NTS LogoSkeptical News for 28 February 2011

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Scopes Strategy: Creationists Try New Tactics to Promote Anti-Evolutionary Teaching in Public Schools


Under the guise of "academic freedom" creationists are co-opting some old heroes of the fight to teach evolution in the classroom for their anti-science campaign

By Lauri Lebo | February 28, 2011

Now, more than 80 years after the famous "Scopes Monkey Trial" in Tennessee, creationism proponents are pushing for state legislation there that could make it easier for teachers to bring unscientific ideas back into the science classroom in public schools. To bolster their cause, the backers of the new bills are invoking none other than teacher John Scopes, the trial's pro-evolution defendant, as an icon of independent thinking.

"…[T]oday's evolutionary scientists have become the modern-day equivalents of those who tried to silence Rhea County schoolteacher John Scopes for teaching evolution in 1925, by limiting even an objective discussion of the scientific strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory," David Fowler, head of the Family Action Council of Tennessee and chief lobbyist behind Tennessee's proposed anti-evolution bill, wrote recently in an op–ed in the Chattanoogan.

Scopes had been charged with violating the Butler Act, which prohibited the teaching of evolution in public schools. Thus, creationists say, he certainly would have supported a law that encouraged the teaching of all sides of "controversial issues"—such as the bill some are working to pass in Tennessee as part of a post–intelligent design (ID) campaign to teach the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution. If adopted, this language would send a positive message to teachers inclined to introduce creationism and ID into the classroom when discussing biology and the origins of life.

Trouble in Tennessee

Following the drubbing they received in the constitutional test case of Tammy Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District in Pennsylvania five years ago (which kept explicit teaching of intelligent design, or ID, out of public schools) creationists shelved the ID language—at least publicly—and shifted their approach. More recently, they have tried to codify versions of the "strengths and weaknesses" language in states across the country—an effort that has so far met with limited success. The closest that creationists came to getting such terminology on the books was in 2008 in Louisiana, where an initial "academic freedom" bill included the phrase, but was replaced with more watered-down language that nonetheless left the door open to teaching creationism, some science educators say.

Texas's State Board of Education (SBOE) tried to preserve ambiguous language in its science curriculum in 2009. (The wording had been on the books since the 1990s, having originally been inserted as a compromise to appease creationists.) But after religious conservative members of the board were unable to garner majority support, they dropped it in favor of phrases, albeit also dubious, that included the statement students should "analyze and evaluate the sufficiency of scientific explanations concerning any data of sudden appearance, stasis and the sequential nature of groups in the fossil records."

The home state of the Scopes Trial is now on the verge of adopting the "strengths and weakness" language with the February 8 introduction of House Bill 368 (pdf). A week later, its identical counterpart, SB 893, was introduced in the senate. Whereas similar bills in Oklahoma and New Mexico have already perished in committee this year, observers are watching Tennessee's developments warily.

"The fact that it's moving so quickly is a matter of concern," says Josh Rosenau, a spokesperson for the National Center for Science Education, a watchdog organization that monitors attacks on classroom teaching of evolution. "There appears to be some momentum behind it, which suggests it could pass."

Strengths and weaknesses

As with other anti-evolution bills, the Tennessee legislation does not actually mandate the inclusion of creationist or ID teachings. Rather, it says that educators may not be prohibited from "helping students understand, analyze, critique and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught."

As in the Louisiana law, those theories can include "biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming and human cloning." The bill goes on to say that this only applies to scientific information, and is not "to be construed to promote any religious or nonreligious doctrine."

On the surface, the language looks like something that all scientists would gladly embrace: Promote critical thinking? Certainly! But opponents of the legislation say that the bills' backers intent is instead designed to undercut the teaching of evolution and open doors to creationism and intelligent design.

Fact-Free Science


Published: February 25, 2011

President Obama has made scientific innovation the cornerstone of his plans for "winning the future," requesting in his recent budget proposal large financing increases for scientific research and education and, in particular, sustained attention to developing alternative energy sources and technologies. "This is our generation's Sputnik moment," he declared in his State of the Union address last month.

It would be easier to believe in this great moment of scientific reawakening, of course, if more than half of the Republicans in the House and three-quarters of Republican senators did not now say that the threat of global warming, as a man-made and highly threatening phenomenon, is at best an exaggeration and at worst an utter "hoax," as James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, once put it. These grim numbers, compiled by the Center for American Progress, describe a troubling new reality: the rise of the Tea Party and its anti-intellectual, anti-establishment, anti-elite worldview has brought both a mainstreaming and a radicalization of antiscientific thought.

The politicization of science isn't particularly new; the Bush administration was famous for pressuring government agencies to bring their vision of reality in line with White House imperatives. In response to this, and with a renewed culture war over the very nature of scientific reality clearly brewing, the Obama administration tried to initiate a pre-emptive strike earlier this winter, issuing a set of "scientific integrity" guidelines aimed at keeping the work of government scientists free from ideological pollution. But since taking over the House of Representatives, the Republicans have packed science-related committees with lawmakers who refute such basic findings as the reality of global warming and the threats of climate change. Fred Upton, the head of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has said outright that he does not believe that global warming is man-made. John Shimkus of Illinois, who also sits on the committee — as well as on the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment — has said that the government doesn't need to make a priority of regulating greenhouse-gas emissions, because as he put it late last year, "God said the earth would not be destroyed by a flood."

Whoever emerges as the Republican presidential candidate in 2012 will very likely have to embrace climate-change denial. Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty and Mike Huckabee, all of whom once expressed some support for action on global warming, have notably distanced themselves from these views. Saying no to mainstream climate science, notes Daniel J. Weiss, a senior fellow and director of climate strategy for the Center for American Progress, is now a required practice for Republicans eager to play to an emboldened conservative base. "Opposing the belief that global warming is human-caused has become systematic, like opposition to abortion," he says. "It's seen as another way for government to control people's lives. It's become a cultural issue."

That taking on the scientific establishment has become a favored activity of the right is quite a turnabout. After all, questioning accepted fact, revealing the myths and politics behind established certainties, is a tactic straight out of the left-wing playbook. In the 1960s and 1970s, the push back against scientific authority brought us the patients' rights movement and was a key component of women's rights activism. That questioning of authority veered in a more radical direction in the academy in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when left-wing scholars doing "science studies" increasingly began taking on the very idea of scientific truth.

This was the era of the culture wars, the years when the conservative University of Chicago philosopher Allan Bloom warned in his book "The Closing of the American Mind" of the dangers of liberal know-nothing relativism. But somehow, in the passage from Bush I to Bush II and beyond, the politics changed. By the mid-1990s, even some progressives said that the assault on truth, particularly scientific truth, had gone too far, a point made most famously in 1996 by the progressive New York University physicist Alan Sokal, who managed to trick the left-wing academic journal Social Text into printing a tongue-in-cheek article, written in an overblown parody of dense academic jargon, that argued that physical reality, as we know it, may not exist.

Following the Sokal hoax, many on the academic left experienced some real embarrassment. But the genie was out of the bottle. And as the political zeitgeist shifted, attacking science became a sport of the radical right. "Some standard left arguments, combined with the left-populist distrust of 'experts' and 'professionals' and assorted high-and-mighty muckety-mucks who think they're the boss of us, were fashioned by the right into a powerful device for delegitimating scientific research," Michael Bérubé, a literature professor at Pennsylvania State University, said of this evolution recently in the journal Democracy. He quoted the disillusioned French theorist Bruno Latour, a pioneer of science studies who was horrified by the climate-change-denying machinations of the right: "Entire Ph.D. programs are still running to make sure that good American kids are learning the hard way that facts are made up, that there is no such thing as natural, unmediated, unbiased access to truth . . . while dangerous extremists are using the very same argument of social construction to destroy hard-won evidence that could save our lives."

Some conservatives argue that the Republican war on science is bad politics and that catering to the "climate-denier sect" in the party is a dangerous strategy, as David Jenkins, a member of Republicans for Environmental Protection wrote recently on the FrumForum blog. Public opinion, after all, has not kept pace with Republican rhetoric on the topic of climate change. A USA Today/Gallup poll conducted in January found that 83 percent of Americans want Congress to pass legislation promoting alternative energy, and a recent poll by the Opinion Research Corporation found that almost two-thirds want the Environmental Protection Agency to be more aggressive.

For those who have staked out extreme positions, backtracking may not be easy: "It is very difficult to get a man to understand something when his tribal identity depends on his not understanding it," Bérubé notes. Maybe it's time for some new identity politics.

Judith Warner is the author, most recently, of "We've Got Issues: Children and Parents in the Age of Medication."

Sunday, February 27, 2011

PSU Probing Question: Why is Teaching Evolution Still Controversial?


February 27, 2011 at 4:34 AM by Gant Team

In 2008, the Church of England issued an unexpected apology. Wrote Reverend Dr. Malcolm Brown, "Charles Darwin: 200 years from your birth, the Church of England owes you an apology for misunderstanding you and, by getting our first reaction wrong, encouraging others to misunderstand you still…But the struggle for your reputation is not over yet…"

That may be an understatement. Darwin—a mild-mannered naturalist who attended church most of his life and shied away from controversy—sparked one of the most enduring battles between religious doctrine and science when he introduced the concept of natural selection in his 1859 book, On the Origin of Species.

Explain Penn State political scientists Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer, despite 40 years of court cases ruling against teaching creationism in American public schools, the majority of high school biology teachers are not strong classroom advocates of evolutionary biology.

"Considerable research suggests that supporters of evolution, scientific methods, and reason itself are losing battles in America's classrooms," they write in a January 2011 Science article that details their study of 926 public high school biology instructors.

Says Berkman, "Only 28 percent of those teachers consistently introduce evidence that evolution occurred, and thirteen percent explicitly advocate creationism." Over 60 percent attempt to avoid the controversy (and potential objections from school boards or parents) by employing several classroom strategies, he adds.

Some only teach evolution as it pertains to molecular biology, not animals or humans. Another strategy, Plutzer adds, is to "tell students it does not matter if they really believe in evolution, as long as they know it for the test," while other teachers choose to teach it alongside creationism, sometimes referred to as "teaching the controversy."

Advocates of the latter approach say it promotes critical thinking skills and allows students to make up their own minds. Not so, says Berkman, who calls a side-by-side comparison of evolution and creationism "a false equivalency." "Creationism's proponents don't conduct experiments or engage in any of the other activities we associate with modern science," he adds, "whereas evolution has been verified through many experiments and validation of hypotheses over many years. It's not a matter of opinion; it's a fact."

As for students deciding for themselves, this idea "is a red herring and disingenuous," believes Berkman. "Some students have been taught creationism since they were born. A few lectures on evolution won't sufficiently prepare them to make up their own minds."

