NTS LogoSkeptical News for 20 March 2011

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings


Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Universe Is Haunted: Reflections on the "Nature of Nature"

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2011/03/the_universe_is_haunted_reflec044781.htm

David Klinghoffer March 18, 2011 10:17 AM Permalink

In the history of modern propaganda with its technique of the Big Lie, it's hard to think of a brazen untruth more successful in shaping opinion than the one that equates intelligent design with Christian fundamentalist creationism. Almost as influential is the related lie that there is no serious scientific controversy over Darwinism, that main support pillar of contemporary materialist or naturalist doctrine.

Anyone who's still unclear on either of these points should take a moment and just weigh in his hand The Nature of Nature, a massive and massively learned new 900-page volume of essays. In chapter after chapter, proponents and critics of naturalism and Darwinism, scientists and philosophers, hammer away at each other at the highest levels of debate.

In hanging the creationist label on intelligent design, Darwinists enjoy such success partly because those on the ID side seldom stop to paint a broad, encompassing, and accessible portrait of what exactly is going on in nature. ID theorists painstakingly make their case that a designer has shaped the natural world, but they tend to do so on a small canvas. Each looks at the evidence for design in a particular discipline or at a particular and telling deficit in Darwinian thought. The Nature of Nature stands out for its monumental comprehensiveness.

An impressively diverse group, including three Nobel Prize-winners alongside leading intelligent-design theorists, the contributors debate the ultimate implications of the evidence emerging from biology, physics, cosmology, mathematics, neuroscience, and other fields. The book makes it possible for a reader to try to imagine the big picture.

Naturalism is the idea that material nature is all there is in the cosmos, to the exclusion of spiritual or otherwise non-material beings or realities. As University of Notre Dame philosopher Alvin Plantinga points out here, that is an idea more radical, with deeper and more depressing ramifications, than mere atheism. An atheist could disbelieve in God while affirming the existence of, for example, Hegel's Absolute or Aristotle's impersonal Unmoved Mover. A naturalist could affirm neither.

Yet naturalism itself possesses aspects of a faith, performing "the cognitive or worldview function of religion." This moves Plantinga to grant it "the status of an honorary religion."

Naturalism is also the standard worldview in academia. That explains the origins of this book in a scandalous act of censorship at Baylor University. In 2000, the Baylor faculty senate panicked and shut down a brand-new intelligent-design research center on campus. That was just days after the center staged a conference on "." The conference allowed believers in Darwinian theory and related forms of naturalism to confront ID advocates and other heretics face to face. collects many of those original presentations and a wealth of new material.

The organizers were a pair of Baylor scholars who also edited this book, mathematician William Dembski and philosopher of science Bruce Gordon. They have since moved on to other academic posts, including as senior fellows with the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture. Their think tank, the Michael Polanyi Center for Complexity, Information and Design, lives on only in memory.

Terrified by the prospect of being thought to harbor so-called creationists, Baylor's faculty could not countenance a lively debate about naturalism's scientific credentials, a debate that threatened to embarrass professors by stirring up memories of the university's Texas Baptist roots.

In fact, the impression you take away from the essays in that are critical of naturalism completely defies any sectarian categorization. In their extracurricular lives, many of the contributors would not deny holding religious beliefs, much as conference participants on the other side of the argument, like physicist and Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg or historian of science Michael Shermer, aggressively espouse atheism. Yet the picture of nature that rises from these essays isn't necessarily a religious one at all.

You could put it this way: The universe is haunted.

Haunted not by ghosts but by a source of ancient, unseen, immaterial agency. Whether agents or one Agent, you simply can't tell from the scientific evidence. Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913), co-discoverer of evolutionary theory with Charles Darwin and no one's idea of a Christian, ultimately concluded that the directing activity of what he called cosmic "intelligences" or "angels" was needed to fully explain the origin and development of life. Their role was to give natural selection something to select. The idea that angels perform such a function goes back to Maimonides, who integrated Aristotle with rabbinic tradition on the subject, and to other, later medieval theologians.

Whatever its nature, such an intelligent force must have set in motion the 13.75-billion-year history of the cosmos and guided the unfolding of life from its origin 3.7 billion years ago.

As astrophysicist Guillermo Gonzalez argues here, the formation of a habitable universe, and a planet fit for scientific exploration, required extraordinarily high degrees of what he calls, respectively, "global" and "local" fine-tuning of physical constants and environmental conditions. Speculative cosmologies have sought to avoid the theological implications of this -- that something had us in mind from the beginning -- by spinning fables of a "multiverse" where the existence of an infinite number of universes explains away the seeming miracle.

In his essay "Balloons on a String: A Critique of Multiverse Cosmology," Bruce Gordon shows how "in their theophobic flight, scientific materialists have found it necessary to affirm a universe in which anything can happen...without a sufficient causal antecedent and for no rhyme or reason." He asks, "So who believes in miracles now?"

Yet naturalists must believe in such things, writes Dr. Gordon, since the alternative is "transcendent intelligent agency as the only sufficient cause, and thus the only reasonable explanation," of our being in existence. As Leonard Susskind, Stanford physicist and prime retailer of the "string landscape" cosmology, candidly admits, "Without any explanation of nature's fine-tunings we will be hard pressed to answer the ID critics."

In Dr. Gonzalez's terms, the design being enacted in nature can be observed from the most global level -- that of the universe as a whole -- to the most local, the living cell with its programming coded in DNA, and even down to the very finest level of detail that physical existence has to offer, that of quantum mechanics.

A number of the contributors emphasize that the real problem with evolutionary schemes lies not with the observation that life has a long history, that the forms it takes have been continually changing, that types of creatures descend from one another even including man himself. Nor does the problem lie in the uncontroversial and unenlightening observation that life that is poorly suited for propagation tends not to propagate, or that life better suited to spread its seed has the superior chance of doing so.

The naturalist account of life's evolution has its crippling flaw in the assumption that random variation, later explained by neo-Darwinism as genetic mutation, provides the adequate raw material from which natural selection can select. In "The Limits of Non-Intelligent Explanations in Molecular Biology," Lehigh University biochemist Michael Behe considers the empirical data gleaned from field and lab studies of human beings, malaria parasites, E. coli bacteria, and the HIV virus. He concludes that random mutation has a strict limit to its power.

Such variation can aid survival when the genetic code suffers a loss of minor functionality that happens also to confer a marginal benefit. But without guidance or direction, building up function from scratch is a very different proposition. It lies almost entirely beyond the competence of random variation. Among other problems, before genuinely new functionality could arise, the accumulating losses of function would degrade the creature's genome to the point of exhausting any hope that it could survive at all, much less continue evolving.

Darwinists brush away difficulties like this with the assurance that given plenty of time, undirected evolution can accomplish anything. Molecular biologist Douglas Axe does the math and concludes otherwise. DNA codes for the production of proteins from the precisely sequenced folding of amino-acid chains. This process of folding results ultimately in the construction of the astonishingly complex molecular machinery that makes the cell function.

In the sort of concrete, realistic terms that Darwinists resist, Dr. Axe measures the almost inconceivably vast space of possible combinations of amino acids that would have to be sampled by a process of undirected, random mutation. When calculated this way, what emerges is an unconquerable troll beneath the bridge on which Darwinists blithely trample. Axe designates it mildly as the "sampling problem."

He concludes that "it appears highly implausible for the protein structures we see in biology to have been built up from tiny ancestral structures in a way that: 1) employed only simple mutation events, 2) progressed from one well-formed structure to another, and 3) adequately performed the essential tasks of biology at each step."

Writing with Baylor University's Robert Marks, a pioneer in the field of computational intelligence, William Dembski states a fundamental law of nature that explains why, if undirected by an intelligent agent, the inscribing of biological information in the genome should face such impossibly daunting obstacles.

Stanford mathematician Keith Devlin has suggested that information may be "a basic property of the universe, alongside matter and energy (and ultimately interconvertible with them)." The Law of Conservation of Information, formulated by Dembski and Marks, says as much in formal terms, holding that information can only be imported into a natural system and shuffled around. Where we find information erupting, as in the genome, much as when we find matter or energy popping into existence at the Big Bang, it must have been seeded there from outside.

From some perspectives the force responsible for this seems immanent in nature, from others totally transcendent. It wouldn't be surprising if the seat of ultimate intelligence and will transcended not just the natural, physical universe but our strivings to characterize it in human terms.

