one, out of what I imagine are tens of thousands, including many who are strongly committed to living the Christian life in the context of fully orthodox Christian theology.

Two problems:

The science faculties of biology, geology, and physics in secular research universities do not represent, have never represented, and can never represent "the entire scientific enterprise."

Falk's imaginings of the commitment of any given person "to living the Christianj life in the context of fully orthodox Christian theology" are just that: imaginings. And indeed they cannot help but be flawed, for truly orthodox theology, from an ancient Greek phrase meaning "keeping the straight way," rests on the axiom that Adam and Even were historical persons, as were Noah and his sons. (And to assume, as Falk does, that Paul of Tarsus was wrong to identify Adam as historical is to say that the Bible is not and cannot have been inspired.)

R. Albert Mohler makes a commendable effort to rebut Falk. But when he says,

I accept without hesitation the fact that the world indeed looks old.

he almost concedes too much. The world looks old only to those who have already made up their minds that it is old. An investigator armed with a proper understanding of the changes that sufficiently violent events can produce, will recognize the world as young, not old.

To paraphrase Falk (an ironic exercise indeed), the only thing that can remotely settle the young/old-earth debate, among either Christians or the public at large, is education. In this, creation scientists, and those of us (like this Examiner) who report on their activities, must give place to no one as having any inherently superior understanding of how the world began, or what happened to it after that, or even what it looks like. Everything is and must remain subject to investigation.

Medical Journal Says Autism Study Was a 'Fraud'


JANUARY 6, 2011

An influential but now-discredited study that provoked fears around the world that childhood vaccinations caused autism was based largely on falsified data, according to an article and editorial published Wednesday in the British Medical Journal.

The article, by journalist Brian Deer, found that important details of the cases of each of 12 children reported in the original study either misrepresented or altered the actual experiences of the children, the journal said. "In no single case could the medical records be fully reconciled with the descriptions, diagnoses, or histories published in the journal," the editorial said. It called the study "an elaborate fraud."

The original article, by British doctor Andrew Wakefield and other researchers, was published in the highly regarded journal The Lancet in 1998. The study concluded that the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine—a mainstay of public-health disease prevention efforts around the world—was linked to autism and gastrointestinal disorders.

The findings provoked a still-raging debate over vaccine safety and they prompted thousands of parents to forgo shots for their children. Measles outbreaks were subsequently reported in several Western countries. Several epidemiological studies conducted since the Wakefield paper by public-health authorities haven't found any link between the vaccines and autism.

The Lancet withdrew the article in January of last year after concluding that "several elements" of the paper were incorrect. But the journal didn't describe any of the discrepancies as fraud. A British regulator stripped Dr. Wakefield of his medical license last May, citing "serious professional misconduct" in the way he handled the research.

Efforts to reach Dr. Wakefield weren't successful.

Speaking on CNN Wednesday night, Dr. Wakefield defended his research. "The study is not a lie. The findings that we made have been replicated in five countries around the world," he said.

The editorial in the British Medical Journal noted that Dr. Wakefield "has refused to join 10 of his co-authors in retracting" the paper's conclusions. The Lancet wasn't reached for comment.

In the article, Mr. Deer reported interviewing parents of the children included in the Wakefield study and finding important discrepancies between their recollections and medical records and what was reported in the Lancet. In one case, for instance, symptoms of autism and bowel problems appeared well before a child was vaccinated.

In another case, a parent whose child was purportedly included in the study found none of the descriptive detail resembled the child's experience.

Despite the Lancet retraction and other challenges to the original paper, "damage to public health continues," the British Medical Journal's editorial said, fueled "by unbalanced media reporting and an ineffective response from government, researchers and the medical professions." The journal said "hundreds of thousands" of British children remain unprotected even as efforts continue "to restore parents' trust in the vaccine."

Write to Ron Winslow at ron.winslow@wsj.com

Journal's Paper on ESP Expected to Prompt Outrage


Published: January 5, 2011

One of psychology's most respected journals has agreed to publish a paper presenting what its author describes as strong evidence for extrasensory perception, the ability to sense future events.

Heather Ainsworth for The New York Times

The decision may delight believers in so-called paranormal events, but it is already mortifying scientists. Advance copies of the paper, to be published this year in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, have circulated widely among psychological researchers in recent weeks and have generated a mixture of amusement and scorn.

The paper describes nine unusual lab experiments performed over the past decade by its author, Daryl J. Bem, an emeritus professor at Cornell, testing the ability of college students to accurately sense random events, like whether a computer program will flash a photograph on the left or right side of its screen. The studies include more than 1,000 subjects.

Some scientists say the report deserves to be published, in the name of open inquiry; others insist that its acceptance only accentuates fundamental flaws in the evaluation and peer review of research in the social sciences.

"It's craziness, pure craziness. I can't believe a major journal is allowing this work in," Ray Hyman, an emeritus professor of psychology at the University Oregon and longtime critic of ESP research, said. "I think it's just an embarrassment for the entire field."

The editor of the journal, Charles Judd, a psychologist at the University of Colorado, said the paper went through the journal's regular review process. "Four reviewers made comments on the manuscript," he said, "and these are very trusted people."

All four decided that the paper met the journal's editorial standards, Dr. Judd added, even though "there was no mechanism by which we could understand the results."

But many experts say that is precisely the problem. Claims that defy almost every law of science are by definition extraordinary and thus require extraordinary evidence. Neglecting to take this into account — as conventional social science analyses do — makes many findings look far more significant than they really are, these experts say.

"Several top journals publish results only when these appear to support a hypothesis that is counterintuitive or attention-grabbing," Eric-Jan Wagenmakers, a psychologist at the University of Amsterdam, wrote by e-mail. "But such a hypothesis probably constitutes an extraordinary claim, and it should undergo more scrutiny before it is allowed to enter the field."

Dr. Wagenmakers is co-author of a rebuttal to the ESP paper that is scheduled to appear in the same issue of the journal.

In an interview, Dr. Bem, the author of the original paper and one of the most prominent research psychologists of his generation, said he intended each experiment to mimic a well-known classic study, "only time-reversed."

In one classic memory experiment, for example, participants study 48 words and then divide a subset of 24 of them into categories, like food or animal. The act of categorizing reinforces memory, and on subsequent tests people are more likely to remember the words they practiced than those they did not.

In his version, Dr. Bem gave 100 college students a memory test before they did the categorizing — and found they were significantly more likely to remember words that they practiced later. "The results show that practicing a set of words after the recall test does, in fact, reach back in time to facilitate the recall of those words," the paper concludes.

In another experiment, Dr. Bem had subjects choose which of two curtains on a computer screen hid a photograph; the other curtain hid nothing but a blank screen.