In the landmark 2005 case, Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, a federal judge found the teaching of Intelligent Design (ID) in public school science classes to be unconstitutional. Judge John Jones III wrote in his decision, "The overwhelming evidence at trial established that ID is a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory…Accordingly, we find that the secular purposes claimed by the Board amount to be a pretext for the Board's real purpose, which was to promote religion in the public school classroom, in violation of the Establishment Clause."

Why does the teaching of evolution matter for American children and the nation's future? "Biology is the only high-school science class for many Americans," notes Berkman. "We found that, in all regions and states, students in high-school biology are being short-changed in instruction on the field's foundational theory. I think this does several things. For one, students miss out on the beauty and elegance of evolution, an idea that ties together life on this planet. And it also leads to an undermining and distrust of science, at a time when the United States is falling behind in science and math education when compared to other nations.

Says Plutzer, the data suggest that many teachers lack the necessary confidence in their own knowledge of evolutionary science to present evolution in a positive, appropriate, and accurate way. "We argue in our Science article that the answer lies in how high-school biology teachers are themselves educated. They need to take a course in evolution, for example, so they are confident when they need to teach it."

There are those who will not want to take such a course, because it goes against their own values, the researchers acknowledge. "But I think biology instruction overall will be stronger if those potential teachers, dissuaded by that class requirement, choose to teach another subject," says Berkman.

Is there any harm to kids in learning about evolution? "Some people seem to believe that Darwinism is a kind of ideology that undermines faith and might encourage immoral behavior," notes Plutzer. "Yet many religious leaders have affirmed their belief that there is no inherent conflict between evolution and faith." It's also important to realize, he adds, "that, in and of itself, evolution takes no position on the ultimate creation of the universe or the origin of life."

As to the claim made by some opponents that evolution diminishes humans by reducing us to simply another kind of ape, Plutzer says emphatically, "What makes human beings special is not our anatomy. Whether one calls it a soul or something else, human beings have a rich spiritual capacity, free will, and the ability to live a meaningful life." If a life of devotion to God is meaningful to a child, he adds, "nothing taught about evolutionary biology will change that."

Melissa Beattie-Moss, Research Penn State

Lake Zurich School Board Candidates Want Creationism Taught


The entire slate of candidates running for school board in Lake Zurich say that they are all for science teachers introducing creationism in their classrooms.

During candidate interviews with the Daily Herald, three incumbents and one newcomer running for three available four year school board terms said that when evolution is brought up in the classroom, creationism should be, too. One candidate, Chris Wallace, even seemed to imply that creationism should usurp evolution in the science curriculum:

"Creationism to me is factual," [Wallace] said. "Darwinism is a theory."

Another candidate, Doug Goldberg, reportedly stated:

"Yes, [creationism should be taught]. Clearly, religion in general is a big part of our daily lives as Americans. I believe that allowing a student to be exposed to the theory of creationism is a relevant and reasonable thing to do."

Goldberg then admitted he had no idea the "legal ramifications" of teaching creationism in Lake Zurich public schools. We're happy to offer you a refresher, Mr. Goldberg.

In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 7-2 decision, ruled that a law in Louisiana which required creationism or "creation science" be taught alongside evolution did in fact violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The majority opinion stated that the law's "primary purpose was to change the public school science curriculum to provide persuasive advantage to a particular religious doctrine that rejects the factual basis of evolution in its entirety."

Contact the author of this article or email tips@chicagoist.com with further questions, comments or tips.

Shockingly Simple: Young earth creationists should have never left the ark


The Daily Reveille Opinion

By Andrew Shockey


Published: Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Updated: Thursday, February 24, 2011 00:02

Sid Galloway, speaker, biology teacher and former zookeeper, delivered a two-hour lecture Sunday on the merits of young earth creationism at the Chapel on the Campus.

While I was unable to attend Galloway's lecture, I have since investigated his website, including his 300-slide PowerPoint presentation. I'd like to offer counterarguments to a few of his outrageous claims.

Galloway asserts mutations cannot add any beneficial traits to genomes. A simple counterexample is lactose tolerance in humans. Humans naturally lose the ability to digest lactose after childhood. Around the time animal husbandry was being developed in Europe and other regions, a mutation allowing continued production of lactose digesting enzymes emerged in these populations.

This trait proved beneficial to survival and reproduction, so it spread throughout those populations, making them lactose tolerant. Meanwhile, cultures historically without cows or other milk bearing livestock such as those found in South America or South Africa have remained overwhelmingly lactose intolerant.

During his speech, Galloway claimed DNA is far too complex to have arisen by random chance. Luckily, the theory of evolution doesn't rely on random chance nearly as much as creationists like Galloway seem to believe.

Biologists do not believe DNA magically sprang from the primordial soup in its current form. They believe it evolved from a more rudimentary, self-replicating polypeptide chain through advantageous mutations culled by natural selection. How this original polypeptide formed is a more difficult question, but it is a question of abiogenesis, not evolution.

Galloway goes on to blame a buildup of deleterious genes for the relatively short life span of modern humans compared to biblical patriarchs like Adam and Noah. He then graphed the life spans of these men and fit them with an exponential decay curve.

Galloway's hypothesis not only completely ignores increases in human life expectancy in the last few hundred years, but also assumes the patriarchs actually lived for hundreds of years and all people in biblical times had similar lifespans to their contemporary patriarchs.

Even more damning, if we roughly extrapolate Galloway's model to the modern era, we find modern humans should only live about 35 years because of our overabundance of harmful mutations.

Eventually, Galloway transitions from simply being incorrect to downright offensive with his assertion, "At the core of Hitler's belief was evolution."

Hitler's views on evolution and human breeding revolved mostly around the concepts of microevolution, which has been observed for centuries and has even been accepted by creationists like Galloway. Hitler believed in God and some form of intelligent design and never directly attributed any of his views to the works of Charles Darwin. By contrast, in his work "Mein Kampf," Hitler proclaimed Martin Luther to be one of history's greatest reformers due in large part to his anti-Semitism.

Luther, arguably the father of Protestantism, penned "On the Jews and Their Lies" in 1543, in which he urged Christians to enslave the Jews and burn their homes, schools and synagogues to the ground. Luther believed it was every Christian's duty to take revenge on the Jews for the death of Jesus and wrote, "We are at fault in not slaying them."

I am not blaming Hitler or the Holocaust on Christianity. I am just trying to point out the difference between Darwin and a real inspiration for Hitler.

Finally, Galloway believes religion and evolution are incompatible. I agree his fundamentalist views are irreconcilable not only with evolution but also reality in general. However, I don't understand the desire to completely replace religion with scientific thought or why so many religious people feel the need to actively deny scientific explanations for observable phenomena.

We still don't know plenty about the universe, and much of this may defy any scientific explanation. So why can't religion stick to those questions rather than the ones science has already answered?

Andrew Shockey is a 20-year-old biological engineering sophomore from Baton Rouge. Follow him on Twitter @TDR_Ashockey.

Education Committee failed to pass HB 1551

http://www.examiner.com/freethought-in-tulsa/education-committee-failed-to-pass-hb-1551 Lawrence Roth
Tulsa Freethought Examiner February 23rd, 2011 10:08 am CT

Oklahoma House panel votes down House Bill 1551 according to a report at NewsOK.

Science professionals feared that HB 1551 would allow creationism and intelligent design into public school classrooms.

Rep. Sally Kern introduced House Bill 1551 and asserted in defense that, "It stays 100 miles away from creationism and ID. It's not in any way trying to get those in there."

The National Center for Science Education disputed Kern's claim:

This bill is designed to cast doubt on science as a valid way of understanding the world and to promote ideas based on religious faith as if they were valid alternatives to well established science.

NewOK reported:

Rep. Fred Jordan, a member of the House of Representatives Common Education Committee, said he was concerned the measure was too confusing. "This bill is running circles around itself, and it's going to make it harder and harder for teachers to know what to do in the classroom," said Jordan, R-Jenks.

The measure failed, 7-9, in the Education Committee.

The NCSE further informed:

The sole sponsor of HB 1551 is Sally Kern (R-District 84), a persistent sponsor of antievolution legislation in Oklahoma. In 2006 — a year which saw no fewer than four such bills in Oklahoma — Kern was the lead sponsor of House Bill 2107, which would have called for "academic freedom" with respect to "biological or chemical origins of life," and of House Concurrent Resolution 1043, which would have called on the state board of education to revise the state science standards to ensure that students can "critically evaluate scientific theories including, but not limited to, the theory of evolution."

The failed measure of HB 1551 is not a final action, and Rep. Sally Kern could introduce this bill again in this session or the next session.

Lawrence Roth is a member of local and national freethought organizations. Lawrence works in the e-commerce and Internet industry writing product information, corporate training manuals, essays, blogs, and fictional stories. Contact him at Freethought@LibertyBlessed.com. Christian Movie Draws a (Political) Crowd http://blog.beliefnet.com/news/2011/02/christian-movie-draws-a-politi.php

Wednesday February 23, 2011
Categories: RNS, faith, news

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.(RNS) Mixing science and religion seems a good recipe for on-screen fireworks. Add politics and things will erupt off the screen, too.

"The Genesis Code," a film about college students trying to reconcile creationism and evolution, has been drawing local and national politicians to the movie theater. The film, which was shot here, stars former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson.

Nationally, conservative politicians are working hard to link themselves to the film's message. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, said to be eyeing run for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, will host a dinner and screening of the film in Manchester, N.H. at month's end.

Former U.S. Senate candidate Sharron Angle is also promoting the movie in New Hampshire and Iowa, both early primary states.

"These are political states, and this is a film that makes a fairly political statement about our culture," Angle told CNN. "That we have drifted away from those constitutional values, those Main Street, mainstream values."

Michigan's Lieutenant Gov. Brian Calley attended a screening last Friday (Feb. 18) in Walker, Mich. "The movie drew a fascinating parallel between science and the Bible," he said.

State Sen. Mark Jansen, a Republican, agreed, saying, "It inspired me to stand up for my spiritual beliefs no matter the cost."

(Jeff Cranson writes for The Grand Rapids Press in Grand Rapids, Mich.)

Read more: http://blog.beliefnet.com/news/2011/02/christian-movie-draws-a-politi.php#ixzz1FAGLClfu

Creationism not accepted by science


By Patrick Burns

News Editor

Published: Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, February 22, 2011

While it is always great to have civil dialogue on the issue of religion, I took some objection to the recent letter to the editor about the merits of creationism as a field of study. The letter said many respected scientists worldwide have argued with scientific data for the creationist theory.

Those three main points — that many scientists believe in creationism, that scientists use scientific data to defend creationism, and that creationism is a theory — are all wrong.

First, a study conducted back in 1998 by Edward J. Larson and Larry Witham regarding scientists' faith found that only 3.3 percent of scientists believed in a god, while 77 percent did not. Three percent is not "many." That is just a select few.