No contributor to ventures to say anything beyond this, from the scientific evidence, about the identity or qualities of the designing agent. However, a few writers seek to clear up related confusions that gum up the debate about ID.

Philosopher of science Stephen Meyer addresses the objection that we cannot say by what mechanism a designer might direct the evolution of the cosmos and of life. Naturalists insist that science deals only with physical mechanisms. If intelligent design theory can't specify one, it has to be ruled out of consideration. But as Meyer points out, nobody doubts the scientific bona fides of Isaac Newton's gravitation theory because Newton could specify no mechanism by which gravity functions. In modern science, no one knows by what mechanism, if any, the mind translates consciousness and will into physical action.

The operations of quantum mechanics remain even more opaque. There, no mechanism seems possible even in principle. This leads Bruce Gordon into the most startling essay in the book, "A Quantum-Theoretic Argument against Naturalism." As he seems to show from an exacting proof that I'm not in a position to evaluate, the mathematical description of quantum phenomena suggests that material substance itself may be the illusory projection of immaterial mind or minds. Gordon notes in passing the similarity of this view to the "immaterialism" of two 18th-century theologians, George Berkeley and Jonathan Edwards.

Biblical religion, unlike materialist doctrines, can possibly be reconciled with a picture of reality and the cosmos like the one drawn in these contributions. That's especially so if the Bible is understood as pointing, by the medium of a cryptic parable expressed at many levels in the Scriptural text, to an ancient and hidden agent different from many familiar images we may carry in our minds of what God is like.

If anything, the image of nature that emerges here has a mystical aspect. This is notwithstanding that the book is, on the whole, a fairly dry read. Its persuasive power lies in the understated, un-poetic way it suggests what it does. For example, on the surface, what could be more un-poetic and un-mystical than the concept of information, biological or otherwise?

Dembski and Marks define the generation of information as the act of eliminating possibilities. To illustrate, they give the example of formulating a sentence of prose. That task involves sifting the vast space of possible combinations of letters, almost all of them meaningless gibberish, for a combination that yields not only meaning but the meaning you intend. They quote G.K. Chesterton: "Every act of will is an act of self-limitation. To desire action is to desire limitation. In that sense every act is an act of self-sacrifice. When you choose anything, you reject everything else."

But this was not Chesterton's original insight. It has a much older lineage. Jewish mystical tradition speaks of God's initiating the creation of the world, accomplished through the precise arrangement of letters of speech, by exactly such an act of self-limiting. The Hebrew term is tzimtzum, meaning contraction or reduction. By this means God opened up room for his creativity to act in, carved from the space of limitless possibilities.

What, then, about the libel that stampeded the faculty of Baylor University to squash a daring attempt by colleagues to explore the evidence for design in nature? What about the "ID equals creationism" myth, or the "no controversy about evolution" bugaboo?

Say whatever else about it that you will, the way of thought traced here by the critics of naturalism bears no relation to anything honestly called creationism. And the fact that there is a very serious debate going on is simply undeniable. Such malignant clichés, popular with professors and polemicists, are crushed under the scholarly weight of this volume.

Atheist advocate plans to back parents who want instructor fired for teaching creationism

http://triblocal.com/libertyville/2011/03/19/athiest-advocate-plans-to-back-parents-who-want-instructor-fired-for-teaching-creationism/

By Amy Alderman TribLocal reporter Yesterday at 6:00 a.m.

The controversial discussion of an instructor having taught creationism in the science classroom is expected to continue during the public comment section of an upcoming school board meeting.

Community High School District 128 officials have said they have spoken with science teacher Beau Schaefer, and confirmed that he was teaching creationist beliefs at Libertyville High School. Schaefer has not returned calls seeking comment.

"Steps have been taken to ensure that this teacher will no longer use creationism as part of his classroom instruction," said Mary Todoric, director of communications. "Furthermore, the district has taken appropriate steps to ensure that all science teachers are not referencing or teaching creationism."

Even so, Buffalo Grove-based activist Rob Sherman said he plans to speak at Community High School District 128's school board meeting on Tuesday because he wants to represent five parents and the sibling of an LHS student who have contacted him out of concern that their students might have been graded on their knowledge of Shaefer's religious teachings.

"It has nothing to do be with being dissatisfied," Sherman said. "I'm protecting conquered territory and assisting parents who want the teacher fired by articulating their concerns. What I'm trying to do is remind the board with my presence that creationism in the classroom is undesirable and according to the Supreme Court it is illegal. "

For example, in a quiz allegedly assigned by Schaefer, Sherman claims some questions lead students to creationist beliefs, swaying them toward the notion that evolution is not scientific. That goes against the Illinois State Board of Education's 11th grade science assessment framework, Sherman said.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that creationism is not scientific, but is a religious Christian belief that God created mankind and that it is unconstitutional to advance a particular religious belief in the classroom.

However, dissenters such as Justice Antonin Scalia and Chief Justice William Rehnquist have said that decision goes against protecting educational freedom.

The school board is scheduled to go into executive session to discuss the employment of an employee and take action on that discussion Tuesday evening, but school officials would not say which staff member's employment is in question.

However, Sherman has said he has been hearing from people on both sides of the argument — some saying they want creationism to be taught in the classroom and that they are expected to speak at the Tuesday meeting in support of Shaefer.

"Anyone choosing to attend the board meeting has the opportunity to speak during the "invitation for public comment" section of the agenda," Todoric said. "There will be no discussion of the science curriculum or Mr. Schaefer… Personnel matters are never discussed publicly."

Sherman is approaching the 25th anniversary of his pro-atheist advocacy work, which began with a presentation at the Zion City Council, when he asked the board to remove the Christian symbol of the cross from the city seal, which has since been removed.

The meeting is set for 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 22 at the Vernon Hills High School Library, 145 N. Lakeview Parkway in Vernon Hills.

Texas Bill Would Protect College Professors Who Question Evolution

By Katherine T. Phan|Christian Post Reporter

The measure from Republican state Rep. Bill Zedler would prohibit public institutions of higher education from discriminating against or penalizing faculty members or students, in regard to employment or academic support, based on their "conduct of research relating to the theory of intelligent design or other alternate theories of the origination and development of organisms."

The bill, HB 2454, was received by the Higher Education Committee earlier this week.

Researchers who study intelligent design deserve the same academic freedom as those who support evolution, said a spokesman for Discovery Institute, an intelligent design think tank based in Seattle, Wash.

"Without academic freedom to follow the evidence where it leads, science cannot progress," Casey Luskin, program officer in Public Policy and Legal Affairs at Discovery Institute, told The Christian Post.

Luskin said there is a "widespread pattern of discrimination" against intelligent design proponents, pointing to several cases in Texas.

"I want more Christian news!"

In 2007, Baylor University shut down an evolutionary informatics lab by professor Robert Marks after administrators learned he was doing pro-ID research. The lab was forced to move from the university server to a third-party server. The incident was documented in Ben Stein's "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed."

Another incident at Baylor a few years ago involved the Michael Polanyi Center, considered to be the first intelligent design think tank at a major research university. Headed by leading ID-theorist William Dembski, a senior fellow of Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, the center was also shut down due to intolerance of the pro-ID viewpoint.

The cases of discrimination aren't just limited to college teachers, according to Luskin. Students could be counted as committing academic suicide for not subscribing to a neo-Darwinian evolution viewpoint.

Michael Dini, a biology professor at Texas Tech University, states on his website that he does not write letters of recommendation for students applying to medical or graduate school if they did not accept neo-Darwinian evolution.

Dini explains the reason for this criteria: "The central, unifying principle of biology is the theory of evolution, which includes both micro- and macroevolution, and which extends to ALL species."

"Someone who ignores the most important theory in biology cannot expect to properly practice in a field that is now so heavily based on biology," he writes.

The professor adds that the criteria for a letter of recommendation are not meant to discriminate against anyone's personal beliefs but are to "help insure that a student who wishes my recommendation uses scientific thinking to answer scientific questions."

Luskin disagreed with Dini's policy.

"His policy is patently discriminatory because it refuses to treat students on an equal basis if they scientifically disagree with Darwinian macroevolution," stated Luskin.

The intelligent design proponent said scientists fight antibiotic resistance by observing that there are limits to Darwinian evolution.

"We use drug cocktails to combat antibiotic or antiviral drug resistance because there are limits to the amount of evolution that can take place in a bacteria or virus," he said.

"One can be a good physician and disagree with Darwinian macroevolution."

HB 2454 requires a two-thirds vote to pass in the House.