A software program randomly posted a picture behind one curtain or the other — but only after the participant made a choice. Still, the participants beat chance, by 53 percent to 50 percent, at least when the photos being posted were erotic ones. They did not do better than chance on negative or neutral photos.

"What I showed was that unselected subjects could sense the erotic photos," Dr. Bem said, "but my guess is that if you use more talented people, who are better at this, they could find any of the photos."

In recent weeks science bloggers, researchers and assorted skeptics have challenged Dr. Bem's methods and his statistics, with many critiques digging deep into the arcane but important fine points of crunching numbers. (Others question his intentions. "He's got a great sense of humor," said Dr. Hyman, of Oregon. "I wouldn't rule out that this is an elaborate joke.")

Dr. Bem has generally responded in kind, sometimes accusing critics of misunderstanding his paper, others times of building a strong bias into their own re-evaluations of his data.

In one sense, it is a historically familiar pattern. For more than a century, researchers have conducted hundreds of tests to detect ESP, telekinesis and other such things, and when such studies have surfaced, skeptics have been quick to shoot holes in them.

But in another way, Dr. Bem is far from typical. He is widely respected for his clear, original thinking in social psychology, and some people familiar with the case say his reputation may have played a role in the paper's acceptance.

Peer review is usually an anonymous process, with authors and reviewers unknown to one another. But all four reviewers of this paper were social psychologists, and all would have known whose work they were checking and would have been responsive to the way it was reasoned.

Perhaps more important, none were topflight statisticians. "The problem was that this paper was treated like any other," said an editor at the journal, Laura King, a psychologist at the University of Missouri. "And it wasn't."

Many statisticians say that conventional social-science techniques for analyzing data make an assumption that is disingenuous and ultimately self-deceiving: that researchers know nothing about the probability of the so-called null hypothesis.

In this case, the null hypothesis would be that ESP does not exist. Refusing to give that hypothesis weight makes no sense, these experts say; if ESP exists, why aren't people getting rich by reliably predicting the movement of the stock market or the outcome of football games?

Instead, these statisticians prefer a technique called Bayesian analysis, which seeks to determine whether the outcome of a particular experiment "changes the odds that a hypothesis is true," in the words of Jeffrey N. Rouder, a psychologist at the University of Missouri who, with Richard D. Morey of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, has also submitted a critique of Dr. Bem's paper to the journal.

Physics and biology, among other disciplines, overwhelmingly suggest that Dr. Bem's experiments have not changed those odds, Dr. Rouder said.

So far, at least three efforts to replicate the experiments have failed. But more are in the works, Dr. Bem said, adding, "I have received hundreds of requests for the materials" to conduct studies.

A version of this article appeared in print on January 6, 2011, on page A1 of the New York edition.

'Science Says' Is Now Just Another Special Interest Claim


by David Klinghoffer

President Obama echoed an often-heard lament when he complained recently that, among Americans, "facts and science and argument do not seem to be winning the day." According to distressed cultural observers, public ignorance about science is evidenced by failure to accept global warming, "animal rights," euthanasia and Darwinian evolution.

The assumption is that doubting scientists' claims means you have divorced yourself from reality. Yet steadily accumulating stories from the scientific community itself suggest grounds for doubting that scientists all pursue truth without fear or favor. Last year's "Climategate" email leak from the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit is the best-known case, but hardly the only one.

If there's any question on which science has spoken definitively, it's supposed to be the theory that an unguided material process of natural selection accounts for life's long development. A consensus of biologists appears to agree on this. Yet to what extent is that uniformity coerced -- specifically, by employment pressure?

For years I've collected accounts of scientists who voiced doubts about Darwin and ended up paying a high price. In February, the University of Kentucky will defend itself in court in a discrimination case brought by astronomer Martin Gaskell, now at the University of Texas. He argues convincingly that he was turned down to direct Kentucky's observatory because of remarks on his personal website noting reservations about Darwinian theory and an openness to intelligent design.

Gaskell's attorneys present records of email traffic among the faculty search committee. Professors falsely tarred Gaskell as a "creationist" while a lone astrophysicist on the committee protested that Gaskell stood to be rejected "despite his qualifications that stand far above those of any other applicant."

The case resembles another at Iowa State University. Astrophysicist Guillermo Gonzalez was refused tenure, despite a spectacular research publication record, because of a book he co-authored arguing that earthly life is no cosmic accident. Again, email traffic told the tale. The department chairman had instructed faculty that intelligent design was a litmus test for tenure, "disqualify[ing] him from serving as a science educator."

At the Smithsonian Institution, supervisors harshly penalized evolutionary biologist Richard Sternberg for editing a pro-intelligent design essay in a peer-reviewed technical biology journal. The U.S. Office of Special Counsel investigated the 2005 case, finding that Smithsonian colleagues created a "hostile work environment" aimed at "forcing [him] out."

Similar incidents have occurred at the University of Idaho, George Mason University and Baylor University.

This year, a top-level computer specialist on the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Cassini mission to Saturn, David Coppedge, sued JPL for discrimination after being demoted for circulating among colleagues a couple of DVDs favoring intelligent design.

There is, in fact, a growing underground of Darwin-doubting biologists and other scientists, who believe that evidence from cell biology, cosmology and paleontology tells an increasingly complicated and contradictory story about life's origin and evolution. They'll talk to me because the Discovery Institute, where I work and with which many are now openly associated, supports the critique of Darwinism.

I know one biologist, for example, who could do lab work in a visiting role at a university where he had a colleague in this underground only by resorting to a disguise. Known for his Darwin-doubting views, he dyed his hair, shaved his beard, and changed his eyeglasses to avoid getting his friend in trouble.

Well, scientists are no less vulnerable to fear and disapproval than anyone else. It's very human to shape your outlook, even unconsciously, to stay safe.

The brittleness of the "consensus" on certain scientific issues may explain a recent observation by a pair of scholars at the American Enterprise Institute. Tabulating news sources, they showed the increasingly common use of authoritarian phrases like "science tells us we should," "science requires," and "science dictates." The phrases typically introduce an insistence on our compliant belief in catastrophic global warming, assorted dietary or health practices, and so on.

Maybe in casting a skeptical eye on such verities, the public senses that science is a business like many others, albeit a largely nationalized one, where workers are expected to toe a company line. With the government's $7 billion National Science Foundation and $31 billion National Institutes of Health heavily supporting research, localized pressures easily take on the form of a more universal compulsion to conform. Darwin himself was genteelly unemployed, but the days of the Victorian independent scientist are long gone.