Secondly, outside of the Bible and biased sources, no publication has shown that creationism is accepted scientifically in any way.

In writing his decision on the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, which found the teachings of Intelligent Design, a spin-off of creationism, to be unconstitutional, Judge James E. Jones III wrote, "…evolution, including common descent and natural selection, is 'overwhelmingly accepted' by the scientific community and that every major scientific association agrees."

Also, using the science that we can properly test, scientists have found through the study of DNA that sharks and dolphins share very similar traits, despite thriving in different environments, and that chimpanzees and humans have a DNA structure that is almost 98 percent identical, according to the University of California at Berkley website on evolution.

Finally, creationism is not a theory. Webster's Dictionary defines a theory as a "scientifically acceptable general principle or body of principles offered to explain phenomena."

For instance, scientists, through centuries of study and testing and with the help of Darwin, have come up with the theory of evolution. It as close to a fact as possible, in terms of science.

In fact, the use of science to prove creationism is literally impossible because it requires the existence of supernatural powers that simply do not exist.

There is no way to test whether Moses could part a sea or whether God created humans because there is no proper independent or dependent variable that we can use to test those claims.

If people want to believe in creationism, they have every right to do so. But they should know that creationism is not something accepted by science whatsoever.

News editor Patrick Burns is a senior news-editorial journalism major from Plano.

A correlation between dinosaurs and creationism


Posted: Wednesday, February 23, 2011 3:45 pm | Updated: 3:36 pm, Wed Feb 23, 2011.

A correlation between dinosaurs and creationism Greg Allen Journal Review Online | 2 comments

Some time back my family and I took a trip to the Creation Museum near Cincinnati, Ohio. It's a nice place with sprawling Botanical Gardens nearby and exhibits that are top notch at a reasonable price. Since opening in 2007 they claim to have had over a million visitors. For some it's a wonderful place, for others who deny its claim it's an abomination.

Creationism is defined as a doctrine that's a true story of the creation of the universe as recounted in the Bible. God created out of nothing a new human soul for each individual born. That doctrine conflicts with the evolution theory Darwin envisioned, which in essence states we evolved from apes. Or the Big Bang theory someone theorized happened when the cosmos came in line and a chain reaction threw it all here.

I, myself, am a believer in Creationism. In essence, I'm convinced God created it all. But after visiting that museum I began to question their explanation for when dinosaurs existed. The curators of the museum believe dinosaurs lived right along with Adam and Eve — I'm not convinced. A scale model of Noah's Ark at the museum had dinosaurs inside, and that got me to thinking.

Later, my wife began to ask what the correlation between dinosaurs and creationism was.

I'd like to point out I'm no theologian, and have never heard an explanation pertaining to this from any pulpit or theological circle. I've been told I have an analytical mind, I don't dispute that, but when I question something I'll dig away in search of truth — as best explained.

I have a theory and I explain it as: Genesis 1: 1, 2 says, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty, and darkness fell upon the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters." (The Modern Language Bible)

The text states in the beginning God created the earth, yet it was formless and empty. Darkness fell upon the face of the deep. Then it goes on later in the chapter to explain how he created Adam and Eve, in His image, and all that which exists in six days, and He rested on the seventh.

I'm a firm believer in that, but the text doesn't elaborate on dinosaurs and things of that nature. There's no denying that dinosaurs lived, for there have been numerous fossils found.

One scientific theory, that I tend to give credence to, says the dinosaur age was a tropical one. And that a large meteor hit the Earth sending a dust cloud into the atmosphere that blocked out the Sun's rays for a long time. If the Sun were to no longer shine it would become quite cold and nothing would grow. That would seem to explain the simultaneous extinction of the dinosaurs.

Thus, the world became void and "Darkness fell upon the face of the deep." (Take notice of the words Darkness fell upon in Verse 2)

Did God create the dinosaurs, or cavemen for that matter, I'm sure He did. Was He experimenting back then — who knows? He's God after all, and can do as He pleases.

Dinosaurs once roamed the earth, but became extinct. There became a void with that, then that's where the Bible begins. I believe that's where the dinosaurs ceased to exist, and out of the darkness God created man and everything we now know.

That's how I've explained my theory to family and friends. The theory's one which raises a few eyebrows at first, but once I explain it there seems to be a bit of reasoning to it they can somewhat grasp.

Greg Allen's column, Thinkin' Out Loud, is published bi-monthly. He's a published author, syndicated columnist, songwriter and the founder of Builder of the Spirit Ministries in Jamestown, a non-profit organization aiding the less fortunate. He can be reached at 765-676-5014 or www.builderofthespirit.org.

Teachers still in discord over creationism vs. evolution


By Cory Shaffer


Published: Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Updated: Wednesday, February 23, 2011 21:02

Many high school teachers are failing to teach their students evolution, widening the learning gap between high school and college biology, an Ohio State professor says.

The Jan. 28 edition of Science magazine published the survey of 926 public high school biology instructors around the country. Researchers found that only 28 percent of responding professors teach evolution strictly along guidelines established by the National Research Council, a group of science-based public organizations operating under a congressional charter Abraham Lincoln issued in 1863 to increase public scientific knowledge.

Thirteen percent of respondents teach only creationism.

The remaining 60 percent endorse neither evolution nor creationism, avoiding the controversy all together, the study claimed, dubbing them the "cautious 60 percent."

The study's co-author and contact Eric Plutzer, political science professor at Penn State University, could not be reached for comment.

Steve Rissing, professor in OSU's Department of Evolution, Ecology and Organismal Biology (EEOB), said the survey's results do not surprise him.

"I think everybody knows what they said is the case," Rissing said. "They're just the first ones to quantify it."

Rissing routinely teaches Biology 102, and said not enough students are being properly taught evolution.

"There's a growing gap between what they're getting in high school and what we expect them to have when they come into college," Rissing said. "A great disservice is being done."

For Bob Garbe, the disservice to the students is from the other direction.

"I believe high school kids are much brighter than we give them credit," said Garbe, who serves on the board of directors at the Creation Research, Science Education Foundation in West Chester, Ohio. "If you can present a reasonable argument with reasonable evidence, they can draw reasonable conclusions."

Garbe said creationism stands on firmer scientific evidence than evolution, and that creationism is not religious.

"It's not religion. It's data," Garbe said. "It's not a religious point of view that I believe there's a creator out there."

Numerous federal judges have disagreed with Garbe.

The most recent case was in 2005, Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District. The U.S. District Court for Middle Pennsylvania found the Dover (Pa.) High School board's requirement of biology teachers to read a one-minute statement to students on evolution and intelligent design (creationism's other moniker) violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which says "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion."

The board's disclaimer said Darwin's theory of evolution "is not fact," that there are "gaps" in the theory lacking evidence and that "Intelligent Design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin's view."

Judge John Jones III, a George W. Bush appointee, heard the case and ruled that not only was the teaching of intelligent design unconstitutional, but the theory itself was not science.

"That a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or misrepresent well-established scientific propositions," Jones wrote in his 139-page decision.

Michael Gerhardt, professor of constitutional law at the University of North Carolina, said the issue boils down to whether teaching creationism is an establishment of religion.

"If they're teaching creationism in class, they're making reference to a supreme being," Gerhardt said. "The opinion (of the court) has been that's not something schools ought to be teaching."

Garbe, however, said judges have been incorrectly applying the First Amendment to creationism cases.

"The Establishment Clause is taken out of context," Garbe said, pointing to what is actually known as the Free Exercise Clause, which says Congress can't prohibit the free exercise of religion. "I'm not talking about exercising my religion in science class. I'm talking about looking at the data and drawing a conclusion."

Rissing claims the data is on his side.

"The fundamentals of what gets taught in GEC courses and in high school have overwhelming empirical support," Rissing said. "There's no biological controversy. It's a created controversy for political purposes."

Tyler Fitzgerald, a first-year in sport and leisure studies, said he was taught only evolution in high school, and creationism does not belong in a science class.

"I'm not one to judge anyone's beliefs, but creationism is faith," Fitzgerald said. "Faith isn't science."

Gerhardt said despite past court rulings, the attempt to teach creationism in public schools is not likely to disappear.

"The precedent's been very clearly set," Gerhardt said. "But that doesn't keep states from trying to challenge them."

Supreme Court rules vaccine makers protected from lawsuits


By Robert Barnes
Washington Post Staff Writer

Tuesday, February 22, 2011; 10:46 PM

Federal law protects pharmaceutical companies from lawsuits by parents who claim that vaccines harmed their children, the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.

The court ruled 6 to 2 that going before a special tribunal set up by Congress is the only way parents can be compensated for the negative side effects that in rare instances accompany vaccinations.

The majority said that Congress found such a system necessary to ensure that vaccines remain readily available, and that federal regulators are in the best position to decide whether vaccines are safe and properly designed.

The National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 "reflects a sensible choice to leave complex epidemiological judgments about vaccine design to the FDA and the National Vaccine Program rather than juries," Justice Antonin Scalia wrote, referring to the Food and Drug Administration.

Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented, saying the threat of lawsuits provides an incentive for vaccine manufacturers to constantly monitor and improve their products.

The decision "leaves a regulatory vacuum in which no one - neither the FDA nor any other federal agency, nor state and federal juries - ensures that vaccine manufacturers adequately take account of scientific and technological advancements," Sotomayor wrote.

The decision is a victory for vaccine makers such as Wyeth and GlaxoSmithKline. Kathleen Sullivan, who represented Wyeth in the case before the court, told justices that ruling against the company could lead to thousands of lawsuits in which parents claim, for instance, that the mumps, measles and rubella vaccine played a role in their children's autism.

It also marks another chapter in the court's evolving jurisprudence on "preemption," the question of when federal laws and regulations displace state actions or lawsuits. Those questions often divide the court on ideological grounds, but in this case, liberal Justice Stephen G. Breyer joined the court's consistent conservatives.

The Obama administration also backed the vaccine makers, and Justice Elena Kagan was recused because of her work on the case as President Obama's solicitor general.

The case was brought by Russell and Robalee Bruesewitz on behalf of their daughter Hannah, 18. Hannah began to have seizures as an infant after receiving the third of five scheduled doses of Wyeth's Tri-Immunol diphtheria-pertussis-tetanus vaccine. The company, now owned by Pfizer, has taken the drug off the market.

The 1986 federal law said that all such claims must first go to a special tribunal commonly called the "Vaccine Court." The program has awarded nearly $2 billion for vaccine-injury claims in nearly 2,500 cases since 1989. It is funded by a tax on immunizations.

But the tribunal ruled against the Bruesewitzes, saying they had not proved that the vaccine harmed Hannah, who will need lifelong care.

The couple then sued under Pennsylvania tort law. The company had the case moved to federal court, and judges have consistently ruled that the suit cannot proceed, because federal law prohibits claims against "design defects" in vaccines.