Saturday, March 19, 2011

Reiki is a "sin"?

http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2011/03/when_christianity_battles_reiki.php?utm_source=networkbanner&utm_medium=link

Who (or what) is Orac?. Orac is the nom de blog of a (not so) humble pseudonymous surgeon/scientist with an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his miscellaneous verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few will. (Continued here, along with a DISCLAIMER that you should read before reading any medical discussions here.)

Category: Alternative medicine • Medicine • Quackery • Religion
Posted on: March 18, 2011 10:00 AM, by Orac

Many are the times when I've pointed out that many "complementary and alternative medicine" CAM or "integrative medicine" (IM) modalities are very much more based on religion or mystical ideas akin to religion than on anything resembling science. I realize that my saying this is nothing new, but every so often I see something that reminds me of this concept to the point that, self-important logorrheic blogger that I am, I can't resist commenting, particularly when I'm amused by the story. This particular story is amusing, to me at least.

You see, it's about what happens when one religion encounters a CAM modality whose religion-inspired ideas don't mesh with its tenets. The last time I remember this happening was a couple of years ago, when the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a warning against the use of reiki as being unscientific, unproven, and, worse, "dangerous to Christian spiritual health." As I pointed out at the time, the Catholic Church was right about reiki being unscientific, unproven, and worse, but what amused me was that the bishops' objections were based far more on their perception that reiki violated Catholic religious teachings than its disapproval of the lack of science behind it. One month ago, a similar story appeared. I missed it at the time because, well, it was in the Pocono Record, which is probably why I didn't become of this story until recently, in which a Broadheadsville pastor warns that reiki is a sin:

Reiki. While its practitioners and some local doctors view the Japanese technique as a way to promote healing and relaxation, one local clergyman says it's an occult practice that goes against Christian belief.

Pastor Kevin Garman, head of the Pleasant Valley Assembly of God Church in Brodheadsville, sent a letter to Monroe County's clergy members Thursday warning them of the alternative therapy, recently promoted by Pocono Medical Center.

Reiki is a Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation and is thought to promote healing. It is based on the notion that a "life-force energy" flows through us and is what causes us to be alive. Practitioners conduct sessions with the intention of healing specific conditions or improving overall health. By using their hands, practitioners get the life-force energy flowing, leading to an overall sense of calm and well-being.

Pocono Medical Center recently began promoting reiki, which is performed by six trained volunteers who use a "hands off" technique, holding their hands about 6 inches above the area to be treated.

I suspect you know why I find this story absolutely hilarious. The reason, for those unfamiliar with reiki (and if you're unfamiliar with reiki I know you're a newbie to this blog), is that reiki is pure faith healing. Really, I'm not exaggerating. At its heart, basically, reiki is a form of faith healing that substitutes Eastern religious beliefs steeped in Buddhism and Shinto, among other religions, for the Christian beliefs at the heart of most faith healing that we hear about in the U.S. and Europe. This is not so difficult to see, either, as the basic idea of reiki is that there is a "universal source" into which reiki practitioners can tap. They do so by holding or waving their hands over their clients and scrunching their brows, as though they are thinking, concentrating, or (dare I say it?) praying really, really hard. Sometimes there are symbols that must be traced out in the air over the client. Sometimes it's just holding the "healer's" hands a couple of inches above the body part that is afflicted. By doing these things, reiki practitioners believe that they are somehow directing this "universal force" into the patient to healing effect. As I like to emphasize again and again, it really is nothing more than another form of faith healing.

Don't believe me? Think of it this way. Substitute the word "God" for "universal source." Think of the hand motions and symbols reiki practitioners make over their subjects as rituals. Think of the meditation to "channel" the energy from the "universal source" as praying. Now do you see what I mean? Whereas Christian faith healers lay on hands in order to direct the healing power of Jesus into the faithful, reiki masters lay on hands (well, sort of, often they don't even touch their clients) in order to direct the healing power of the "universal source" into them. There really isn't any substantive difference between the two that I can see, other than that these days reiki practitioners can be found roaming the halls of academic medical centers not as chaplains (which would not be entirely inappropriate), but rather as actual health care practitioners. Hell, they've even been spotted at a hospital where I spent about 1/3 of my residency training back in the 1990s! After I learned of this incursion, I asked a couple of surgeons who helped train me and are still at that hospital about it. Sadly, they basically thought it was massage and didn't see the problem.

I was disappointed. It showed how much work we in the medical profession have to do among our own.

But back to reiki. There are more parallels with faith healing than even what I listed above. To see this, we just have to look at Dr. Mikao Usui, the founder of reiki. What few people know is that Dr. Usui's quest to learn how to heal was inspired by the example of Jesus:

Some of the students asked him one day, in the 1870's, if he believed in the miracles Jesus did (raising dead, etc.). Being a Christian Monk he answered "Yes". They asked if he knew how Jesus had done this, "No" he said. He realized that he must find out how Jesus healed. This immediately set him on a journey of many years. Studying, first at Christian schools in the US with no results. Someone suggested Buddhist writings since the Buddha had also healed. This meant more years at monasteries in the Orient. Nowhere could he find the answers. In Japan he toured all the monasteries there asking about how Jesus or the Buddha had healed. In one small monastery, he found some ancient Sanskrit writings. After a few more years of study, he felt he had come to an understanding and that to go further required serious meditation.

After this came a classic spiritual quest very much like 40 day fast described in the New Testament that Jesus undertook on the mountain before he began his ministry:

He went to the mountain and settled in with 21 stones with which to count the days. On the 21st day nothing had come as yet, and he turned over the last stone saying "Well, this is it, either I get the answer today or I do not". At that moment on the horizon he could see a ball of light coming towards him. The first instinct was to get out of the way, but he realized this might just be what he was waiting for, so allowed it to hit him right in the face. As it struck him he was taken on a journey and shown bubbles of all the colors of the rainbow in which were the symbols of Reiki, the very same symbols in the writings he was studying but had been unable to understand. Now as he looked at them again, there was total understanding.

After returning from this experience he began back down the mountain and was, from this moment on, able to heal. This first day alone he healed an injured toe, his own starvation, an ailing tooth and the Abbots sickness, which was keeping him bedridden. These are known as the first four miracles.

"Miracles"? And reiki practitioners like to try to claim that their practices are based in science.

I don't know if this story is true or apocryphal (accurate information on Usui is hard to come by), but in a way it doesn't really matter all that much whether this story is an accurate representation of how Usui developed reiki or not. Believers in reiki are telling this story as though it's true. Remember, I got this off of the oldest reiki website on the Internet, a website that's been in existence since 1995. It's how many reiki practitioners view Usui, and how they view Usui is very much how Christians view Jesus, at least in the stories that are told about him in the Bible. The parallels to Jesus and his reported life and methods are unmistakable. Jesus spent 40 days praying and fasting in the wilderness; Usui spent 21 days meditating. Both represent an obvious and classic ritual purification often required of religious figures. In fact, Usui even goes one better than that in that his story resembles that of Moses climbing the mountain and receiving his revelations from God in the form of a burning bush, although, in all fairness, he wasn't tempted by Satan, as Jesus was. In fact, large swaths of "energy healing modalities" and not just reiki echo similar stories.

Garmin doesn't see it that way, obviously. Or maybe he does. It's unclear. What is clear is that the reason he doesn't like reiki is exactly the same reason that the Catholic bishops don't like reiki. It's a competing religious world view to his own religious world view:

Garman said reiki has its foundation in Buddhism and the practices of Usui and Shintoism, which he said both worship animal spirits, mountains, trees and people.

"The Bible definitely speaks against forms of spiritual communication with spirits of any kind, except the spirit of God. This type of communication or energy invoking activity is rejected in the Bible as witchcraft, sorcery, mediumship and idolatry," Garman said in his letter.

Garman said he isn't asking the hospital to stop allowing reiki, because he knows that request would be unreasonable.

"I don't think the technicians should be allowed to visit the rooms without being invited there. I think patients should have a full disclosure that this is a Buddhist religious practice, because if they were Christian, I think they would say, 'Please don't bring that into my room.'"

Which is actually a fair demand. You shouldn't be required to admit into your hospital room a chaplain whose religious beliefs are contrary to yours or someone who tries to foist his religious views on you. On the other hand, I also think it's a fair demand to stop representing reiki practitioners as legitimate health care providers. They are not. I don't care if they're represented as chaplains or something akin to ministers or priests who can "pray" or counsel patients the same way chaplains do with fellow believers, because that's what reiki practitioners really are, but telling patients that reiki is anything more than an elaborate religious placebo is lying to them.