If only we laymen could simply trust our scientists, without thinking critically for ourselves, as we once trusted priests and rabbis. Alas, those days are gone too. Recognizing such things does not make you ignorant. It makes you a realist.

David Klinghoffer is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Kabbalah: A Sacred Science of the Future


Yehuda Berg.Best Selling Author, Agent of Change, Spiritual Teacher, Co-Director of The Kabbalah Centre International
Posted: January 4, 2011 06:07 PM

I enjoyed reading "The Jewish View of Creationism" by Rabbi Adam Jacobs on Huffington Post. Coincidentally, we at Kabbalah Publishing are re-editing one of the Rav's previous works in which he discusses time and space from the perspective of Science and the Bible. (The title is Navigating the Universe and it will be released as a paperback in May 2011.) Time and space have always been, and continue to be, an important aspect of kabbalistic study. Understanding these concepts is critical to the fulfillment of our purpose in this world. The Rav began discoursing on these ideas more than 20 years ago, and his powerful words are even more relevant today. I could not have said it better. I hope you enjoy this:

The only time the average scientist will turn to the Bible is when he thinks he can "prove" it wrong on grounds of empirical evidence, never realizing that the code contained within the Bible is every bit as empirical as any experiment performed in his laboratory. Yet if these same scientists took the effort to investigate the true, internal meanings of the biblical predictions, they might be in for a pleasant surprise. In addition to gaining a new perspective into the Bible, they might very well come to an understanding of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, which today so confuses them.

Kabbalah holds out the promise of a real science of the future. A valid futurology is indeed possible, this despite the fact that the future appears more complex and unpredictable with every passing moment. As astronomers will testify, there is very little if any indeterminacy in the movements of our celestial neighbors. Astronomy, calendars, and almanacs all rely on what happened in the past to predict the future. These astronomical calculators enjoy wide respect, the simple reason being that unlike the predictions of physicists, economists, weather forecasters, and allopathic physicians, the predictions derived from the celestial movements very often achieve accuracy.

When Einstein revealed his theories of special and general relativity, Newtonian scientists had no choice but to reexamine old familiar and cherished concepts of space and time. Before Einstein's day, time was regarded as a continuous flow, like a river stretching back into the past and ahead into the future. Einstein proved that time is not absolute. Time depends on space and space depends on time. The two cannot be separated. One cannot be considered without also considering the other.

The famous "twins paradox" is perhaps the most familiar example of this phenomenon. One twin takes a faster-than-light rocket ship into space, while the stay-at-home twin waits for his brother to return some years later. When the space faring brother returns, he finds his earth-bound brother has aged a great deal, while he has not.

A space ship traveling at near light speed would enable such human clocks as heartbeat, brainwaves and blood flow, to slow down during the journey. Time adjusts to accomodate its spacial frame of reference. As bizarre as this may sound, it is true.

In Genesis we find people who lived many hundreds of years: Adam lived 930 years, Methusalech 969. Then, inexplicably, the average lifespan diminished to a low of only 47 years. Now the average lifespan is becoming progressively longer. Could it be that certain ages and civilizations are more conducive than others to achieving non-ordinary states of consciousness?

The dimensions of spacial consciousness as demonstrated by the twins paradox are, of course, vastly different from those with which we normally deal on the physical level. Yet this bizarre anomaly pervades every aspect of our daily lives.

Consider the example of two secretaries who, at the end of the working day, may be overheard discussing the day's routine: "The day dragged along," complains one. "I thought it would never end." Her friend conversely comments on how swiftly she thought the day went by. Here is an example of how consciousness affects time. The secretary who experienced time in slow motion is likely bored with her job and accomplishes little in the course of her day's work. Feeling down, depressed, unhappy with herself, she has aligned herself with the down side of earth's level, where time moves slowly. The other, meanwhile, gains satisfaction from her work and thus time for her moves swiftly.

Consider another scenario in which two people approach an elevator and both press the down button. After a brief time one impatiently remarks, "Why doesn't that elevator show up?" The other shrugs and points out the fact that the button to summon it has just been pushed. The former is obviously in a hurry to get where he is going, while the latter who is in no rush does not feel the same pressure as does his companion. Again we see how time varies according to how we perceive it.

With this behind us, we may now begin to understand how the space-time phenomenon makes possible prophecy and prediction. No prophecy was involved in knowing how the two secretaries or the two friends at the elevator would react. By knowing the internal space in which a person exists is sufficient to predict that person's potential behavior. The key to prediction is the ability to transcend the bounds of rational consciousness so that we may enter the universal state of mind in which past, present and future exist on the same multidimensional plane.

Einstein's Theory of Relativity destroyed the idea of universal time, and of an absolute past, present and future. His imagination led us to believe that in some sense the future already exists. Einstein never did fully explain why universal time no longer exists. After all, to understand the why of things was not then and unfortunately still is not within the province of science.

Uncertainty belongs to the world of physics. In the realm of metaphysics, reality is seen unwinding along a precise, predetermined route that must lead to an unalterable final state. The kabbalist understands that time depends upon a space reference, and there are infinite numbers of space-time references. Indeed, there are as many of them as there are inhabitants of planet Earth.

Our new interpretation of space-time sheds light on the question previously raised as to why people lived long lives closer to the time of the biblical Adam, and why the average lifespan decreased to a low point only to rise again. Adam and those immediately following him lived in a time of high spiritual consciousness. The further removed one is from the rigid framework of clock-time consciousness, the longer one's life is likely to be.

As we approach the Age of Aquarius, our space-time consciousness is being elevated. Time is slowing down for us and we shall experience a marked increase in the human life-span. However, this does not necessarily mean we will all move up to a higher frequency of consciousness. What will take place, however, is a general recognition that past, present and future are no longer fragmented, but are really one and the same.

The biblical parable concerning the Tower of Babel illustrates that although they lived in this upper frame of space-time reaping all the benefits of their state of being, that civilization did not necessarily achieve a spiritual awareness of Desire to Receive for the Sake of Sharing. However, because fragmented time hardly existed, their grasp of the universe was that of a highly evolved civilization.

Unlike the ancient civilization of Babel, our present civilization is dominated by the cosmic influence of the Age of Aquarius, the essence of which is Desire to Receive for the Sake of Sharing. It is not by chance that the knowledge of Kabbalah is, with each day, becoming more widespread and readily available.

As stated in Jeremiah 30:33: "And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord.' Rather everyone shall know Me, from the smallest to the highest."

Already we are beginning to witness a similarly advanced transition, as did the ancient civilization of Babel. In addition, we are about to experience a spiritual revival, the likes of which did not exist at the time of Babel. No longer is it necessary to accrue vast amounts of knowledge before delving into life's mysteries. In the Age of Aquarius, the ancient wisdom will be the domain of all.