The justices at oral argument debated ambiguous wording in the federal law. It says that no vaccine maker can be held liable for death or injuries arising from "side effects that were unavoidable even though the vaccine was properly prepared and was accompanied by proper directions and warnings."

Scalia said the word "unavoidable" would be meaningless "if a manufacturer could be held liable for failure to use a different design."

Sotomayor read the language to mean the opposite, and said "text, structure and legislative history compel the conclusion that Congress intended to leave the courthouse doors open for children who have suffered severe injuries from defectively designed vaccines."

Consumer groups and others had supported the Bruesewitzes, but the American Academy of Pediatrics applauded the decision.

"Today's Supreme Court decision protects children by strengthening our national immunization system and ensuring that vaccines will continue to prevent the spread of infectious diseases in this country," AAP President O. Marion Burton said in a statement.

The case is Bruesewitz v. Wyeth.

Suzanne Somers: Ultimately, 'Dateline NBC' report will help alternative medicine


11:16 PM, Feb. 23, 2011

Written by Bruce Fessier Filed Under Lifestyles Health & Fitness

See Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski's response to the "Dateline" episode by clicking on this story at mydesert.com.

Suzanne Somers says last Sunday's "Dateline NBC" brought a ray of positive exposure to alternative medicine.

But the doctors it showcased are still feeling a little singed.

An episode titled "Suzanne Somers: A Dose of Controversy" examined the alternative therapies of two doctors interviewed in Somers' 2009 book, "Knockout: Interviews With Doctors Who Are Curing Cancer and How To Prevent Getting It In the First Place."

It noted the strong patient and anecdotal support for Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski, who uses biologically active peptides, called antineoplastons, to treat patients with aggressive brain tumors in FDA-controlled clinical trials, and Dr. Nicholas Gonzalez, who uses diet, enzyme therapy and a detoxification routine including coffee enemas to treat Stage IV pancreatic cancer patients.

But it featured critical assessments from several physicians and researchers, including integrative doctor and best-selling author Andrew Weil, who said Somers' interviews "put out a lot of misinformation which I think can lead people to make not good decisions about their health."

Somers, a Palm Springs resident who has recovered from breast cancer with alternative treatments, said she was most upset by the reporting on her doctors.

"I thought they treated me very fairly and with respect," she said Monday. "I think they took my two doctors and kind of raked them over the coals."

Somers, who has written 20 books, including her recent "Sexy Forever: How To Fight Fat After Forty," has brought alternative doctors onto programs such as "Larry King Live" and ABC's "20/20."

But she said she refused the first three invitations from correspondent Dr. Nancy Snyderman to appear on "Dateline" because she believes the pharmaceutical industry is such a big NBC advertiser, alternative doctors wouldn't get a fair shake.

She said "Dateline" didn't cite the high cost of orthodox cancer treatment while reporting Burzynski's and Gonzalez's medical fees. It didn't say its main critic of Burzynski, Barrie Cassileth, chief of integrative medicine at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, isn't a physician, but a researcher who has critically viewed alternative therapies since the 1980s.

Cassileth wrote in her online biography, "My research, clinical activities and policy efforts since that time have aimed to alert patients and oncology professionals to the sometimes useless or harmful therapies promoted incorrectly as viable cancer 'treatments,' and to ensure that complementary therapies are studied with appropriate scientific rigor."

Burzynski's attorney, Rick Jaffe, said Tuesday the reporting balance on "Dateline" was "a lot worse" than other network stories on his client.

"Had 'Dateline' taken the time or spent the money to fly someone down (to Burzynski's clinic) to read a scan (of a cancer patient)," said Jaffe, "they wouldn't have been able to do the same piece."

But Jaffe said he's heard that Gonzalez' phone has been "ringing off the hook."

Somers said she told both doctors the long-term effect of the program will be positive.

"They spent one hour on national TV, on prime time, devoted to alternatives," she said. "I've never seen that happen before. That means the alternatives are getting under their skins. Considering there are a lot of politics, it still made its way in."

Latest attempt to explain early Earth atmosphere: plankton


Terry Hurlbut
Creationism Examiner
February 24th, 2011 7:59 pm ET

In the past two days, researchers at Ohio State University have claimed to have solved the mystery of a mass-extinction event followed by a very fast replenishment of the earth's oxygen supply. This is yet another guess added to a theory to keep it alive.

The Cambrian Explosion is biology's Big Bang. Conventional paleontology dates it at about 545 million years ago, begging the question of how much diversity of life came to be in a veritable instant of geological time, from "pre-Cambrian" precursors said to have populated the earth from 3.8 billion years before the present (BP) until then.

Reports in the past two days from The Daily Galaxy, Daily Tech, and RedOrbit.com describe a recent paper by Matthew Saltzman and colleagues, to this effect: during the Cambrian period, and shortly after the Cambrian Explosion, "upheavals" in the earth's crust somehow depleted the atmosphere of its oxygen supply, leading to mass extinction. Thus, 500 million years ago, nothing on land survived, and plankton were overwhelmingly dominant on earth. And at about the same time, vast quantities of organic matter were buried on the ocean floor. This, according to Saltzman, sequestered vast amounts of carbon dioxide and released equally vast quantities of oxygen. This was the Steptoean Positive Carbon Isotope Excursion (SPICE) event, and was also associated with a remarkable diversification of plankton that they call the "plankton revolution."

The problem still remains: what brought about the Cambrian Explosion, and how did land animals return to abundance after such a long time when they were deprived of oxygen?

As any creation scientist knows, a much simpler explanation exists: everything in the "fossil column" consists of sediment from the Global Flood. But that anyone now feels the need to account for a mass extinction event ought to interest any objective observer. It represents yet another catastrophe that conventional paleontologists must admit into their narrative, after preaching gradualism for more than a century.

A serious student of politics and political philosophy since his Yale (1980) days, Terry A. Hurlbut analyzes current political events from the perspective of some of the finest political theorists of the Western world, from Locke to Paine to Tocqueville to Rand. He has been a resident of Essex County for over eight years, long enough to have "seen it all."

Evolution and God are incompatible


1:15 PM, Feb. 11, 2011

Letters to the Editor

Unfortunately, when Pastor Gary McCaslin says that it is possible to believe in God and evolution at the same time, he is missing the whole point of Darwinism.

Charles Darwin's contention was that the appearance of design in nature can be accounted for through natural selection. In other words, in his view there is no such thing as "intelligent design." As Professor Jerry A. Coyne put it in his book "Why Evolution Is True," "The message of evolution, and all of science, is one of naturalistic materialism. Darwinism tells us that, like all species, human beings arose from the working of blind, purposeless forces over eons of time."

What kind of religion, then, is compatible with naturalistic materialism? Only one from which all the supernatural elements have been thoroughly expunged. There can be no creation, no providence and no divine revelation. There is no humanity created in the image of God, no divine-human Savior, no redemption and no resurrection. This may be compatible with modern science, but it is certainly not Christianity. All we are left with is a distant, unknowable God unable to intervene in human history. Is it any wonder, then, that so many evolutionists are atheists?

Robert W. Wheeler

Lawrenceville, Pa.

Church embraces science with Evolution Sunday


A geochemist researching NASA's Stardust mission will be the guest speaker at Fairview Community Church this week.

February 26, 2011 | By Alexandra Baird, abaird.dailypilot@gmail.com

COSTA MESA — For many, evolution and creationism are incompatible concepts, but that's not how Rev. Sarah Halverson sees them.

The pastor at Fairview Community Church in Costa Mesa believes so strongly that science and faith go hand-in-hand that on Sunday she will cede her pulpit to a geochemist researching NASA's Stardust mission.

It's all part of Evolution Sunday, a nationwide event that has some Christian churches celebrating, rather than condemning, the work of naturalist Charles Darwin on the 202nd anniversary of his birth.

If Your Path To Becoming A Pastor Requires A Degree, Look Here. DivinityDegrees.EarnMyDegree.com"So often, we only hear from one side and yet, we're Christians grounded in our faith who follow Jesus and who feel like we live our faith," Halverson said. "We also don't think we need to check our brains at the door once we come to church."

But not everyone in the Orange County Christian community agrees that science and religion can be happy partners.

Tom Thorkelson, a Newport Beach resident who is the interfaith relations director for the Orange County Council of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said that although he believes that evolution could have been part of intelligent design, not all Christians agree.

"I would imagine that very fundamental churches that are evangelical … could find that evolution is contrary to their theological precepts, and therefore they could be very opposed to it," he said.

According to a December Gallup poll, 40% of Americans said they believe that God created humans in their present form less than 10,000 years ago, while 38% believe that humans evolved with God's guidance and 16% believe that humans evolved without a divine presence.

Halverson said she reads the Old Testament as more allegory than historical fact.

"The literalist perspective is not the only way," she said.

Halverson studied at the Claremont School of Theology and is finishing her doctoral thesis at Chicago Theological Seminary.

She said she was drawn to Fairview — a small, self-identified "thinking church" — because of its progressive theology. In addition to accepting science, Fairview puts social justice at the heart of its work, and welcomes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Geochemist Christopher Snead, who will take over the pulpit from Halverson, said that the idea for his visit came from a chat with Halverson.

A UC Berkeley graduate now studying at UCLA, Snead said he considers the Bible "not a book of fact, so much as it's a book of truth."

From him to you: Enhancing energy


Breathe right, sit right, drink lots of water, says energy healer Ranjan Karunaratne
By Smriti Daniel

In his consulting room, Ranjan Karunaratne keeps a framed picture of his most famous client. Sarah, Duchess of York, went to him to help her deal with the stresses of royal life, says Ranjan, adding that he was in and out of Buckingham Palace every other week. When asked what he actually does, however, his response is simple - "my job is how to buck the paradigm."

A practitioner of alternative medicine and energy healing, Ranjan has spent over three decades in the business. Having published articles and participated in T.V programmes, his unconventional approach has won him some fans.

A US citizen of Sri Lankan origin with 27 years residence in Britain, Ranjan is now back on the island and says he's ready to share some of his expertise.

This March, Ranjan will be conducting a workshop organised with the Nelung Arts Centre devoted to performers of all kinds. "When it comes to performance it has something to do with an exchange of an energy between the performer and the audience where I can draw on my field (which is sometimes called energy medicine) to help people," he says, making it clear that he does not teach acting, instead he provides actors with skills that will help enhance their talent.

"In Asian medicine the foundation of health is how you breathe," he says. "Some ways of breathing are actually putting energy into what I identify as the three main systems of the body – the immune system, the maintenance system and the performance system...The way you breathe can put energy into all three systems or it can take energy away from maintenance." His focus is on an individual's involuntary breathing pattern. Breathe incorrectly and your body receives all the wrong signals and responds poorly to stress. Ranjan promises to help 'normalize' patterns so that they actually serve you rather than hinder you.