Perhaps the most unintentionally hilarious part of this whole article is the comments section, where various defenders of reiki descend, enraged and outraged, to attack the article, the journalist who wrote it, and the criticisms of reiki by pastor Garman. For example, here's Patty Penner weighing in:

When I read something like this, I wonder how anyone can be so in the dark in this day and age. I find it incredibly sad and scary! Reminds me of witch burning times and the Inquisition. I am a Reiki Master Teacher. I have studied, practiced and experimented with Reiki for a long time so that I know without a doubt what it is I am working with. I am also a Christian (Episcopalin) The roots of Reiki are Buddhist and Shinto because it's founder was Buddhist and Shinto but what is wrong with that? Reiki is a not a Buddhist practice or any relegious practice and definitely not a cult, it is a healing modality like acupuncture, massage or acupressure. Reiki energy is DIVINE life force energy from God channelled through the practitioner for the purpose of healing.

Wow! I couldn't have said it better myself. Reiki is faith healing in which the healing power of God is used to heal! One wonders, of course, how Ms. Penner can state that reiki is not a religious belief and then turn around and immediately state that reiki energy is "DIVINE life force energy from God." The cognitive dissonance must be astounding. It's also comedy gold!

Then there's Kristin King:

If the Pastor had cared enough to make a statement regarding Reiki, then maybe he should have at least gotten his facts straight. Reiki draws energy from the universal life force that is all around us. One might ask that if God is the one who created all, then isn't it his energy that is drawn upon?

Why yes. Why not?

In any case, the numerous posts from believers in reiki and reiki practitioners expressing outrage at the pastor's comments about reiki practitioners being "sinners" echo almost perfectly the religious nature of them, but the commenters are completely un-self-aware. In any case, I would argue that virtually every so-called "energy healing" modality is at its heart far more religious in nature than anything else. Certainly there is no science there. Yet reiki practitioners deny the religious underpinnings of their practice because they want to think of themselves as more akin to physicians and nurses than to chaplains. Chaplains, at least, don't claim they can heal disease, and physicians (most of them at least) don't represent pseudoscientific religious practices as science-based medicine.

Well, except for Dr. Oz, of course.

Complementary Medicine for U.S. Military Studied

http://www.massagemag.com/News/massage-news.php?id=10577&catid=complementary-medicine-for-us-military-studied&title=

posted:3/18/2011

Massage therapy relieves depression and stress while it boosts relaxation, benefits that can assist U.S. service personnel.

Now, six medical centers serving U.S. military personnel are partnering with a research institute to study the benefits of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) for U.S. troops.

"Complementary and Alternative Medicine Research for Military Operations and Healthcare" was launched recently by the Samueli Institute.

"A recent survey of CAM therapy use among active duty soldiers, military retirees and family members at a military hospital showed 81 percent used one or more CAM therapies," the institute's website notes. "This survey also indicated that most would prefer that CAM therapies be made available at military treatment facilities."

The facilities that are partnering with the institute are Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Madigan Army Medical Center, William Beaumont Army Medical Center, The National Naval Medical Center, the Air

Force's Malcom Grow Medical Center and the Joint Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.

The goal of the study is to "scientifically identify and investigate selected areas of CAM that offer the most health-maintenance and optimization benefit for military and veteran populations," the website notes.

The study's objectives, according to the Samueli Institute's website, are to:

Evolution education update: March 18, 2011

The antievolution legislation in Tennessee progresses. The eminent evolutionary biologist Walter M. Fitch is dead. The opposition to the antievolution legislation in Tennessee continues. The adjournment of the Kentucky legislature means that the antievolution bill there is no longer in play. And a reminder that there are still seats available on the next NCSE excursion to the Grand Canyon.

ANTIEVOLUTION BILL IN TENNESSEE PROGRESSES

Tennessee's House Bill 368 was passed on a 9-4 vote, with no testimony or discussion, at the House General Subcommittee of Education meeting on March 16, 2011. A version of the "academic freedom" antievolution bill, HB 368 would, if enacted, 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."

Voting for the bill were Harry Brooks (R-District 19), Kevin Brooks (R-District 24), Joe Carr (R-District 48), John J. DeBerry Jr. (D-District 90), the bill's sponsor Bill Dunn (R-District 16), Joey Hensley (R-District 70), Ron Lollar (R-District 99), Debra Young Maggar (R-District 45), and Richard Montgomery (R-District 12); voting against it were Lois M. DeBerry (D-District 91), Craig Fitzhugh (D-District 82), Jimmy Naifeh (D-District 81), and Joe Pitts (D-District 67). The bill now proceeds to the full House Education Committee, which is scheduled to consider it at its meeting on March 22, 2011, beginning at noon; e-mail NCSE's Joshua Rosenau or Steven Newton if you're able to attend.

For the text of House Bill 368 (PDF), visit:
http://www.capitol.tn.gov/Bills/107/Bill/HB0368.pdf

For the record of the vote, visit:
http://wapp.capitol.tn.gov/apps/BillInfo/BillVotesArchive.aspx?ChamberVoting=H&BillNumber=HB0368&ga=107

For the committee's schedule, visit:
http://wapp.capitol.tn.gov/apps/Calendar/CalendarOrders.aspx?CalendarID=366

And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Tennessee, visit:
http://ncse.com/news/tennessee

WALTER FITCH DIES

The distinguished evolutionary biologist Walter M. Fitch died on March 11, 2011, at the age of 81, according to The Panda's Thumb blog (March 13, 2011). Born in San Diego, California, on May 21, 1929, Fitch attended the University of California, Berkeley, where he received his bachelor's degree in chemistry in 1953 and his Ph.D. in comparative biochemistry in 1958. After a series of postdoctoral appointments, he joined the School of Medicine at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where he was a professor from 1962 to 1986. He then returned to his native California, spending three years at the University of Southern California before becoming a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, Irvine, in 1989. A pioneer in molecular evolution, Fitch was proudest of his work on phylogenetics, especially "Construction of phylogenetic trees" (coauthored with E. Margoliash), published in Science in 1967. He was the first president of the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution and the founding editor-in-chief of its journal Molecular Biology and Evolution. His honors included election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences.

A long-time member of NCSE, Fitch was active in efforts to promote the teaching of evolution; he was a member of the working group that produced Evolution, Science, and Society: Evolutionary Biology and the National Research Agenda in 1998, and contributed "Evolution is Fact" to Evolutionary Science and Society: Educating a New Generation in 2005, for example. He was also concerned with creationism, giving a plenary address on "Creation Science: An Oxymoron" to the Southern California Academy of Sciences in 2002; developing a class on creation and evolution at the University of California, Irvine, for students not majoring in biology; and even engaging in public debates with creationists on occasion (see, for example, the report in the Daily Pilot for May 15, 2006). At the time of his death, he was finishing a book on the creationism/evolution controversy, which NCSE Supporter Richard E. Dickerson of the University of California, Los Angeles, describes as "the final word of a major player in the field"; Logic, Rhetoric, and Science: And Why Creationism Fails at All Three is expected to be published by the University of California Press in 2012.

For the post at The Panda's Thumb blog, visit:
http://pandasthumb.org/archives/2011/03/walter-fitch-pa.html

For Fitch's contribution to Evolutionary Science and Society (PDF, pp. 22-24), visit:
http://www.bscs.org/pdf/evolutionarysciencecomplete.pdf

For the story in the Daily Pilot, visit:
http://articles.dailypilot.com/2006-05-15/features/dpt-religion15_1_intelligent-design-evolution-walter-fitch

OPPOSITION TO ANTIEVOLUTION BILL CONTINUES IN TENNESSEE

As a third subcommittee hearing on Tennessee's House Bill 368 approached, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Tennessee Science Teachers Association, and the executive director of the ACLU of Tennessee were expressing their opposition to the bill.

Alan I. Leshner, the chief executive officer of AAAS and executive publisher of its journal Science, explained to two of the members of the subcommittee, "There is virtually no scientific controversy among the overwhelming majority of researchers on the core facts of global warming and evolution. Asserting that there are significant scientific controversies about the overall nature of these concepts when there are none will only confuse students, not enlighten them." He concluded, "We encourage you to continue to support a rigorous scientific education curriculum in Tennessee schools by rejecting HB 368."