Dealing with conflicts over evolution education


Profile. Joshua Rosenau spends his days defending the teaching of evolution at the National Center for Science Education. He is formerly a doctoral candidate at the University of Kansas, in the department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. When not battling creationists or modeling species ranges, he writes about developments in progressive politics and the sciences.

The opinions expressed here are his own, do not reflect the official position of the NCSE. Indeed, older posts may no longer reflect his own official position.

Category: Culture Wars • Policy and Politics
Posted on: January 5, 2011 1:11 AM, by Josh Rosenau

The sky is blue. Winter is cold. Jerry Coyne is upset with NCSE. These are the implacable truths anchoring us in reality. The interesting question is not whether Coyne is upset with NCSE, but what he's upset about this time.

Today, Coyne is upset that the award-winning, NSF-funded website Understanding Evolution addresses a common objection to evolution. (Full disclosure: NCSE assists Understanding Evolution and is listed as a co-organizer of the site. I've never worked on the site, but I work at NCSE. As it says in the sidebar, this blog is my own private thing, not NCSE's. Look through the archives and you'll see me making the same points long before I even considered working at NCSE. But the fact that I do this for a living is relevant.)

Understanding Evolution addresses anti-evolution claims that evolution and religion are necessarily in conflict:

Religion and science (evolution) are very different things. In science, only natural causes are used to explain natural phenomena, while religion deals with beliefs that are beyond the natural world.

The misconception that one always has to choose between science and religion is incorrect. Of course, some religious beliefs explicitly contradict science (e.g., the belief that the world and all life on it was created in six literal days); however, most religious groups have no conflict with the theory of evolution or other scientific findings. In fact, many religious people, including theologians, feel that a deeper understanding of nature actually enriches their faith. Moreover, in the scientific community there are thousands of scientists who are devoutly religious and also accept evolution.

For concise statements from many religious organizations regarding evolution, see Voices for Evolution on the NCSE Web site.

Coyne never specifies what, if anything, in this response he finds inaccurate or inappropriate. He claims that there's something "NOMA-ish" (referring to Stephen Jay Gould's Non-Overlapping MAgisteria, a much-criticized but widespread approach to science/religion issues), which I guess is a quibble over whether religion deals only with beliefs beyond the natural world (thus non-overlapping with science), but that's not what it says. It says that science deals only with the natural world, and doesn't make any exclusive claim about religion. Religion deals with stuff outside the natural world, but whether it tells us about the natural world is unspecified, hence there's no claim about overlap or non-overlap. That's pretty standard philosophy of science and philosophy of religion, so hardly irresponsible. Indeed, Coyne has endorsed this basic framework in the past.

The second paragraph supports its topic sentence with empirically true statements. Some religious beliefs do not accord with science, but many religions explicitly do avow a compatibility with science (rejecting or modifying those conflicting beliefs), and many scientists do see a compatibility, as do theologians and other religious folks. The site is not declaring that any of those people or groups are right, only that they exist (which they do!), and therefore it is a misconception that "one always has to choose between science and religion." As such, it is irrelevant to the answer that some atheists agree with creationists about the incompatibility of science and religion.

Coyne whinges a bit about "pandering to religion on websites supposedly about science," but I don't see the pandering, and this item is on a page about misconceptions of evolution, specifically a section addressing "Misconceptions about evolution and religion." So that part of the site is not just about science. Most of the site is focused on science, and does a brilliant job, hence the awards. But these sorts of religious objections are common problems, and you often can't get someone to engage with the science until you deal with that objection. So the site puts a brief discussion of the issues on a page specifically focused on that issue. It makes sense.

That passage has been at the same URL since 2005, at a different URL since 2004, and only now has Coyne noticed it. Interestingly, a creationist lawyer in California noticed in 2005, and filed suit claiming that it constituted religious discrimination because his wife thought the site, funded by a government grant, was endorsing some religious views (those which claim to be compatible with science) over others (those that don't). The case was tossed out of court, a dismissal upheld on appeal. NCSE covered it, Panda's Thumb covered it, and Coyne missed it.

As Tim Sandefur pointed out at PT, the passage at issue is "truthful," and:

The website makes purely factual claims that Mrs. Caldwell, for religious reasons, happens to find offensive. …The government is allowed to make factual, objectively truthful statements about any number of things, including characterizations of the religious beliefs of individuals or groups, even if readers like Mrs. Caldwell might find those statements to be offensive for whatever reasons–including religious reasons. …

These are not religious statements, but statements about religious beliefs, and government is allowed to make statements about religious beliefs. … Statements characterizing religion, or describing the beliefs of others, do not depend for their truthfulness on the content of a religious dogma or creed, and are therefore secular in nature; they are statements that the government is constitutionally free to make under the First Amendment. They are not religious statements.

Coyne isn't filing suit, so the particulars of the First Amendment analysis aren't germane, but Tim's assessment is absolutely correct that the passage at issue is simply describing how certain people and religious groups deal with evolution and religion. It is not advocating (nor pandering).

Coyne's beef is that he doesn't want Understanding Evolution or NCSE to discuss "theology or philosophy." These are, he insists, inappropriate for "websites supposedly about science."

This is a common refrain from Coyne, that groups like NCSE or the National Academy of Sciences, or sites like Understanding Evolution, should not discuss "theology and philosophy." Most of the challenges to teaching evolution have nothing to do with the science, and everything to do with philosophically or theologically naïve beliefs about science and religion. Creationism is essentially a giant agglomeration of philosophical and theological errors, with some scientific errors glued to the outside for camouflage. It's like the decorator crab here, hidden and almost invisible beneath all of the anemones and coral polyps. But if you're interested in the crab, you don't take on the anemones.

You can skim off the scientific errors surrounding creationism forever, but you aren't dealing with creationism itself until you get at those underlying errors. You have to explain what a theory is. You have to explain what science is. You have to give a sense of how science works, and why it works, and why it's different from religion. That's all philosophy. And if you want an audience that's ambivalent about evolution to pay attention to all of that, you have to tell them it isn't an attack on religion, that there are a range of ways to see the issue and they can sort out those implications later with a counsellor of their choosing. That's all philosophy of religion (or theology if you prefer), and a bit of sociology.

I know this works because I've seen it tried both ways and I know which one works (anecdotal evidence, yada yada), and because I've seen results from polling and focus groups which found the same thing. Alas, the details of those studies are confidential, but some of that research is reported by the NAS, by Chow and Labov, by Labov and Kline Pope, and by the Council of Scientific Societies.