The process he refers to as 'retraining' also includes upping your daily intake of water so that you are consuming around 2 – 3 litres of water. He also works on correcting your posture which he says can result in poise, mastery, control. When it comes to treatment, Ranjan quotes the likes of Deepak Chopra and Bruce Lipton as he explains that his healing is done on the quantum level and involves the transmission of healing light and energy. Only very rarely does this actually involve physical contact, says Ranjan explaining that he will be able to work by just moving his hands over the afflicted area.

Having been an actor and a singer, Ranjan says he enjoys the arts. In this workshop he intends to use sound vibrations which he describes as a "beautiful way to heal the cell damage that results from stress – and fine-tune the sensitivity that makes a good performance great."

To those sceptical of his approach, he says, "it has not been my experience that a patient needs to have faith, a patient simply needs to have openness." Ranjan believes that his approach would be helpful to those across a wide spectrum of performance arts – "it's about getting your centre solid. From there, whether you're a singer, a dancer, a musician, everything flows.

"The workshop will be conducted at the Nelung Arts Centre, 81 Hyde Park Corner, Colombo 2, on Sunday, March 13 from 9.30 a.m. – 12.30 a.m. Fee: Rs. 1000. The workshop will end with a bout of serious stretching, says Ranjan, asking participants to come clothed appropriately. Punctuality is also of essence, as no one will be allowed to enter after 9:45.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Evolution education update: February 25, 2011

Plenty of news from statehouses around the country, with antievolution bills voted down or tabled in Oklahoma and New Mexico, but a new bill in Tennessee.


House Bill 1551, which would, if enacted, encourage teachers to present the "scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses" of "controversial" topics such as evolution, was rejected by the House Common Education Committee on February 22, 2011. The Oklahoman (February 23, 2011) reported Fred Jordan (R-District 69) as observing that the bill seems to be "opening the door for teachers to kind of say whatever they want to say, whether it's religious issues, creation, evolution ... I really feel like we're opening the door to where any and everything can come in." Similarly, David Grow, a retired zoologist at the Oklahoma City Zoo, told the newspaper that if the bill were passed, "they will be introducing intelligent design ideas and criticisms of evolution based on unfactual claims about evolution. ... This isn't about science; this is anti-evolution."

"The measure failed, 7-9, but it is not a final action," The Oklahoman reported, explaining that its sponsor, Sally Kern (R-District 84), "could ask the committee to bring it up again this session or next year." Kern is a persistent sponsor of antievolution legislation in Oklahoma, having sponsored a similar bill (HB 2107) and a similar resolution (HCR 1043) in 2006; neither passed. In the meantime, the antievolution bill in the Oklahoma Senate, SB 554, is still with the Senate Education Committee. A hybrid of the "academic freedom" antievolution strategy and the flawed Texas state science standards, SB 554 was introduced by Josh Brecheen (R-District 6), who described it in the Durant Daily Democrat (December 24, 2010) as "requiring every publically funded Oklahoma school to teach the debate of creation vs. evolution."

For the story in The Oklahoman, visit:

For Brecheen's column in the Durant Daily Democrat, visit:

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


Senate Bill 893, filed in the Tennessee Senate on February 16, 2011, is the seventh antievolution bill introduced in a state legislature in 2011, and the second introduced in Tennessee. The bill would, if enacted, would require state and local educational authorities to "assist teachers to find effective ways to present the science curriculum as it addresses scientific controversies" and permit teachers to "help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught." The only examples provided of "controversial" theories are "biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning." The sole sponsor of SB 893 is Bo Watson (R-District 11). SB 893 is identical to HB 368, which was introduced in the Tennessee House of Representatives on February 9, 2011, and which will receive a second hearing in a subcommittee of the House Education Committee on March 2, 2011.

For Tennessee's SB 893 (PDF), visit:

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


House Bill 302 was tabled by the Education Committee of the New Mexico House of Representatives on a 5-4 vote on February 18, 2011, suggesting that it is unlikely to come to a floor vote before the legislature adjourns on March 19, 2011. A version of the currently popular "academic freedom" antievolution strategy, HB 302, if enacted, would require teachers to be allowed to inform students "about relevant scientific information regarding either the scientific strengths or scientific weaknesses" pertaining to "controversial" scientific topics and would protect teachers from "reassignment, termination, discipline or other discrimination for doing so."

Before the vote, the sponsor of the bill, Thomas A. Anderson (R-District 29), rejected a characterization of HB 302 as an "evolution bill," telling The New Mexican (February 8, 2011), "I'm just trying to protect teachers." Dave Thomas of New Mexicans for Science and Reason countered, "This is really just a ploy to get creationism in the classroom," to which NCSE's Steven Newton added, "Allowing creationist teachers to attack evolution is an injustice to the education of their students, who will live and work in a world increasingly dependent on understanding science and technology."

Thomas and Newton also charged that HB 302 was based on model legislation from the de facto institutional headquarters of "intelligent design" creationism, the Discovery Institute. Anderson replied that the bill was his own -- but a detailed comparison provided by NMSR reveals the similarity of HB 302 to the Discovery Institute's model bill as well as to a draft bill promoted by a local creationist organization, Intelligent Design Network New Mexico. Subsequently, IDnet-NM also paid for a full-page advertisement in the Albuquerque Journal supporting HB 302, as the Journal observed (February 16, 2011).

Members of NCSE, NMSR, the New Mexico Academy of Sciences, and the Coalition for Excellence in Science and Math Education were on hand at the committee meeting to express their concern about the bill. Also, a legislative analysis reported that the state Attorney General's office described HB 302 as "vulnerable to legal challenge on grounds that its definitions and application are unconstitutionally vague" and the Administrative Office of the Courts warned, "If enacted, HB 302 may result in litigation if the law is interpreted to provide teachers with the latitude to advance certain concepts, such as creationism or intelligent design, as science."

For the text of New Mexico's House Bill 302, visit:

For the story in The New Mexican, visit:

For NMSR's analysis of HB 302, visit:

For the story in the Albuquerque Journal, visit:

For the legislative analysis of HB 302 (PDF), visit:

And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in New Mexico, 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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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Cell phones affect brain activity, study says


Erin Allday, Chronicle Staff Writer

San Francisco Chronicle February 23, 2011 04:00 AM Copyright San Francisco Chronicle
Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A 50-minute cell phone call causes a noticeable increase in brain activity in the area of the head closest to the phone's antenna, a finding by government researchers that could reinforce concerns, or at least raise new questions, about the long-term health effects of cell phones.

The study by the National Institutes of Health is one of the first, and the most prominent, to offer scientific evidence that cell phones affect brain metabolism. Results were published in today's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Scientists involved with the study said it's far too early to draw conclusions about whether electromagnetic radiation emitted by cell phones can cause tumors - one major concern among some scientists and doctors - or have any other negative health consequences. But their results demonstrate a need for further research.

"Unfortunately, our findings do not enlighten in any way this controversy on whether cell phones produce cancer. What they do say is that the human brain is sensitive to this electromagnetic radiation," said Dr. Nora Volkow, a director with the National Institutes of Health and lead researcher for the study. "Whether this electromagnetic radiation has any negative consequences, that is something that needs to be properly evaluated."

Furious debate

The possible ties between cell phone use and harmful health effects have long been a source of sometimes furious debate. On one side are those who insist that low-level electromagnetic radiation can make people ill; on the other are skeptics who say the effects on the body are minimal, if they exist at all.

Dozens of small studies on the topic have found some correlation between long-term cell phone use and brain tumors, but most research has found no connection to cancers or any other diseases. In response to the new study, the International Association for the Wireless Telecommunications Industry noted that research so far has "overwhelmingly indicated" that cell phones and other wireless devices are safe.

But some researchers and laypeople who worry about the widespread use of cell phones say the majority of studies haven't been thorough enough, and it could be a decade or two before industrialized nations see dramatic health consequences.

Joel Moskowitz, director of the Center for Family and Community Health at UC Berkeley, said he's not convinced that cell phones are dangerous, but he is frustrated with the pervasive refusal by many scientists to seriously consider the possibility. He hopes the latest study - and its association with the National Institutes of Health and publication in one of the country's major scientific journals - will give credibility to the need to look deeper.

"This study establishes that cell phones do indeed have biologic reactivity on the brain. The (wireless) industry and scientific community seems reluctant to hear that," Moskowitz said. "I'm hoping this study will force policymakers to take this issue much more seriously and begin to encourage research in this area."

In the NIH study, which had 47 participants, cell phones were placed next to both ears while the subjects underwent brain imaging using positron emission tomography (PET scans). Participants were given an injection of glucose to measure brain activity; brain cells use glucose as a source of energy.

Subjects were scanned twice, once with both cell phones turned off, and once with the right cell phone turned on and connected to a call, but set on mute. Neither the participants nor the researchers knew when the cell phones were off or on.

Increased activity

When the right phone was turned on, glucose metabolism in the section of the brain nearest the antenna was about 7 percent higher than when the phone was off.

"Because the brain uses glucose when it's activated, we interpreted this to mean that the electromagnetic waves were activating the cells," Volkow said. "This type of activation by itself we don't expect to have harmful effects. The question that remains to be studied is could there be long-term consequences from long-term stimulation."

Dr. Mitch Berger, chairman of the department of neurosurgery at UCSF, agreed that the study demonstrates a need for further research. But he also noted that the effects on the brain weren't especially worrying.

Brain metabolism simply means the neurons have been stimulated - a PET scan would show similar readings if someone was asked to perform a simple task like conjugating a verb - and there's no evidence that increased brain activity is damaging, even over a long period of time, he said.

"It is a provocative study because it has shown that there is an alteration of brain metabolism. But I'm not convinced in any way, shape or form that it means something," Berger said. "I don't think you can extrapolate this to assume there's a health hazard here."

That said, he said he recognizes that almost everyone uses cell phones these days, and people are naturally curious, or even worried, about the effects of that practice on their health. With that in mind, he and other scientists, even many skeptics, recommend a simple solution: headsets.

"I don't think people should be panicked or change their usage," Berger said. "But putting distance between the device and the side of your head is a reasonable, prudent strategy until we see what happens 10 to 20 years from now."

E-mail Erin Allday at eallday@sfchronicle.com.

This article appeared on page A - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/02/22/MNCO1HS9QJ.DTL#ixzz1EpkXWB5B

Monday, February 21, 2011

Attraction to magnets a waste of time for all


By CARL BARTECCHI The Pueblo Chieftain

About the writer
Dr. Carl Bartecchi is an internal medicine specialist. Please submit general health questions to him via e-mail at ckbartecchi@gmail.com.

Posted: Sunday, February 20, 2011 12:00 am

Q: Do magnets have any medical value?