Becky Ashe, the president of the TSTA, told the subcommittee that the bill was flawed in implying that evolution is scientifically controversial, explaining that the members of TSTA "recognize the scientific theory of evolution is accepted by mainstream scientists around the world as the cornerstone of biology and as the single, unifying explanation for the diversity of life." She also expressed concern that the bill would "allow non-scientific alternatives to evolution ... to be introduced into our public schools." She concluded by describing HB 368 as "unnecessary, anti-scientific, and very likely unconstitutional."

And in a column in The Tennesseean (March 11, 2011), Hedy Weinberg of the ACLU of Tennessee reviewed the checkered career of attempts to undermine evolution education in the state culminating in HB 368. She forcefully argued, "this legislation is not aimed at developing students' critical thinking skills. Rather, it seeks to subvert scientific principle to religious ideology by granting legal cover to teachers who wish to dress up religious beliefs regarding the origin of life as pseudo-science," and warned of the bill's "serious consequences for the future well-being of our children, our economy and our state overall."

Nevertheless, HB 368 was passed on a 9-4 vote, with no testimony or discussion, at the House General Subcommittee of Education meeting on March 16, 2011. The bill is expected to be considered by the full House Education Committee on March 22, 2011.

For the letter from the AAAS (PDF), visit:
http://www.aaas.org/spp/cstc/docs/11-03-02Tenn_evolution.pdf

For the letter from the TSTA (PDF), visit:
http://ncse.com/webfm_send/1564

For Weinberg's column in The Tennessean, visit:
http://www.tennessean.com/article/20110311/OPINION03/103110363/-1/MICRO020701/Proposed-bill-s-intention-push-religious-agenda

And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Tennessee, visit:
http://ncse.com/news/tennessee

ANTIEVOLUTION BILL DIES IN KENTUCKY

When the Kentucky legislature adjourned sine die on March 9, 2011, House Bill 169 died in committee. A special session of the legislature will convene starting on March 14, 2011, but only to consider two unrelated items, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader (March 10, 2011). HB 169, if enacted, would have allowed teachers to "use, as permitted by the local school board, other instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner." No particular scientific theories were cited in HB 169, but the similar HB 397 introduced by the same legislator -- Tim Moore (R-District 26) -- in the previous legislative session explicitly listed "the study of evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning" as examples of scientific theories for which supplementary instructional materials could be used. The exact phrase appears in the Louisiana Science Education Act, Louisiana Revised Statutes 17:285.1, on which HB 397 was apparently based.

For the text of Kentucky's House Bill 169, visit:
http://www.lrc.ky.gov/record/11RS/HB169.htm

For the story in the Lexington Herald-Leader, visit:
http://www.kentucky.com/2011/03/10/1663752/beshear-calls-special-session.html

And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Kentucky, visit:
http://ncse.com/news/kentucky

NCSE AND THE GRAND CANYON 2011

Explore the Grand Canyon with Scott, Newton, and Gish! Seats are still available for NCSE's next excursion to the Grand Canyon -- as featured in The New York Times (October 6, 2005). From June 30 to July 8, 2011, NCSE will again explore the wonders of creation and evolution on a Grand Canyon river run conducted by NCSE's Genie Scott, NCSE's Steven Newton, and paleontologist Alan ("Gish") Gishlick. Because this is an NCSE trip, we offer more than just the typically grand float down the Canyon, the spectacular scenery, fascinating natural history, brilliant night skies, exciting rapids, delicious meals, and good company. It is, in fact, a unique "two-model" raft trip, on which we provide both the creationist view of the Grand Canyon (maybe not entirely seriously) and the evolutionist view -- and let you make up your own mind. To get a glimpse of the fun, watch the short videos filmed during the 2009 trip, posted on NCSE's YouTube site. The cost of the excursion is $2545; a deposit of $500 will hold your spot. Seats are limited: call, write, or e-mail now.

For information about the trip, visit:
http://ncse.com/about/excursions/gcfaq

For NCSE's report on the story in The New York Times, visit:
http://ncse.com/news/2005/10/seeing-creation-evolution-grand-canyon-00771

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

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

Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
510-601-7203 x310
fax: 510-601-7204
800-290-6006
branch@ncse.com
http://ncse.com

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

NO PEER-REVIEWED I.D. RESEARCH. Just ask Lauri Lebo!

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2011/03/no_peer-reviewed_id_research_j044851.html

David Klinghoffer March 16, 2011 7:37 AM | Permalink

I've never quite understood what serious purpose political bumper stickers are intended to serve. Do drivers really think they're influencing anyone? You put "VOTE FOR SMITH" on your bumper and then the guy in the car behind you who was all set to vote for Jones slaps his forehead and says "Oh, it says 'VOTE FOR SMITH.' That sounds pretty emphatic. I guess poor old Jones will have to do without my support this year!"

Only among Darwinists do bumper-sticker type slogans really seem to aid in generating a climate of opinion. I don't mean slogans literally that appear on actual automobile bumpers but a variety of old chestnuts and hoary bugaboos that, however easily falsified, propagate throughout the writings of Darwinists on the Internet and elsewhere. Endlessly repeated and believed, they serve as a pervasively influential substitute for thought.

Here are some examples.

INTELLIGENT DESIGN = CREATIONISM.

NO EVOLUTION CONTROVERSY IN SCIENCE.

NO PEER-REVIEWED I.D. RESEARCH.

Take that last one. You've heard it a million times, often in the same language: No legitimate, peer-reviewed scientific research supports intelligent design. Listen to what our friend Lauri Lebo, self-identified as a "reporter," had to say the other day. Ms. Lebo writes on the website Religion Dispatches, which sounds like it ought to be a serious enterprise. It's supported by Emory University and directed by Professor Gary Laderman, chairperson of Emory's Department of Religion. The website says that, because of the link with Emory, donations are even tax-deducible.

Under the headline "Record Number of Stealth Creationism Bills Introduced in 2011," Ms. Lebo decries a bill in the Texas legislature intended to protect intelligent-design researchers in universities from discrimination. With the title of her post, she's making an implicit nod to the fraudulent INTELLIGENT DESIGN = CREATIONISM bumper sticker.

She goes on to say: "But as we all know, there is no such thing as ID research, which has not yet produced one single legitimate peer reviewed paper." In other words, NO PEER-REVIEWED I.D. RESEARCH.

Like the other bumper-sticker slogans, this one is a brazen falsehood, or it would be brazen if Ms. Lebo had done enough reporting to know the difference between true and false on this point. But she hasn't and she can't.

Evolution News & Views does a fine job of covering the literature of peer-reviewed research supporting intelligent design as it comes out. If Ms. Lebo had followed ENV just over the past few months, she would have found numerous recent instances of what she says doesn't exist, as here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

But Lauri Lebo is a sloppy writer who if she really meant what she seems to mean would also be on record, in the same post, as saying that "intelligent design was ruled unconstitutional in Kitzmiller v. Dover." Yeah, so it would seem, the whole concept of ID -- believing it, supporting it, whatever -- is now unconstitutional. President Eisenhower enforced Brown v. Board of Ed by sending the 101st Airborne into Little Rock. It's got to be just a matter of time before federal troops occupy the Discovery Institute.

Ms. Lebo goes on to say that the idea of "teaching the controversy" about evolution in high school biology class goes back only as far as Kitzmiller in 2005. Since Judge Jones ruled ID unconstitutional, as we all know, ID advocates tried to skirt around this through the use of "such creationist code words as 'teaching the controversy,' 'academic freedom,' or 'critical analysis.'"

That's another bogus claim, of course, as Ms. Lebo would have realized if she'd spent a moment researching it. Discovery Institute had been talking about the "teach the controversy" approach for years before the Dover case. For instance, see here. We've also argued consistently against teaching intelligent design in schools, which she confusedly mixes up with the critical analysis of Darwinian evolution. Teaching the strengths and weaknesses of Darwinian theory is not the same as teaching ID.

Oh well, it hardly seems worth spending a lot of time protesting. If dear Lauri Lebo stopped "reporting" on this subject, the identical bumper-sticker style slogans would go on as before, circulating among professors, journalists and bloggers. Like the selfish genes of the Richard Dawkins mythos, they have a life of their own.

Scientists Say They May Have Found Lost City of Atlantis Near Spain

http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2011-03/scientists-say-theyve-found-lost-city-atlantis-swept-away-tsunami

By Rebecca Boyle
Posted 03.14.2011 at 2:23 pm 24 Comments

All the news about devastating tsunamis is drawing greater attention to a new claim that researchers have found the lost city of Atlantis — buried in mud on the southern tip of Spain. Scientists say they have found proof of a 4,000-year-old civilization that was buried by a tsunami.