The societies conducted polling and focus groups in preparation for a revision of the NAS pamphlet on evolution and creationism. Jay Labov provided this slide summarizing the results of two rounds of focus groups:

That's what the research tells us works: talking about evolution's benefits for medical research (people have an instrumental view of what science is, so medical applications are better than other research, alas), defusing the conflict model at least enough to get the conversation going, and emphasizing how wrong it is to impose one person's religious belief on another. Other messages that were tested had little effect, or had a strong negative effect or a strong pro-creationism effect. Those three points work, and leaving any of them out of a science advocate's quiver is a poor choice.

Indeed, I think the point about science and religion is the only way to get past the protective camouflage. You can talk about medical research all you want, and you'll sway some people. But many won't listen to evidence until you get them past the fear that learning about evolution will make their kids stop going to church (better to be sick than spend eternity in hell!). And you can't get to the point about not imposing religion without addressing the conflict issue, because otherwise the retort would be that you're imposing evolution, and evolution is "an atheist creation myth" or some similar false equivalence reliant on philosophical errors about what "theory" means, etc. Explaining how some people find a compatibility between science and religion lets you talk about how science differs from religion, and why your audience shouldn't let their religious views stop them from hearing more about evolution. Then you talk about evolution and why creationism isn't science, and why evolution saves lives, and why imposing creationist lessons is immoral. They won't hear those points without first addressing the purported conflict.

Sometimes your audience is already squared away on that front, and can go straight to evolution. University audiences are usually OK, as are many science classrooms. But not always, and the teachers and other science communicators who turn to Understanding Evolution for advice on how to deal with those situations are getting good, empirically tested, scientifically justified advice. Coyne has no reason to complain.

Gnu atheists will object that they don't think science is compatible with religion, that the second point is wrong, and therefore they won't say it. I think that's short-sighted and wrong. Whatever your own philosophical position, you can still acknowledge that lots of scientists are religious, and that lots of religious groups accept evolution. It's empirically true! And it gets the fingers out of people's ears! The moment when they're trying to get people to accept evolution is not the moment to launch into an attack on religion, because it makes it harder to teach about evolution, and it probably won't do anything for their view of atheism.

Gnus prefer to emphasize that they don't personally see that compatibility. Noting that presenting their arguments against compatibility is Not Helpful (in the context of evolution education), they often reply that their focus is on something other than science education, and the confrontational message helps that goal. Maybe so, though no scientifically valid evidence has been offered to support that claim, and what research exists seems to say the opposite. But if it does help, mazel tov.

That doesn't matter here, because in this case Jerry is criticizing Understanding Evolution and NCSE for not adopting gnu atheist rhetoric, even though those groups have very clear goals, goals that have nothing to do with promoting atheism and have everything to do with improving evolution education. They use a message that works, which research shows to work, and he's criticizing them not because it doesn't help the goals of Understanding Evolution and NCSE, but because it doesn't help the goals of gnu atheists. And that's unfair.

'intelligent design is not creationism in any shape or form' – yeah, right!


Alison Campbell Jan 03

This post is syndicated from BioBlog – Original Post

A few weeks ago one of my fellow SciBloggers, Siouxsie Wiles, wrote an interesting piece about a childrens' film that she'd seen where the underlying message seemed to be: you don't have to understand, you just have to believe. Which as she says, does rather encapsulate a lot of pseudo-scientific nonsense that's promoted these days (homeopathy, 'miracle mineral supplements', etc etc etc). Anyway, Siouxsie mentioned creationism in her post, & now a new commenter has dropped by to inform us that 'intelligent design… is not creationism in any shape or form, but serious scientific debate about the latest evidence for the origins of life.' My immediate response emulated the famous Tui billboards (here's an example), but then I & other regulars there went on to point out that this comment is a long way off-base. And I thought the subject was worth revisiting in a separate post.

For Siouxsie's correspondent is wrong – so-called 'intelligent design' is creationism, pure and simple, and not a valid scientific explanation for life's diversity. There's a lot of evidence out there to back up this statement.

One line of evidence is actually rather farcical. It came up at the "Dover trial' (of which more later), where it transpired that a popular creationist text, Of Pandas & People, had been remastered into an 'intelligent design' volume. Very clumsily remastered, as Barbara Forrest demonstrated (after an exhaustive comparison of the orginal book and a draft of the intelligent design version). On page 3-40 of the 1987 creationist version there's the phrase "Evolutionists think the former is correct, creationists accept the latter view." The 'intelligent design' version (also 1987) says "Evolutionists think the former is correct, cdesign proponentsists accept the latter view" (emphasis added by Forrest). The editors of the Pandas book had simply gone through the earlier version & replaced all instances of the word 'creationists' with the phrase 'design proponents'. All instances but one, that is…

More substantive data comes from what could be regarded as the ID movement's founding document, the so-called 'Wedge' strategy written by Phillip E. Johnson & setting out the goals of the 'Centre for Renewal of Science & Culture' (a Discovery Institute think-tank, now called the Centre for Science & Culture). This document begins with the following statement: "The proposition that human beings are created in the image of God is one of the bedrock principles on which Western civilization was built" and claims to have "re-opened the case for a broadly theistic understanding of nature." And the Wedge document's 'Five Year Strategic Plan Summary' clearly states that the goal of the ID movement is to replace current scientific understandings of the world with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions. If that's not a creationist viewpoint then I don't know what is.

I'm in good company in this: as many of you will know, the proposition that 'intelligent design' is a valid scientific alternative to evolution was tested in the 'Dover trial' – and found wanting. In 2005 the Dover, Pennsylvania school district board attempted to introduce the ID version of Of Pandas & People as a science text. A group of concerned parents & teachers (Kitzmiller et al.) took the board to court, citing a failure to observe the legal requirement for separation of church & state. Although ID supporters argued that intelligent design is science, not a thinly-disguised religious viewpoint on life's origins & diversity, the judge ruled that this was indeed an attempt to have creationist material presented in science classrooms. You can read Judge Jones' very thorough and detailed decision here, and the full transcripts can be found in the TalkOrigins archives. There's also an excellent PBS documentary available on-line.

In fact, the defendants' arguments relied substantially on setting up a false dichotomy, along the lines of 'evolution can't explain X, so therefore intelligent design is true,' something that the judge ruled was not neither scientific nor evidence for ID. Judge Jones also noted that two of the witnesses for the Dover school board admitted that their personal view is that the designer is God and Professor Minnich testified that he understands many leading advocates of ID to believe the designer to be God. In addition one of the defense's expert witnesses stated quite explicitly that intelligent design is a form of creationism, and allows for the inclusion of supernatural explanations for observed phenomena. This led the judge to conclude that that ID is not science (contrary to the assertions by Siouxsie's commenter), for the following reasons:

(1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980s; and (3) ID's negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community. … [It] is additionally important to note that ID has failed to gain acceptance in the scientific community, it has not generated peer-reviewed publications, nor has it been the subject of testing and research.