A: Professor Edzard Ernst, a prominent English alternative medicine scholar, in his book "Trick or Treatment," lists magnet therapy as a "wacky therapy." Magnets have been used for centuries for their "curative powers." Like many other therapies that claim to have been "used for centuries," it doesn't mean that they work or ever worked. Ben Franklin evaluated magnet therapy and concluded that its effects were imaginary.

Today, estimates of the yearly expenditures for therapeutic magnets exceed $1 billion. These particular magnets are to be found in bracelets, necklaces, neck braces, belts, shoe insoles, mattresses, seat covers, patches and even toning shorts. Such magnet-containing objects could cost up to thousands of dollars.

Manufacturers of these magnets make all types of claims for them, though without good supportive studies. They claim that magnet therapy can benefit or improve muscle or joint pains, back pain, heel pain, tennis elbow, sprains, arthritis, migraines, sports injuries and other common problems, though without much in the way of proof of any effectiveness other than a possible placebo effect. Even worse are claims that magnets can help with tiredness, sleep disorders, erectile dysfunction, neurological disorders, carpal tunnel problems, circulation, immune functions, inflammation, menstrual symptoms, tumors, cuts, broken bones and infections. For arthritis pain, magnets appear to be as worthless as copper bracelets.

Efforts to explain how magnets might accomplish all these wonderful deeds include a number of illogical and unproven theories — that magnets improve circulation to an area of the body, that magnets influence nerve signals, that they increase the oxygen content of the blood, stimulate metabolism, make the body less acid, or help restore depleted magnetic fields. Some claim that their magnets work better because they are special, made a special way, come from a special place or are made with extra-potent materials. The stronger magnets available on the market create magnetic fields that extend, at most, a few millimeters into the body, reaching just beneath the surface of the skin and not nearly to the structures that one hopes to treat. These facts, however, do not deter many well-known sports personalities from touting the benefits of magnets wrapped or strapped to their tortured bodies. Many of these magnet products are cloth-covered or have Velcro or elastic straps, which already cuts down on the magnetic field.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved the marketing of magnets with claims of health benefits and has acted against manufacturers and sellers of magnets making such unproven health claims. In general, there is no good scientific evidence that magnets offer any medical benefit or are able to relieve pain. Though safe (because they really do nothing for anything), a problem could arise with one relying on such a treatment and avoiding or delaying helpful medical care for potentially serious problems. Individuals with pacemakers or similar implanted devices should stay away from magnets.

Possibly the best use for magnets is in attaching items — such as a 1,200-calorie diet — to your refrigerator.

9th Circuit understands conservative argument


Becky Yeh - OneNewsNow California correspondent - 2/21/2011 4:00:00 AM

A California-based law group expects a California case involving a student and a teacher to ultimately favor the student and religious freedom.

Both sides have presented their appeal in the case involving Capistrano High School student Chad Farnan, who sued his history teacher, Dr. Corbett, in April 2008 for attacking Christianity during his lectures and for calling creationism "superstitious nonsense." (See earlier story) Attorney Jennifer Monk of Advocates for Faith & Freedom argued Farnan's case before the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals

"The judges certainly asked questions indicating that they understand the problem with some of the statements made by Dr. Corbett and were themselves questioning whether Dr. Corbett conveyed a message to his students -- a captive audience of 15- to 16-year-old kids -- that creationism is superstitious nonsense...whether the existence of God is nonsense, and whether conservatives are only interested in keeping women barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen," notes Monk.

She says Corbett made some statements that express this hostility toward religion, but she believes "the courts at the very least understand the argument."

The attorney is hopeful the Ninth Circuit will look into the law that prohibits teachers from using the classroom as a pulpit to voice their disapproval of religion.

Creationist lecturer argues Bible more rational than evolution


By Matthew Albright

Staff Writer

Published: Sunday, February 20, 2011
Updated: Monday, February 21, 2011

A creationist lecturer drew sharp criticism from a few students Saturday while arguing biblical creationism is more logical than evolution.

Sid Galloway presented his "Evidence — Answers Seminar" at the Chapel on the Campus. His two-hour talk was condensed from a six-hour lecture Galloway gives as part of his "Good Shepherd Initiative."

"The Bible doesn't teach that faith is a feeling — it is to be rational," he said. "Don't believe anything I say today unless you can find evidence for it."

Galloway's lecture was built around information from Christian scientists, including the inventors of the MRI, the Gene Gun at Cornell University and the TERRA geophysical supercomputer at Los Alamos Labs.

Galloway argued scientists who challenge evolution in favor of creationism are often ignored.

"There is a very active persecution of those who stand for a biblical worldview, especially in the worlds of science and academia," he said.

Galloway's evidence — which takes up more than 200 slides in its full form — challenged what he called "atheistic science."

First, he argued against the Big Bang theory.

"The theory is that nothing somehow became something, and that something suddenly exploded," he said.

Galloway argued the theory doesn't make sense.

"Zero plus zero equals zero," he said. "Nobody plus nothing equals zero."

Second, Galloway said DNA couldn't have evolved spontaneously because it's too complex.

"[DNA] is the best scientific evidence for God," he claimed. "This is why so many people who were atheists are coming to say 'there might be an intelligent designer.'"

Finally, Galloway said mutations — the mechanism he argues "drives" the theory of evolution — don't lead to evolution, but to devolution.

"Mutations don't add," he argued. "Mutations take away."

Galloway said mutations are slowly eroding humanity's gene pool, which accounts for the lengthy life-spans of people in the Old Testament.

After arguing a biblical worldview was more logical, Galloway said an atheistic worldview is potentially dangerous.

"It undercuts everything about morality," he said.

Galloway argued that evolution is often used to fuel racism.

"If you read [Charles Darwin's] 'Descent of Man,' it's obscenely racist," he said. "At the core of Hitler's belief was evolution."

Galloway, who believes the universe is thousands of years old, not billions, said evolution directly contradicts Christianity, because suffering would have existed in the world long before Adam and Eve bit into forbidden fruit.

"They cannot both be in harmony," he maintained. "They are incompatible."

Galloway's lecture was interrupted several times by one student protesting his material.

"You're young. You're passionate. I remember when I was like that," he said after one interruption. "But please be nice to these other people who are trying to listen."

"I am being nice," the student fired back. "I'm pointing out that you're lying."

Galloway answered questions from the audience after his lecture, including students who challenged his arguments.

"The Q&A was the most fun, with a number of angry atheistic evolutionists, who became so emotional it was fun maintaining order," Galloway posted on Facebook. "As I shared during the outbursts, it reminded me of my zoo-keeping days when I had to go out into the wolves' and hyenas' enclosure and chase them into the right den with a stick."

Contact Matthew Albright at malbright@lsureveille.com

Column: When will the conflict end?


By Calder Cleavelin

Published Feb. 20, 2011

We like to see the sciences as pure pursuits; undertakings not affronted by the pangs of bias and slander that curse the rest of the world's endeavors. The sciences are looked upon as noble, rich frontiers, explored most intimately by those bright enough, and humble enough, to truly understand whatever substance there is to be found, and thus define its implications for all humanity.

This is the face of what the world sees (or would like to see) as science, and generally what I wholeheartedly believe. But, as with all things, there are certain points where the scientific community has succeeded in making a fantastic mess of things.

An article recently ran in the Science section of The New York Times, citing a national survey that was published in Science Magazine regarding how a certain aspect of biology is taught in high school classrooms.

As you can probably guess, the issue is, again (as if it ever once stopped), the teaching of evolutionary biology. Many students refuse to accept it, and it even seems that many teachers are fueling the attitude. In spite of rulings by the Supreme Court, teachers all over the US are retrofitting creationism into their curricula. The greater scientific community sees this as a ghastly abomination, but many teachers and students seem to see it as a way to avoid heresy.

The ignorance and divisiveness from both sides is one of the most frustrating things I have ever encountered in my education. We can't seem to find a solution to this because the debate is so staunchly polarized - even though it doesn't have to be.

It's difficult to say which side struck first in the Creation v. Evolution debate, but it's quite clear that neither side is trying very hard to reconcile their perceived differences. Many creationists see "evil-lution" as a direct affront to their view of the world - "Life evolved on its own. Where is your god now?" To the same end, biologists make only feeble attempts to show hysterical creationists how evolution really has no bearing on their spiritual perception of life.

This one small, albeit crucial, aspect of learning has created a needlessly foul air between ardent creationists and non-creationists (I won't deliberate over nomenclature on this one). The reality is, differences arise only when you allow them to, and I might even go so far as to lay more blame on the scientific community for all of the disparity.

The most fundamental issue at play is the conflict with which these controversial subjects are fraught. Polarizing debates, internal and external, are the biggest inhibitors of learning, and so the real solution is for the scientific community to remove the element of conflict entirely. Scientists like to call themselves the neutral voices of reason, but it's true that they can be as belligerent and aggressive as religious folk can be irrational and hysterical (here's looking at you, Richard Dawkins).

You can teach evolution in classrooms without hinting at what it may imply about the universe at large, and the hard concepts will not suffer. It can ultimately be left up to the student to decide what the deeper implications of evolution are.

The authors of the article themselves said that, of the students who take only one science course in high school, they are most likely to take biology. The students in that category are not prone to becoming biology majors or shed any consequence onto scientific understanding. In light of this, the task for teachers in this situation is to teach only the pure mechanics of evolution, and not what can be interpreted as the philosophies or deeper implications behind it. If done delicately, it might not even be such a bad idea to illustrate how evolution, specifically, does not conflict with any possible creationist perspectives. The ultimate goal is impartiality.

This strategy of non-competitiveness could address the problems in debates moreover; for instance, the divisive climate talks. It's maddening to watch an issue such as climate change become so overly politicized that the science itself suffers. The debate has become more focused on which side is right, rather than, "What does the data truly tell us?" In some cases, politically slanted hands go as far as tampering with the data itself.

This ideological flaw is the fundamental component of what inhibits learning. The best approach to a divided issue is to remove this element of conflict that so effectively clouds judgment. Everyone becomes wiser in the end, and nobody has to feel like they lost something.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Massimo Pigliucci Ignores ID Research, Claims "Random Alteration" of DNA Creates New Information


Casey Luskin February 18, 2011 10:01 AM | Permalink

Discovery Institute senior fellow William Dembski is apparently living inside the heads of intelligent design critics.