The research was unveiled Sunday in a new TV special.

This effort to find Atlantis began in 2004, when German physicist Rainer Kuhne identified some strange features on satellite photos. Swamps at the mouth of Spain's Guadalquivir River, northwest of Cadiz, held strange geometric shadows that some thought resembled the remains of a ringed city.

Richard Freund, an archaeologist from Hartford University in Connecticut, said a tsunami flooded the ancient community, located 60 miles inland.

"This is the power of tsunamis," he said, according to Reuters.

The team also found artifacts from farther north that suggest refugees may have settled a second city, where they built memorial artworks to commemorate the one they lost.

Other researchers criticized the results, however, including members of a Spanish team who have been studying the site since 2005.

Archaeologists have been looking for Atlantis since Plato first described it about 2,600 years ago in one of his late dialogues. He said the city was located near the "pillars of Hercules," which classical scholars say is the Strait of Gibraltar. (The mudflats are just north of the strait.) Plato said Atlantis "in a single day and night... disappeared into the depths of the sea."

Previous attempts to find it have looked on the ocean floor; on various Mediterranean and Aegean islands; the Bermuda Triangle; Bolivia; and even Antarctica. Historians have said Atlantis was inspired by the 1600 BCE volcanic explosion at Santorini, one of the largest in recorded history. Others maintain it's simply a myth.

The Spanish team said they will present their own findings later this year.

[via Vancouver Sun]


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Suzanne Somers Defends Alternative Medicine Treatments for Cancer

http://www.opposingviews.com/i/suzanne-somers-defends-alternative-medicine-treatments-for-cancer

News by Granny Med(1 Day Ago) in Health / Alternative Medicine

Actress and health/fitness guru Suzanne Somers is defending alternative medicine's power to treat cancer after Dateline NBC ran a story criticizing two doctors she profiled in one of her latest books.

The Dateline NBC episode "Suzanne Somers: A Dose of Controversy," analyzed the claims of two alternative-medicine practitioners featured in Somers' 2009 book "Knockout: Interviews With Doctors Who Are Curing Cancer and How To Prevent Getting It In the First Place." Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski and Dr. Nicholas Gonzalez both espouse alternative treatments for cancer. Burzynski conducts FDA-controlled clinical trials using biologically active peptides called antineoplastons to treat patients with aggressive brain tumors. Gonzalez treats patients with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer by focusing on diet, enzyme therapy and a detox regimen that includes coffee enemas.

Somers says the NBC program focused on the high cost of these two doctors' treatments, but didn't mention that traditional cancer treatment is also very expensive. She also said the show didn't mention that Burzynski's main detractor, Barrie Cassileth, chief of integrative medicine at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, isn't a doctor. Cassileth is but a researcher whose aim, she says in her online biography, is "to alert patients and oncology professionals to the sometimes useless or harmful therapies promoted incorrectly as viable cancer 'treatments.'"

Somers was diagnosed with inoperable cancer in November 2008. She was later informed she'd been misdiagnosed, but in the meantime, she'd begun researching alternative therapies for cancer. She decided to write "Knockout" as a way to share the information she'd gathered from talking to doctors and patients about non-traditional cancer treatment.

Dinosaurs Keep Watch Over Cabazon

http://banning-beaumont.patch.com/articles/dinosaurs-keep-watch-over-cabazon

The roadside attraction has been featured in movies and brings in numerous tourists to Cabazon.

By Catherine Garcia March 14, 2011

Nope, that's not an illusion - those are two dinosaurs staring at you from the side of the 10 freeway in Cabazon.

Dinny the Dinosaur and Mr. Rex have been keeping watch in Cabazon for decades. The creation of Claude Bell, a Knott's Berry Farm sculptor and portrait artist, the 150 ton Apatosaurus (Dinny) and 100 ton Tyrannosaurus rex (Mr. Rex) were completed in 1975 and 1986, respectively. The goal of the dinosaurs was to bring customers to Bell's Wheel Inn Cafe, right next to the giant sculptures.

Today, visitors come from around the country to see the dinosaurs that have made appearances in Pee-wee's Big Adventure and The Wizard. There is a gift shop located inside of Dinny, featuring dinosaur merchandise and collectibles. About three years ago, the new owners opened a museum with robotic dinosaurs and small rides for children. The company believes in Creationism, and the new catchphrase of the attraction is "By design, not by chance."

On a recent weekday, only a few visitors were on hand, standing at the giant feet of Mr. Rex and perusing merchandise inside Dinny.

"We're busier on weekends and three days weekends," said employee Jeff Brock of Redlands. "We've had people come from as far as Missouri, and a lot of military people come from the local base."

Katharina Napoletano, 9, came from Redlands to visit the dinosaurs with her brother, grandmother and aunt.

"My brother loves dinosaurs, so we brought him out here after school for a fun little trip," Napoletano said. "The dinosaurs are awesome."

She was surprised to see how lifelike the sculptures are.

"They look real and the actual size of a dinosaur," she said. "You don't get to see that every day."

Her younger brother Eric, 5, was intrigued by the items for sale inside Dinny.

"There are so many toys and a lot of candy," he said. "This is fun."

He was surprised when his grandmother pulled up to the dinosaurs, because he had never seen them from the freeway before or visited Cabazon.

"They are so, so cool," he said. "I want to come back again tomorrow."

The dinosaurs are open daily from 10 a.m. to dusk. For more information, visit the World's Biggest Dinosaurs website.

Walter Fitch dies

http://ncse.com/news/2011/03/walter-fitch-dies-006544 March 14th, 2011

The distinguished evolutionary biologist Walter M. Fitch died on March 11, 2011, at the age of 81, according to The Panda's Thumb blog (March 13, 2011). Born in San Diego, California, on May 21, 1929, Fitch attended the University of California, Berkeley, where he received his bachelor's degree in chemistry in 1953 and his Ph.D. in comparative biochemistry in 1958. After a series of postdoctoral appointments, he joined the School of Medicine at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where he was a professor from 1962 to 1986. He then returned to his native California, spending three years at the University of Southern California before becoming a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, Irvine, in 1989. A pioneer in molecular evolution, Fitch was proudest of his work on phylogenetics, especially "Construction of phylogenetic trees" (coauthored with E. Margoliash), published in Science in 1967. He was the first president of the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution and the founding editor-in-chief of its journal Molecular Biology and Evolution. His honors included election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences.

A long-time member of NCSE, Fitch was active in efforts to promote the teaching of evolution; he was a member of the working group that produced Evolution, Science, and Society: Evolutionary Biology and the National Research Agenda in 1998, and contributed "Evolution is Fact" to Evolutionary Science and Society: Educating a New Generation (PDF) in 2005, for example. He was also concerned with creationism, giving a plenary address on "Creation Science: An Oxymoron" to the Southern California Academy of Sciences in 2002; developing a class on creation and evolution at the University of California, Irvine, for students not majoring in biology; and even engaging in public debates with creationists on occasion (see, for example, the report in the Daily Pilot for May 15, 2006). At the time of his death, he was finishing a book on the creationism/evolution controversy, which NCSE Supporter Richard E. Dickerson of the University of California, Los Angeles, describes as "the final word of a major player in the field"; Logic, Rhetoric, and Science: And Why Creationism Fails at All Three is expected to be published by the University of California Press in 2012.


Monday, March 14, 2011

More conservative Legislature considers evolution bill

http://www2.tbo.com/content/2011/mar/14/more-conservative-legislature-considers-evolution-/news-breaking/

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Two state senators, Ronda Storms and Stephen Wise, have tried to pass evolution bills in recent sessions.

By ELAINE SILVESTRINI | The Tampa Tribune

Published: March 14, 2011

As lawmakers wrestle with financial and policy challenges that could affect the quality of education in the state, one influential legislator is also hoping to change the way evolution is taught in Florida public schools.

Science education advocates are alarmed by a bill before the Legislature that they say could force teachers to challenge evolution at the expense of settled science.

Stephen Wise, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, has resurrected legislation he authored in 2009 that calls for a "thorough presentation and critical analysis of the scientific theory of evolution." Wise's bill failed to pass in 2009.

The critical analysis approach originated at the Discovery Institute, a think tank that supports the teaching of intelligent design, which holds that evolution alone cannot explain life, which is so complex that it must have had a creator.

Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, led another battle over evolution in 2008, but the Legislature failed to pass her bill that would have given protection to teachers who criticized evolution.

Storms' bill was filed in response to science standards adopted that year by the State Board of Education, which for the first time used the word "evolution" instead of such terms as "biological change over time." The standards also required more intense and detailed teaching of the concept.

Wise, R-Jacksonville, thinks his evolution bill may have a better chance this year because there are more conservatives in the Legislature and because he chairs a substantive committee.

"Why would you not teach both theories at the same time?" Wise said, referring to evolution and what he called "nonevolution."

"You have critical thinking in school," Wise added. "Why would you not do both?"

In 2009, Wise told WMNF radio he was concerned that students might be persecuted for wanting to talk about intelligent design.

"Why do we still have apes if we came from them?" Wise, a retired educator, said during the interview with the Tampa radio station. "And those are the kind of questions kids need to ask themselves. You know, 'how did we get here?' And, you know, there's more than one theory on this thing. And the theory is evolution, the other one is intelligent design."

Brandon Haught of Florida Citizens for Science – an organization that promotes science education in the state and opposes the teaching in public schools of Intelligent Design - said evolution detractors fail to understand that when scientists use the term 'theory," they mean something different than when the word is used in general conversation.

"A theory in science is one of the strongest things you can possibly have," Haught said. "In science, a theory is not a guess. It's an established explanation for a set of facts."

* * * * *

Haught called Wise's bill "quite literally, an embarrassment for our state."

"Why drag everybody through this yet again?" asked Haught, who is interning to teach biology at Eustis High School. "It's already been hashed out."

"It's quite clear," Haught said, that Wise has "no background in biology." Man did not descend from apes, Haught said, but the species share common ancestry.

But Wise is not alone in his feelings about evolution; in spite of an overwhelming consensus among scientists that evolution has been proven, the debate has continued around the country.

Between 40 percent and 50 percent of Americans accept a biblical creationist account of the origins of life, while about the same or slightly larger numbers accept the idea that humans evolved over time, according to 2009 statistics from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

And in January, two Penn State professors reported that about 28 percent of public high school biology teachers surveyed consistently implement National Research Council recommendations that students be taught that evolution has occurred and continues.

In contrast, the professors found that about 13 percent of biology teachers "explicitly advocate creationism or intelligent design by spending at least one hour of class time presenting it in a positive light."

The remaining approximately 60 percent of teachers mostly avoid the controversy, either by teaching only the less-contested aspects of evolution, by letting students make up their own minds or just teaching enough for students to pass standardized tests, the professors reported.

* * * * *

The battle has been fought in legislatures and courtrooms:

• In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court, ruling in a Louisiana case, declared the teaching of creation science unconstitutional.

• A federal judge in 2005 ruled against school officials in Dover, Pa., who had tried to require the teaching of intelligent design. In a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, Judge John E. Jones III barred the district from "requiring teachers to denigrate or disparage the scientific theory of evolution."

• In 2004, the Ohio Board of Education approved a model lesson plan for 10th-graders titled "Critical Analysis of Evolution." But the plan was rescinded following the Dover, Pa., court ruling, according to information from Pew.

• In 2006, South Carolina officials approved standards requiring high school students to "summarize ways that scientists use data from a variety of sources to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory."

The standards have apparently not been challenged in the courts. In 2008, the state Board of Education handed evolution advocates a victory when it approved a high school grade biology textbook that had been criticized for its inclusion of Darwin's theory.

• And in 2008, Louisiana adopted legislation similar to that now proposed by Wise, according to Josh Rosenau, programs and policy director for the National Center for Science Education, dedicated to keep evolution in the classroom and to keep other theories out.

Although there are news reports of an effort to repeal the law, Rosenau said there hasn't been any litigation. "It's really hard to know what effect (the law is) having," he said.

Rosenau said Florida's existing science standards have been reviewed by national experts who found them to be "really good…The students are already doing the critical thinking."

"There's no reason for the state Legislature to mandate that particular scientific theories be taught or how they should be taught," Rosenau added. "There's no particular reason to single out evolution."

The Discovery Institute maintains the "critical analysis" approach to evolution is based on mainstream scientific criticism of Darwin's theory.

* * * * *

And Wise denied he is trying to introduce religion into the classroom.

"I think it's a way in which people can have critical thinking," he said of his bill. "If you just keep things away from folks, you don't have a good debate, you don't have, 'You give me your side and I'll give you my side,' and you look at the facts and make your decision.

"We're not saying you ought to be a Muslim, you ought to be Jewish, you ought to be Christian or you ought to be Baptist or Episcopalian, what we're saying is here's a theory, a theory of evolution, a theory of whatever, and you decide."

Howard Simon, executive director of the Florida ACLU, however, said Wise's bill "would require the teaching of intelligent design, which is - despite the proponents and the people in the Legislature who will jump up and scream that it is science and not religion - it is, at its heart, a theological belief."

Would the ACLU file a lawsuit if the bill becomes law?

That depends, Simon said, on how local school officials react.

"There would be litigation," he said, "were some county school district to be silly enough to be enticed by the legislation to teach religion instead of science."

esilvestrini@tampatrib.com


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Theistic science? No such thing

http://sciblogs.co.nz/open-parachute/2011/03/14/theistic-science-no-such-thing/

Ken Perrott Mar 14

This post is syndicated from Open Parachute » SciBlogs – Original Post

I came across this interesting observation in Elaine Howard Eckland's book Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think:

"believers did not consider their traditions and beliefs influential on how they conducted their research. None of the religious scientists I talked to supported the theory of intelligent design"

This conclusion is based on her extensive survey of academic scientists in the USA.

It's interesting because it confirms that those theologians and "philosophers of religion" who advocate abandonment of "materialism" or "naturalism" by scientists are barking up the wrong tree. Even scientists who have strong god beliefs don't allow these to interfere with the way they do their science. In fact, if they did they would no longer be doing science.

Mind you, the conclusion is not at all surprising to anyone working in a scientific environment. We know from experience that religious scientists don't change their methodology because of their ideological beliefs or world view.

A theistic science – the Wedge Strategy

The argument against "materialism" and "naturalism" in science is most clearly put in the Discovery Institute's Wedge Strategy Document (see Wedge Strategy: Center for Renewal of Science and Culture):

"Discovery Institute's Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture seeks nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies. Bringing together leading scholars from the natural sciences and those from the humanities and social sciences, the Center explores how new developments in biology, physics and cognitive science raise serious doubts about scientific materialism and have re-opened the case for a broadly theistic understanding of nature."

And:

"However, we are convinced that in order to defeat materialism, we must cut it off at its source. That source is scientific materialism. This is precisely our strategy. If we view the predominant materialistic science as a giant tree, our strategy is intended to function as a "wedge" that, while relatively small, can split the trunk when applied at its weakest points. The very beginning of this strategy, the "thin edge of the wedge," was Phillip ]ohnson's critique of Darwinism begun in 1991 in Darwinism on Trial, and continued in Reason in the Balance and Defeatng Darwinism by Opening Minds. Michael Behe's highly successful Darwin's Black Box followed Johnson's work. We are building on this momentum, broadening the wedge with a positive scientific alternative to materialistic scientific theories, which has come to be called the theory of intelligent design (ID). Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions."

So, Eckland's survey shows that even in the USA where the Discovery Institute's Wedge strategy has been targeted, there has been no success in replacing modern science "with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions."

While this criticism of science, even attack on science, comes mainly from Christian apologists and "philosophers of religion" it does get a hearing from others. I can understand how many religious people feel disappointed that science does not support their beliefs. They easily fall victim to the argument that this is because "it does not accept 'supernatural' explanations." But, unfortunately, even some non-religious philosophers and sociologists are also be influenced by the argument. Especially those with a post-modernistic bent.

Science requires evidence and validation against reality

But, in the end science is not about "natural", "supernatural" or "materialism." It is about evidence and checking ideas against reality.Those who argue for "a science consonant with christian and theistic convictions" are really arguing for a "science" stripped of this need for evidence and validation against reality. Of course that would no longer be science – it would be religion.