Whatever else it might be, ID is not science.

Power Balance admits no science behind wristbands


SANTA ANA, Calif. – Shaquille O'Neal swears by them. The Power Balance bracelet, he says, gives him a competitive edge on the court. It's no gimmick, he says. It's for real.

It may be for him, but Australian authorities say the California-based company behind the wildly popular wristbands and pendants has no business claiming that they improve balance, strength and flexibility.

And they even got Power Balance to admit it.

The company wrote: "We admit that there is no credible scientific evidence that supports our claims." It also agreed to give refunds to customers who believe they were cheated.

The company's admission, however, hopped across the globe since its agreement with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission was announced on Dec. 22.

It was an answer to what many who saw the ads wondered: Do the colorful silicone bands actually work?

Critics railed against the company on Twitter and those who had believed in the bracelet's power.

The company unleashed a torrent of its own tweets, playing off the word "admit."

In one, it said: "Power Balance Admits products have been worn during the last world series, nba finals and super bowl champions!"

Fans insist the bands have helped their game.

"Our trainers swear by it," Phoenix Suns forward Jared Dudley wrote in a message posted on his Twitter page.

The company began selling bracelets in 2007 embedded with holograms that were purportedly designed to interact with the body's natural energy flow.

Since then, the colorful wristbands, which sell for $29.95, have become ubiquitous, donned by Los Angeles Lakers' Lamar Odom and English celebrity soccer star David Beckham.

They have also been worn by celebrities, including actors Robert De Niro and Gerard Butler.

The company sold $8,000 of merchandise in its first year and expects more than $35 million in sales in 2010.

Power Balance, for its part, doesn't claim to have science on its side, said Adam Selwyn, a spokesman for the Laguna Niguel, Calif.-based company.

Rather, it relies on testimonials from famous athletes and users to tout the products' effects. The company says it pays some athletes for the right to use their images wearing the bracelets, including O'Neal and Odom.

Josh Rodarmel, one of the company's co-founders, said in a statement he knows there may be skeptics. "We're not trying to win over every person in the world," he said.

Ralph Reiff, program director at St. Vincent Sports Performance in Indianapolis, said maybe a third of the hundreds of professional and amateur athletes who train there wear the wristband or an imitation.

The program even thought about putting its logo on the products and handing them out, he said.

But officials decided against that because they couldn't find enough reliable research to back up the company's claims about giving a biological boost to performance, he said.

"I couldn't look in the mirror and 100 percent say (it's) a product I can put my brand reputation behind," said Reiff, a certified athletic trainer.

Reiff said he believes there's no reason to think the wristbands could produce a biological benefit, and that any benefit is purely psychological.

"It's just like a pair of lucky socks," Reiff said. "It's a lucky charm, and if you believe in it, then it's excellent."

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission took action after an independent review panel in September found that the Power Balance claims were misleading and breached the therapeutic goods advertising code.

The Therapeutic Goods Complaints Resolution Panel demanded that Power Balance drop claims from its website that the bands improved flexibility, balance and strength.

On its web site, Power Balance features video footage of athletes holding their arms out and resisting downward pressure in trials with and without the bands.

A Wisconsin professor ran similar tests comparing the performance of 42 athletes wearing Power Balance wristbands and silicon versions from Wal-Mart and said he found no difference.

Athletes were more likely to perform better wearing the second bracelet they put on, largely because they knew what to expect from the trial, said John Porcari, professor of exercise and sport science at University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

"I think it is a scam," he said. "It has absolutely nothing to do with the bracelets. It is all in people's heads."

AP Science Writer Malcolm Ritter contributed to this report from New York.

McLeroy: The State Board of Education's standards should make Texans proud


Don McLeroy, Special Contributer LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

Over the past three years, the State Board of Education has bequeathed a precious legacy to Texas education. Strong academic standards in English, science and history are now in place that will improve academic achievement, prepare our children for the future and help develop well-informed citizens. However, the achievements of the board have gone widely unrecognized, unacknowledged, and underappreciated. It is time to set the record straight.

New English standards were adopted in May 2008. The previous standards were clearly inferior; many were vague and repetitive. The seventh and eighth grade standards were virtually identical with only three words difference! With the encouragement of individual English teachers, the board recognized the seriousness of the problem and initiated a major rewrite of the standards. It is noteworthy that the professional teacher organizations did not lobby for a major rewrite; in fact, they initially opposed it.

The new standards bring a renewed emphasis on grammar; mastery of proper grammar will unlock many doors for our children. The standards also focus instruction on serious literature and nonfiction instead of trivial stories. This will increase our children's broad general knowledge. Knowledge is one of the greatest gifts we can give to children; it is critically important for all our children, especially the disadvantaged.

These new English standards are probably the single greatest achievement of the board. They will bear fruit for decades to come.

New science standards were adopted in March 2009. Despite all the hysteria and fears of evolutionary dogmatists, there has not been one challenge to any of the new standards. The controversy over science standards was actually the result of an attempted hijacking of science for ideological purposes by evolutionists. Their agenda was much more about worldviews than biology. The standards reflect real science and challenge students to study some of evolution's most glaring weaknesses in explaining the fossil record and the complexity of the cell.

Board detractors still misrepresent the science standards. They should heed the warning of Richard Feynman, famed physicist, who in an important speech on scientific integrity stated "the idea is to give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgment in one particular direction or another." Mission accomplished. Integrity restored.

New history standards were adopted in May 2010. They ensure that our children will learn what it means to be an American. Distinguished historian William B. Allen stated "the founding era and the founding fathers are not just a topic of instruction for us ... they are the meat we feed upon ... . Therefore, our task is not to ask whether we should regard the founders with tender care and understanding; our task is to find the means to do so." And in Texas, we are finding the means to do so. The new standards require students to be taught the founding documents, American Exceptionalism, and the national mottos of "In God We Trust" and "E Pluribus Unum."

One significant standard brings much needed clarity to the commonly misunderstood phrase "separation of church and state." Our children will learn that it is not in the Constitution and, ironically, how it undermines the very language our Constitution uses to guarantee us religious liberty. Historically, the Constitution codified for us what Christianity, through the "Great Awakening" fifty years earlier, had already given our country—the disestablishment of religion.

In other standards, the board restored the teaching of the role of religion in the foundation of our representative government, and highlighted the role of the free enterprise system in America's economic success. Our children will learn how the founders' ideas of limited government and personal responsibility make better people by rewarding hard work, diligence and competence.