A recent opinion article by Massimo Pigliucci in EMBO Reports, published by the European Molecular Biology Organization, states, "In some quarters, 'information' seems to be a magical word: Intelligent Design proponent Bill Dembski, for example, keeps repeating that evolutionary theory cannot explain the production of new information..." Aside from the "magical" slur, Pigliucci's description of Dembski's view is reasonably accurate. Pigliucci, who apparently knows Dembski well-enough to call him "Bill" in one of the world's most prestigious science journals, attempts an explanation of the talk about the origin of information:

As for the claims that Dembski and others make about information and evolutionary theory, it is well understood that biological information of the type stored in DNA is created and destroyed all the time. Destruction comes, for instance, with the death of a given organism--which, accordingly, corresponds to a sudden increase in the entropy level of that organism. Creation and change of information occur every time there is a mutation in DNA, that is, a random alteration to the structure of the molecule. Again, nothing magical is going on, and there is certainly no need for conscious agents to be involved--be they supernatural or otherwise.

(Massimo Pigliucci, "What about 'information'?," EMBO Reports, Vol. 12:92 (February, 2011).)

Pigliucci misses the point on multiple levels. Of course no ID proponent denies that material causes can destroy information. That point is trivially obvious.

But where does new information come from? According to Pigliucci the answer is simple: "random alteration" of the DNA molecule.

Perhaps random mutations can generate inconsequential changes in DNA. But can such random mutations generate new information that is functional?

One can pick Scrabble letters out of a bag all day long and call that "information." But unless those letters spell words, the information is useless. The ability of mutations to impose a "random alteration" of DNA is perfectly useless if that information doesn't perform some function.

Other scientists agree that we need to measure biological information by its function, not by its mere DNA sequence.

In 2003, Nobel Prize-winning origin-of-life researcher Jack Szostak wrote a review article in Nature lamenting that the problem with "classical information theory" is that it "does not consider the meaning of a message" and instead defines information "as simply that required to specify, store or transmit the string." According to Szostak, "a new measure of information-- functional information--is required" in order to take account of the ability of a given protein sequence to perform a given function.

In 2007 Szostak co-published a paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences with Carnegie Institution origin-of-life theorist Robert Hazen and other scientists, furthering these arguments. Attacking those who insist on measuring biological complexity using the outmoded tools of classical information theory, Szostak and his co-authors write, "A complexity metric is of little utility unless its conceptual framework and predictive power result in a deeper understanding of the behavior of complex systems." Thus they "propose to measure the complexity of a system in terms of functional information, the information required to encode a specific function."

Where does this new functional information come from?

Pigliucci says that natural selection acting on those random mutations can do the job, but he just asserts this claim as true. Rather than making assumptions, let's perform tests. Douglas Axe's recent research in BIO-Complexity shows that if a mere 6 or more mutations are necessary to evolve a given biological function, such a function would be unlikely to arise in the history of life, given maximum probabilistic resources. It would seem that not all levels of functional information are within the reach of random mutation and natural selection.

These results fit with Axe's previous work. As a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Cambridge, Axe performed mutational sensitivity tests on enzymes to measure the likelihood that a sequence of amino acids would yield a functional protein fold. He published that research in the Journal of Molecular Biology, showing that amino acid sequences that yield functional protein folds may be as rare as one in 1077 sequences. He described the implications of those numbers as follows:

I reported experimental data used to put a number on the rarity of sequences expected to form working enzymes. The reported figure is less than one in a trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion. Again, yes, this finding does seem to call into question the adequacy of chance, and that certainly adds to the case for intelligent design.

Since Dembski is clearly influencing the thought patterns of Pigliucci, why doesn't Pigliucci review any of Dembski's peer-reviewed research showing intelligence is required for the origin of information? If Pigliucci is reviewing ID thinking on the origin of new complex information, why doesn't he mention any of the relevant research from the ID camp? It turns out Pigliucci has his own agenda.

In what the group "Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education" calls the "Anti-Wedge Plan," Pigliucci lays out a political strategy which he describes as a "multi-pronged, multi-year strategy to oppose creationism and intelligent design in the science curriculum of public schools." According to the "anti-wedge document," scientists must defend evolutionary theory as "the fundamental conceptual framework for all biological sciences."

Pigliucci's incomplete discussion in EMBO Journal now makes more sense. He might accuse others of having political motives, but it's clear that he has motives of his own. Pigliucci's edge against intelligent design is seen in this concluding comment in his article: "there is nothing mystical about information, and the concept cannot therefore be invoked as a way to defeat materialism."

Pigliucci is right: There's nothing mystical about information or its origin. We know exactly where new functional biological information comes from. The problem for Pigliucci is that its source isn't a material cause. It's intelligence.

If anything is "magical" here, it's the claim that random alterations can generate complex multi-mutation features. That's a question no one has answered.

Antievolution bill in New Mexico tabled


February 18th, 2011

House Bill 302 was tabled by the Education Committee of the New Mexico House of Representatives on a 5-4 vote on February 18, 2011, suggesting that it is unlikely to come to a floor vote before the legislature adjourns on March 19, 2011. A version of the currently popular "academic freedom" antievolution strategy, HB 302, if enacted, would require teachers to be allowed to inform students "about relevant scientific information regarding either the scientific strengths or scientific weaknesses" pertaining to "controversial" scientific topics and would protect teachers from "reassignment, termination, discipline or other discrimination for doing so."

Before the vote, the sponsor of the bill, Thomas A. Anderson (R-District 29), rejected a characterization of HB 302 as an "evolution bill," telling The New Mexican (February 8, 2011), "I'm just trying to protect teachers." Dave Thomas of New Mexicans for Science and Reason countered, "This is really just a ploy to get creationism in the classroom," to which NCSE's Steven Newton added, "Allowing creationist teachers to attack evolution is an injustice to the education of their students, who will live and work in a world increasingly dependent on understanding science and technology."

Thomas and Newton also charged that HB 302 was based on model legislation from the de facto institutional headquarters of "intelligent design" creationism, the Discovery Institute. Anderson replied that the bill was his own — but a detailed comparison provided by NMSR reveals the similarity of HB 302 to the Discovery Institute's model bill as well as to a draft bill promoted by a local creationist organization, Intelligent Design Network New Mexico. Subsequently, IDnet-NM also paid for a full-page advertisement in the Albuquerque Journal supporting HB 302, as the Journal observed (February 16, 2011).

Members of NCSE, NMSR, the New Mexico Academy of Sciences, and the Coalition for Excellence in Science and Math Education were on hand at the committee meeting to express their concern about the bill. Also, a legislative analysis reported (PDF) that the state Attorney General's office described HB 302 as "vulnerable to legal challenge on grounds that its definitions and application are unconstitutionally vague" and the Administrative Office of the Courts warned, "If enacted, HB 302 may result in litigation if the law is interpreted to provide teachers with the latitude to advance certain concepts, such as creationism or intelligent design, as science."

Examining the evolution-creationism divide


By Justin Fowler, Special to the BDN

Posted Feb. 18, 2011, at 6:52 p.m.

So much ink has been spilled in the so-called debate over evolution and creationism that it hardly seems worth spilling any more. Suffice it to say, evolution by natural selection is a fact and saying so shouldn't be controversial, regardless of whatever else you believe.

Such wild-eyed radicals as Billy Graham, C.S. Lewis and Pope John Paul II have all convincingly argued that the Bible should not be read as a science textbook and that the scientific truth of evolution can coexist with the spiritual truth of God.

Given this and the overwhelming scientific evidence, the real question is not whether evolution exists or whether it can coexist with religion. It does, and it can. The real question is how evolution fits into our understanding of Christianity.

This is not an easy question. Most theological issues have been percolating for centuries such that the options for any particular issue tend to be limited, each backed by a seemingly endless amount of theological study. This is not the case with evolution-related theology. Evolution is just too new. There's obviously nothing in the Bible about it. Augustine was never able to address it. Nor Aquinas, Anselm, Luther or Calvin.

Yet evolutionary theory raises all sorts of questions about not only our creation but about our relationship to God, sin, suffering, revelation and nature. That we lack the basic scriptural and theological background to address these questions is an incredibly frightening thing — even more, I think, than a commitment to biblical literalism — which is why there's been such resistance to it among Christians.

It doesn't help that most modern theologians approach evolution with a sort of blase shrug, not all that different from Graham's approach, who was content to merely say there's not "any conflict at all between science today and the Scriptures … whichever way God [created man] makes no difference as to what man is and man's relationship to God." Evangelically speaking, this is true, which is of course the main concern of a popular evangelist such as Graham.

But in any other sense, if God's Creation is centered on the mechanism of evolution, it is perfectly reasonable to ask why this is so. And what of the suffering that survival of the fittest ensures? And what becomes of the doctrine of original sin in an evolutionary creation? And what does it mean to be made in the image of God if we are descended from something other than human? And so on. To simply assert that there's no difference at all between evolution and a story understood most literally as being about God forming us with a giant pair of hands is clearly unsatisfactory.

Lewis, for his part, seemed to understand this. In "The Problem of Pain," he laid out his understanding of evolutionary creation as filtered through a metaphorical reading of Genesis, in which "for centuries God perfected the animal form which was to become the vehicle for humanity and the image of Himself."

At some point, these proto-humans developed self-awareness, and with this they gained the image of God and became completely human. And at some point after this, they fell. "Someone or something whispered that they could become gods."

As the title of the book those quotes come from suggests, Lewis was extremely concerned with suffering, not just in humans but in animals as well. To accept evolution is also to accept an intense amplification of that suffering. Indeed, it is to accept suffering as intrinsic to the act of creation itself.

Lewis dealt with this problem by positing a variation to original sin: While sin entered human history through our earliest forebears, the universe was corrupted long before that. Evolution is, in this formulation, God making the best of a bad situation.

This assumes, however, that creation is possible without suffering, when in fact sacrifice is unavoidable in creation. In writing this column, I am sacrificing my time and energy. Admittedly, that's not much of a sacrifice, but the point stands. To create something, you have to give up a part of yourself.

In this way, the first act of suffering in the universe was not ours and not an animal's, but God's. The spark of suffering that led to all the suffering of the universe was, I would argue, not a corruption, but the suffering of God giving up a huge part of himself to create a self-creative universe that in turn created us and everything around us.

This builds on the ideas of Catholic theologian Jon Haught, who argues that Creation must be understood not as something that happened a long time ago, but as an ongoing process. That is to say, the project of Creation is not finished. Given this and that suffering is intrinsic to creation, there is of course great suffering in the world. None of this is to suggest that suffering is OK or undeserving of our empathy when we see it around us. Precisely the opposite, in fact.

Years before Darwin, Tennyson described "nature red in tooth and claw." We face a world before us crippled by suffering and created through suffering. We behave in ways we now recognize as immoral and selfish because of amoral genetic material our ancestors passed on to us in their fight for survival. But we try not to.

And just as we work to overcome our own personal nature, we work to create a world that suffers a little less. Not by shrinking from the suffering of the world, but by doing as Christ and wading directly out into it, by identifying with those who suffer the most. Not because we'll actually succeed, but because not doing so would be to let our Being win at the expense of our Becoming.