Abraham Lincoln said "America is the last best hope of earth." In Texas, our children will know that fact and more importantly, why it is true.

This is the true legacy of the State Board of Education. As Texas children master the English language, study real science, and learn the principles that have shaped our country and economic system, Texas will continue to be a guiding light for our nation and the world.

Don McLeroy is a member and former chairman of the Texas State Board of Education.

Monday, January 03, 2011

The science vs. creationism debate exemplified on a facebook page


Category: Creationism
Posted on: January 2, 2011 8:03 PM, by PZ Myers

This brief exchange captures it all.

Just to put it in text: creationist ignoramus posts amazing "fact" in his status:

** Fact- if the earth was 10 ft closer to the sun we would all burn up and if it was 10 ft further we would freeze to death... God is amazing!

Someone politely replies, stating the actual astronomical facts.

to anyone wondering, that's not true. 1) Earth's orbit is elliptical and the distance from the sun varies from around 147 million kilometers to 152 million kilometers on any given year. 2) Every star has a habitable zone that is affected by the size of the star and its intensity. The Sun's habitable zone is about 0.95 AU to 1.37 AU. An AU is the Earth's average distance from the sun, 93 million miles, so Earth's orbit could decrease by 4,500,000 miles or increase by 34,000,000 mises and still be in the habitable zone. 3) If your claim was true any moderately sized earthquake could take us out of the habitable zone. sorry.

The facebook status was hilarious enough, but his reply is simply perfect.

Okay thats cool and alll but dont ever comment on my status telling me that i am wrong everrrr again. I didnt ask you did i? Answer: NO


Ark Encounter critics: consider the source


Terry Hurlbut
Creationism Examiner

January 2nd, 2011 9:20 pm ET

Yesterday, Ken Ham, of Answers in Genesis, took rueful note of a criticism of his latest and grandest project to date: a replica of Noah's Ark with multiple added attractions. But the tone of the criticism, and other positions that the critic has taken, say more about the critic than about the subject of his criticism.

Ark Encounter will be an 800-acre theme park, sited in Grant County, Kentucky. Its main attraction will be a full-scale replica of Noah's Ark, one of several that various amateur shipwrights have built worldwide. Total cost: $150 million, including $24.5 million to be raised from donations to build the replica itself and another $125 million from private investors to build the park's other attractions. These attractions vary from the speculative (a "walled city" designed as a concept of an antediluvian city featuring the minimum technology that Noah would have used to build the original ark) to the theatrical (a theater designed to put on special presentations).

The chief secular controversy has centered around Ark Encounter LLC's application for tax incentives from the Kentucky Tourism Authority. Those incentives consist of partial refunds of sales taxes collected during the first ten years of the park's operation. Estimated value: $37.5 million. Many have said that the State would be "funding" the park. This is not correct, as partial discounts on tax receipts are not the same as a government grant.

Certain other critics, among them a man calling himself "Chaplain Mike" of the site Internet Monk, make a more serious charge: that Ark Encounter has far too much spectacle for a follower of Christ to take seriously. In fact, the critic compared the project to Walt Disney World and other theme parks that the Walt Disney Company operates.

One critic termed the project a "particular confluence of faith-based fantasy and place-based entertainment in which the usual laws of physics, taste, or logic will obviously not apply." May I add, an informed reading of the Bible does not actually apply here either.

This Examiner visited the Creation Museum two years and nine months ago, and learned then about the theory that AiG finds most persuasive about Noah's Ark, and about AiG's eventual plans to build a replica. This Examiner found one thing to criticize about the Creation Museum: one of the special presentations shown to guests did not feature the highest quality of acting, screenwriting, or Biblical apologetics. If the proposed special-effects theater at Ark Encounter features a presentation of similar quality (or lack of it), that could prove an unwelcome distraction. But a discerning visitor will definitely find much of value in the rest of the museum, and Ark Encounter, with a detailed replica demonstrating the best theories of how the Ark might have looked (inboard and out), will likely prove of similar value.

All this is apparently lost on "Chaplain Mike," and a close examination of his "Year in Review" selections shows why. Those selections reveal that "Chaplain Mike" takes the following positions, among others:

•Theistic evolution, at best.
•Egalitarianism (as distinct from complementarianism, or a recognition of the division of labor and authority in the home).
•An openness to speculation about extraterrestrial civilizations.

These and other positions indicate quite clearly that the critic's real problem with Ark Encounter is not any overemphasis on spectacle, nor even whether Ham and his group might have "sold out" to serve mammon rather than God. Rather, it is that Ham and his resident naval architect Tim Lovett take the Bible literally, and are quite willing to raise $150 million to build something to show to as many as 1.6 million visitors a year, and to tell them in effect,

This is what Shem, Ham and Japheth meant!

This critic inveighs,

This project has nothing to do with Biblical Christianity.

To which this Examiner replies: Internet Monk has nothing, or certainly precious little, to do with Biblical Christianity. It is the very sort of watering-down of the faith that the Creation Museum illustrates brilliantly in Graffiti Alley, with its signpost saying in effect:

Today man describes truth—no, strike that—whatever.

and its wrecking ball labeled "Millions of Years" smashing into the wall of a church where, inside, a minister delivers a message containing exactly the sort of compromising pabulum for which the rest of Internet Monk is famous. And this is a "high-ranking Christian blog"?

In short, Ham needn't worry about answering critics like this. His project might be open to fair criticism, but not to unfair criticism of this kind.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Were Adam and Eve real?


Over at the Templeton-funded BioLogos website there has been a lot of discussion about the historicity of Adam and Eve. This is a problem because scripture claims these two were the progenitors of humanity, but genetics says otherwise. It's simply not true that all of humanity's DNA traces back to a pair of individuals who lived no more than 10,000 years ago; indeed, the different bits of our DNA trace back to different ancestors who lived at different times. What's clear is that our ancestors were in a population of humans, some of whom left Africa around 60,000 years ago, and virtually all of modern human DNA comes from that population, which itself descended from African ancestors who split off about 6 million years ago from the ancestors of modern chimps.

For some reason the biological data have caused a kerfuffle at BioLogos. One would think that if these folks are really devoted to reconciling science and Christianity, they'd do for Adam and Eve what they did for Genesis: claim that this is just a metaphor rather than the literal truth, and the literal interpretation is theologically misguided. Adam and Eve simply stood for our ancestors, just as Smokey the Bear stands for all wild bears. (No matter that for centuries Christians wrongly assumed what the Bible says plainly: Adam and Eve were the two God-created ancestors of all humanity.)