Justin Fowler is a student at University College of Bangor. He may be reached at justin.fowler@maine.edu. Voices is a weekly commentary by Maine people who explore issues affecting spirituality and religious life.

Evolution education update: February 18, 2011

A Darwin Day resolution is introduced in Congress. The documentary Kansas vs. Darwin is freely available on-line for a limited time. In Mount Vernon, Ohio, a controversy involving creationism promises to continue to linger, with a complaint filed by John Freshwater. And the sixth antievolution bill of 2011 makes its appearance, in Tennessee.


House Resolution 81, introduced in the United States House of Representatives on February 9, 2011, would, if passed, express the House's support of designating February 12, 2011, as Darwin Day, and its recognition of "Charles Darwin as a worthy symbol on which to celebrate the achievements of reason, science, and the advancement of human knowledge." Pete Stark (D-California) was originally the sole sponsor of the bill; he was later joined by Edward J. Markey (D-Massachusetts). After its introduction, H. Res. 81 was referred to the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, and then to the Subcommittee on Research and Science Education.

Introducing the resolution, Stark commented, "Charles Darwin was born on February 12, 1809, and his life has had a profound impact on the course of human history. Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection has not only provided a compelling explanation for the diversity of life, it is also the foundation of modern biology and genetics. Darwin exemplified the scientific curiosity that has led to new scientific breakthroughs that have helped humanity solve numerous problems and improve our quality of life. Charles Darwin is worthy of recognition and honor. His birthday should be a time for us to celebrate the advancement of human knowledge and the achievements of reason and science."

Stark told the San Jose Mercury (February 11, 2011) that he was "just trying to get people to understand that we're trying to get our kids to be scientists, were pushing for green jobs and green development, and you can't stick your head in the sand and not recognize that we're in a modern age. To get there, it seems to me, we have to understand that science is all part of what we're doing." The resolution was promptly endorsed by the American Humanist Association and the Center for Inquiry. The Mercury's reporter predicted that the resolution would fail, however: "in this conservative, Republican-dominated House," he quipped, "it'll surely be deemed not fit to survive."

"I'm glad to see a Congressional proposal to recognize the importance of Darwin and of the teaching of evolution," commented NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott, "and I encourage members and friends of NCSE to urge their representatives to support H. Res. 81." Alluding to Michael B. Berkman and Eric Plutzer's recent commentary in Science, she added, "But let's remember that the real action occurs in the classroom, where 13% of high school biology teachers are explicitly advocating creationism and 60% are sadly reluctant to teach evolution in the way that the scientific community understands it. Support H. Res. 81, but don't neglect the many ways to defend the teaching of evolution locally."

For the text of House Resolution 81, visit:

For Stark's remarks on introducing the resolution (PDF), visit:

For the story in the San Jose Mercury, visit:

For the AHA's and the CFI's endorsements, visit:

For NCSE's coverage of the Berkman and Plutzer column, visit:

And for a list of ways to support evolution education, visit:


In honor of Darwin Day 2011, the documentary Kansas vs. Darwin is freely available on-line for thirty days, from February 12 to March 14, 2011. Simply visit the film's website and click on the yellow sunflower or visit the film's Facebook page and click on the Events icon. Directed by Jeff Tamblyn, Kansas vs. Darwin covers the May 2005 hearings of proposed revisions to the Kansas state science standards.

The hearings, orchestrated by three antievolutionist members of the board, were widely condemned as a kangaroo court, intended only to provide political cover for the antievolution faction on the board to override the consensus of the committee of scientists, science educators, and citizens appointed to revise the science standards in order to undermine the treatment of evolution and allied topics in the standards.

NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott praised the documentary as "a thoughtful and thorough introduction to a greatly misunderstood event: the 2005 Kansas Board of Education hearings on intelligent design and evolution. With remarkable footage of the hearings themselves along with candid interviews of the principals, the film presents both sides accurately and fairly, and with a healthy dollop of humor."

For the film's website and Facebook page, visit:

For NCSE's report on the hearings, visit:


John Freshwater is now challenging the Mount Vernon City Schools Board of Education's decision to terminate his employment as a middle school science teacher. The Mount Vernon News (February 11, 2011) reports that on February 8, 2011, Freshwater "filed a complaint, which could also be considered an appeal, with the Knox County Common Pleas Court ... asking the court for a reversal of the Mount Vernon school board's decision to terminate his teaching contract."

After a local family accused Freshwater of engaging in inappropriate religious activity -- including teaching creationism -- and sued Freshwater and the district in 2008, the board voted to begin proceedings to terminate his employment. After administrative hearings that proceeded sporadically over two years, the referee presiding over the hearings finally issued his recommendation that the board terminate his employment with the district, and the board voted to do so in January 2011.

Freshwater's thirty-three page complaint asks the court for "a reversal of the board's resolution to terminate him, monetary damages in an amount to be determined, damages for defamation, false light, emotional distress, constitutional violations, reinstatement to his teaching position, and other relief" (pp. 32-33). Among the plethora of allegations contained in the complaint: "Creationism and/or Intelligent Design are NOT religions, nor is either reflective of beliefs or tenets unique to any particular religion" (p. 10).

For the story in the Mount Vernon News, visit:

For Freshwater's complaint (PDF), visit:


House Bill 368, introduced in the Tennessee House of Representatives on February 9, 2011, is the sixth antievolution bill introduced in a state legislature in 2011, and the first introduced in Tennessee since 2007. The bill, if enacted, would require state and local educational authorities to "assist teachers to find effective ways to present the science curriculum as it addresses scientific controversies" and permit teachers to "help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught." The only examples provided of "controversial" theories are "biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning." The sole sponsor of HB 368 is Bill Dunn (R-District 16), who, according to Project Vote Smart, answered yes to the question "Should Tennessee require its public schools to teach evolution as theory rather than scientific fact?" in 1996 -- the same year in which the Tennessee legislature considered a bill (SB 3229/HB 2972) that would have provided for the suspension or dismissal of any teacher or administrator who taught evolution as a fact rather than a theory.

For the text of Tennessee's HB 368 (PDF), visit:

For Project Vote Smart's report, visit:

For the text of 1996's SB 3229 and HB 2972, visit:

And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Tennessee, 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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Syracuse University scientist to speak on evolution and Islam at AAAS Annual Meeting


Public release date: 18-Feb-2011

Contact: Judy Holmes
Syracuse University

Fierce debate over teaching evolution in public schools has raged across the United States since the epic courtroom battle between William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow during the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial (State of Tennessee v. John Scopes). Science education researchers are now turning their attention to the Islamic world to determine whether teaching of evolution in schools spawns similar social controversy and what that means for the future of scientific thought across the globe.

Jason Wiles, assistant professor of biology in Syracuse University's College of Arts and Sciences, will present "Teaching and Learning about Biological Evolution in the Muslim World," on Friday, Feb. 18 during the 2011 Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, D.C. (Feb. 17-21). Wiles is also associate director of the Evolution Education Research Center at McGill University, Montreal.

Wiles will present preliminary results from a four-year study of five, predominately Muslim countries regarding Islamic understandings of evolution and attitudes toward teaching the subject. The study includes surveys of teachers, university professors, and high-school students in Indonesia, Pakistan, Egypt, Lebanon, and Turkey, as well as Muslim populations in Canada. Funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the study was conducted by Wiles, Brian Alters and Anila Asghar of McGill University, and Saouma BouJaoude of the American University of Beirut. The researchers plan to expand the study to six more Muslim countries and to Muslim populations in the United States.

"One of the most interesting findings when talking about Islam and evolution is that there isn't only one Muslim way of thinking about evolution," Wiles says. "Thoughts about evolution in the Muslim world are just as diverse as you would expect to find in the Western world. The teaching of evolution will vary greatly by country and cultural attitudes within the country."


Wiles' presentation is part of the symposium, "The Challenge of Teaching Evolution in the Islamic World," to be held from 3 to 4:30 p.m. in the Washington Convention Center, Room 102B. Eugenie C. Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), organized and will moderate the session.

Joining Wiles will be Taner Edis of Truman State University, presenting "A Brief History of Islamic Creationism in Turkey;" and Salman Hameed of Hampshire College, presenting "The Future of Acceptance of Evolution in the Muslim World."

Wiles earned a bachelor's degree (minor in Bible) at Harding University, a conservative Christian college in Arkansas. He also holds an M.S.T. from Portland State University, an M.S. from Mississippi State University, and a Ph.D. from McGill University. In addition to his appointment in the Department of Biology in SU's College of Arts and Sciences, Wiles is a member of The College's Department of Science Teaching. His research efforts focus on the teaching and learning of evolution. He has also written on policy and politics around evolution teaching in his home state of Arkansas and continues to work with teachers and students in the state.

The College of Arts and Sciences at Syracuse University (NY) is one of the nation's premier residential liberal arts colleges. With a curriculum emphasizing interdisciplinary learning, research, service, and enterprise, The College prepares students for the global workplace and for continued study in graduate and post-baccalaureate professional programs.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

This health mandate fails the science-geek test


By Lorna Landry / For the Monitor
February 16, 2011House Bill 351 mandates that health insurance providers cover services of naturopathic doctors. As a registered nurse and a science geek, I oppose this bill.

The principles of this century-old alternative medicine appear straightforward: do no harm, look at and treat the body and patient holistically, promote a healthy lifestyle, encourage self care and patient responsibility. Other tenants, such as "natural healing" and the ability of the body to "heal itself" cause concern.

Shockingly, since 1995, New Hampshire has been one of about 14 states that allow naturopathic doctors to function as primary-care providers. How likely are practitioners of naturopathy to refer to traditional medical providers when presented with a medical issue not responding to self-healing and naturopathic remedies? How rigorous is training received by naturopathic doctors?

Many of the modalities used by naturopathic doctors are not evidence-based, meaning either not supported by scientific or objective research or just not studied. Often, the reason given for lack of credible research by proponents of complementary and alternative medicine is that there is a conspiracy of traditional medicine groups (including Big Pharma and the American Medical Association) to restrict alternative medicine to protect their economic interests. On the flip side, is there a lack of evidence of efficacy for some forms of alternative medicine because it simply does not exist?

From a purely fiscal point of view, should New Hampshire require another health insurance mandate? As a member of a self-insured health plan, I personally will not be affected. But why should the vast majority of private health plan enrollees be subjected to possible premium increases for therapies that some call quackery? Currently, many pay out of pocket for these therapies and these residents will benefit if HB 351 becomes law. However, one may also surmise that naturopathy practices will burst at the seams as potential patients who have not been able to pay for treatment will seek therapies.

Please refer to the National Institutes of Health's CAM website for more information about alternative and complementary medicine: nccam.nih.gov.

The House Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on HB 351 on March 3 at 9 a.m. in the Legislative Office Building.

(Lorna Landry lives in Bow.)