But the kerfuffle goes on, because some Christians, despite the biological data, want to see Adam and Eve as real people. The latest attempt to reconcile genetics with Genesis comes from Daniel Harrell, described at BioLogos as

the Senior Minister of Colonial Church in Edina, Minnesota. Before stepping into this role, Harrell served as associate minister at Park Street Church in Boston, Massachusetts for over twenty years. He is the author of the book Nature's Witness: How Evolution Can Inspire Faith, and is author of the forthcoming book How To Be Perfect: One Church's Experiment with Living the Book of Leviticus.

Introducing Harrell's essay, "Adam and Eve: Literal or Literary?", BioLogos states its own position:

As many of our readers know, the historicity of Adam and Eve is a critically important topic in the discussion of Christianity and human origins. Although BioLogos takes a firm stand on the fact that Adam and Eve could not have been the sole biological progenitors of all humans (see here), science does not rule out the possibility of a historical Adam and Eve, which opens this interesting discussion.

Here's why Harrell sees the question of Adam and Eve as crucial:

If they are literary people, then that raises questions about the rest of the Biblical cast. Are Moses and Jesus fictional characters too?

Well, yes, but this is exactly what happens when you see parts of the Bible (like Genesis) as metaphorical, and other parts as literal, with no good way (except for post facto attempts to harmonize them with science) to tell which is which.

Harrell goes on:

If they are literal people, then the trove of evolutionary and DNA evidence can't be right. It's impossible for the human race to trace back to a single pair of parents (and this without mentioning a talking snake and God creating Adam out of the dirt and Eve from his rib). For the serious student of Scripture and science, making a choice between literal and literary is impossible too. Can't there be a middle option?


But if the talking snake is obviously metaphorical, why isn't the talking Moses? Anyway, Harrell offers two solutions. The first involves apparent age: God created Adam and Eve with DNA that made them look older than they really were:

The first is that God created them supernaturally, midstream in evolution's flow. To create in such a way would require that God also put in place a DNA history, since human origins genetically trace back to earlier, common ancestors. Conceptually, this presents the same problems as creating the universe with apparent age. Apparent age is how some square a literal Genesis with scientific evidence. Stars that appear to be billions of years old (according to cosmological measurements) are in reality only a few thousand years old (according to literal biblical reckoning). God created the stars with age.

Now I know what you're saying: Harrell will reject this hypothesis because it's simply silly. Such a proposition violates all the methodological naturalism that underpins the progress of science. And it makes God look duplicitous, which Harrell recognizes:

The problem is that creating with age makes God seem to be tricking us into thinking things are older than they are with no clear reason for doing so.

But he doesn't reject this! Harrell leaves it as an open possibility for Christian believers:

Nevertheless, given that Adam and Eve are both introduced in Genesis, presumably as adults rather than children (even if they acted like children), it could be that in their case, creating with age (and a history) would apply. While we might not necessarily understand why God would do that, he could do that (being God and all).

Yes, of course, God could do anything, including creating the light from stars in transit to Earth. We just know that God is omnipotent and loving and forgiving, but as for why he does stuff, well, ours is not to reason why.

That is all Harrell says about this possibility. The other option is to see Adam and Eve as real people, but only as two members of the human species specially anointed by God:

Another option might be to have Adam and Eve exist as first among Homo sapiens, specially chosen by God as representatives for a relationship with him. We often speak of Adam theologically as serving as representative of humanity in matters of original sin (his sin affects us all; Romans 5:12), so the idea of Adam as representative already exists in Christian theology. . . .

An advantage of this interpretation is that God's natural processes marvelously work without the need for any ancestral or genetic fabrication. Also, you'd finally be able to explain where it is that Cain found his wife (answer: from the other humans walking the earth east of Eden; Genesis 4:16-17).

But why do we need to see Cain as a literal person too?

This second option, however, also requires a bit of exegetical fiddling:

However, this view would require a reinterpretation of words like "formed" and "breathed into his nostrils the breath of life" (Genesis 2:7 KJV). Can we use "formed" and "breathed" to mean created through the long and continuous history of biological evolution (as were the other living creatures in Genesis 1)? If so, then perhaps "the Lord God formed the man" could be read emphasizing the novelty and uniqueness which humans inhabit.

Similarly, the "breath of life" would not signify simply oxygenated animation (surely Genesis isn't simply speaking in that sense), but that breath which set humans apart as inspired by God (the Hebrew word for breath here is different than the word used for oxygen-intake by living creatures as a whole).

And it requires that God (who presumably wrote the Bible) knew that He was giving a poetic description of evolution:

There are those who would object to such a reading since the Biblical author would not have had knowledge of evolutionary biology. And yet just because the author of Genesis wasn't a scientist doesn't mean that evolution wasn't happening. We still describe babies' births as "miracles" even though they're among the most natural occurrences in nature.

But if we evolved, then we're just like chimps, tigers, and sunflowers, right? And that can't be the case, because the Bible says we're the special objects of God's creation. Harrell's answer:

Whether specially created or specially selected, humans constitute an interruption in the evolutionary process. Before people showed up, evolution's potential pathways were invisible. But once humans appear, human volition entered with it. The human capacity to choose replaced randomness with intentionality. We have developed enough mastery over our environment (Genesis 1:28) that natural selection, in the strict Darwinian sense, no longer really applies to us.

Never mind the insupportable statement that natural selection no longer applies to us—a silly assertion that is instantly refuted by the case of sickle-cell anemia in Africa. What is ridiculous here is the tortuous lengths to which Harrell—and other writers at BioLogos—go to preserve the historicity of Adam and Eve. If God dictated the Bible, and gave the Genesis account as simply a metaphor for evolution (presumably an idea that was beyond the ken of Middle Eastern goatherds two millennia ago), then why couldn't he have made up Adam and Eve as a metaphor for the human branch of the evolutionary tree?

And what about Harrell's suggested "apparent age" theory—that Adam and Eve were poofed into being with DNA that made them look as if they descended from a far older population? Does that not violate any notion of scientific methodology and truth? And why would God do that, anyway? To fool modern scientists? And if we buy apparent age for Adam and Eve, why not for fossils? After all, God could have created a proportion of radiometric elements in the soil that would make nearby fossils look old even if they were really put in the earth a few thousand years ago. If you accept apparent age to save the Bible, where does it stop?

More important: isn't BioLogos embarrassed to have this kind of stuff on its website, which purports to accept the findings of science?

BioLogos doesn't realize that this kind of desperate apologetics makes believers look pretty bad, at least to those who have any respect for truth. It's far simpler to just see Adam and Eve as metaphors, since there's not a scintilla of evidence that they ever existed. But of course if you start rejecting silly notions because there's no evidence for them, most of scripture goes down the drain.