The improbability of an eye

http://sci.waikato.ac.nz/bioblog/2011/01/the-improbability-of-an-eye.shtml

Because I seem to have very little time on my hands at the moment, I thought I would re-post something I wrote very early on in my blogging career - it hasn't dated & in fact is quite relevant to a more recent post on 'intelligent design' creationism

The camera-type eye of humans (& in fact all vertebrates) is often held up as a classic example of what 'intelligent design' (ID) proponentsists (& no, that's not a slip of the keyboard) call irreducible complexity. The argument goes like this: a) the camera-type eye needs all its parts to function. b) It couldn't possibly be assembled randomly as Darwinian theory claims. c) The eye thus supports the concept of intelligent design. After all, Darwin himself commented that "To suppose that the eye, with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest possible degree" (1859, "On the origin of species").

For starters, that comment about evolution occurring through random processes couldn't be further from the truth, as regular readers will be well aware. But for now - if the ID hypothesis were true, then intermediate stages in eye development would be useless. Darwin recognised this possibility, and countered it by going on to say** that, "if numerous gradations from a perfect and complex eye to one very imperfect and simple, each grade being useful to its possessor, can be shown to exist; if further, the eye does vary ever so slightly, and the variations can be inherited, which is certainly the case; and if any variation or modification in the organ be ever useful to an animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, though inwuperable to our imagination, can hardly be considered real" (1859, "On the origin of species").

The eye is a structure that can detect the difference between light & dark (& in many cases colour as well); determine the direction that the light's coming from; and focus the light to get a sharp image (for people with 20:20 vision, anyway). In other words, it's a structure that helps us to gather information about our environment. And natural selection can favour an improved ability to gather this information, even in tiny increments, in comparison with other alternatives available at that point in time.

For example, a very basic eye would consist of a few light-sensitive cells, allowing the animal to distinguish light from dark. An individual with a slightly curved 'eye', rather than a flat one, could gain some selective adviantage as it would be able to tell what direction the light was coming from. Such functional intermediates do exist in nature: there is a complete series in molluscs, from a flat light-sensitive surface to the complex camera eye of cephalopods. What's more, eyes have evolved independently in at least 5 other phyla. The lens proteins are the same as, or similar to, existing proteins with other functions, but have been co-opted for a role in vision. (In other words, a key structure in the eye did not have to evolve 'from scratch'.)

And how long would this take? In a 1994 paper, Nilson & Pelger modelled the eye's evolution through the continuous small improvements that would be expected, if possession of even the simplest light-sensing organ had a selective advantage. Their most pessimistic estimate for the time it would take to move from a light-sensitive patch to a focussing lens? Less than half a million years. A camera-type eye is indeed an impressively complex structure - but its complexity is certainly not irreducible.

** in the next breath - but creationist quote-miners always leave out the second part of the paragraph, preferring to use how Darwin described a problem but not his solution to it.

D-E.Nilsson & S.Pelger (1994) A pessimistic estimate of the time required for an eye to evolve. Proceedings: Biological Sciences 256(1345): 53-58

An ancient origin for the human eye

http://sciblogs.co.nz/bioblog/2011/03/07/an-ancient-origin-for-the-human-eye/

Alison Campbell Mar 07
This post is syndicated from BioBlog – Original Post

We understand a fair bit, these days, about the evolution of the complex, 'camera-type' vertebrate eye. Not that this has stopped creationsists (most recently the 'intelligent design' camp as represented by the Discovery Institute) from arguing that the eye is an excellent example of How Evolution Is Wrong – what, they ask, is the use of half an eye? (The answer is, plenty, if an organism can detect the direction of a light source, or the movement of a predator – & in fact it's been suggested that the evolution of even the most basic photoreceptors may have had a hand in the rapid increase of animal taxa during the Cambrian.)

However, one of the unanswered questions (& thus fertile ground for creationists) has always been, when? Just how deep in time is the origin of the vertebrate eye & its specialised light receptors. A new paper just out may help us to answer that question (Passamaneck et al. 2011).

Passamaneck and his co-workers examined photoreception in larval brachiopods. As a child, I first knew this group of animals by the name 'lamp shells', because one of the two shelly valves that encloses the animal's body looks a bit like an ancient Roman oil lamp. I've still got a couple of shells somewhere around – & also a fossil brachiopod endocast, fetchingly called a 'vulva stone' because of its apparent resemblance to a portion of the female human anatomy.

Brachiopods are a taxon of marine invertebrates with a reasonably long fossil history – their remains have been found in rocks dating back to the early Cambrian, more than 500 million years ago. Along with the majority of other animal phyla brachiopods are 'protostomes': a grouping based on a number of shared embryonic features but named for the fact that when the embryonic gut is forming, the opening that will become the mouth develops first, ahead of the anus. Chordates like us, on the other hand, are 'deuterostomes' and yes, you've guessed it, the mouth forms after the anus :-)

So, you might expect organisms so different as mammals & brachiopods, seperated by such a gulf of evolutionary time, to have different means of detecting light. According to Passamaneck & his colleagues, you'd be wrong.

Both chordates such as ourselves and the invertebrates (including brachiopods) are bilaterally symmetrical. Passamaneck et al. argue that there is good evidence for "the coexistence of both [ciliary and rhabdomeric] photoreceptor types in the last common bilaterian ancestor" of chordates and invertebrates. (That post of PZ's that I've just linked to gives a really good description of the two types of light detectors in bilaterally symmetrical animals, and the paper I'm talking about takes that work another step forward.) However, scientists have generally thought that only vertebrates' "cerebral eyes" (ie eyes intimately linked to the brain) use ciliary photoreceptors to detect the direction of light sources, while invertebrates use rhabdomeric receptors for this task. Passamaneck's team decided to test the hypothesis that protostome invertebrates' cerebral eyes use only rhabdomeric photoreceptors, using larvae of the brachiopod Terebratalia transversa as a test case. To do this they collected data on the structure & morphology of these eyes, and also on patterns of expression of the relevant genes.

Protostomes do have ciliary photoreceptors, by the way, but up until now it's appeared that they're usually found deep in the 'brain' of protostomes & have non-visual functions ie they're not involved in detecting light stimuli. However, because the pigments are similar to those expressed in the rods & cones of our eyes, there's the suggestion of common ancestry. It's been hypothesised that over time these receptors migrated to the surface of the body & acquired visual functions on the way.

Fully developed, swimming T.transversa larvae have two rows of pigmented spots, described as eye spots, at the anterior end of their bodies. (Younger, non-swimming larvae don't have them.) The research team determined that these spots are effectively simple eyes made up of 2 photoreceptor cells. One of these cells has a lens-like structure & the other, pigment granules, and both have extensive ciliary membranes positioned between lens & pigment. In addition, each cell of each eyespot is linked by a nerve cell to the larval 'brain', which justifies their description as cerebral 'eyes'. (The 'brain' of these larvae is perhaps better described as a cerebral ganglion: a concentration of nerve cells at the anterior end of the animal's body.) In other words, the researchers found that this protostome species had ciliary photoreceptors on the body surface, rather than the expected rhabdomeric receptors. And this in turn suggests that a key feature of the vertebrate eye, the ciliary receptors that we know as rods & cones, goes back a very long time indeed, to the last common ancestor of protostomes and deuterostomes.

The team went on to look at the expression of a particular gene related to light reception – a c-opsin – cloned from T.transversa. They concluded that this gene was similar to opsins found in other bilaterally symmetrical animals (whether proto- or deuterostome), and that this similarity was due to the groups having shared a common ancestor that also possessed this opsin molecule. And in Terebratalia larvae this c-opsin is expressed in the eyespots, which also supports the idea that they use ciliary photoreceptors. Also, these photoreceptors are definitely used in detecting and responding to directional stimuli: placed in a phototaxis chamber with a light source to one side, swimming larvae moved towards the light source, but went back to a fairly even distribution in the chamber when the light was switched off.

All this led the team to decide that

While ciliary photoreceptors are not the predominant form in the larval cerebral eyes of protosomes, they are found in a phylogenetically diverse range of taxa. It should, therefore, be considered that the use of ciliary photoreceptors in eyes may [possibly] be an ancestral condition for… Bilateria.

In other words, the complex mammalian eye has is evolutionary roots in something akin to the simple eyespots of a tiny marine invertebrate larva.

I wonder what the Discovery Institute will make of that?

Passamaneck YJ, Furchheim N, Hejnol A, Martindale MQ, & Luter C (2011). Ciliary photoreceptors in the cerebral eyes of a protostome larva. EvoDevo, 2 (1) PMID: 21362157


Saturday, March 12, 2011

La Sierra University won't neglect creation teaching, president, chairman vow

http://news.adventist.org/2011/03/la-sierra-university.html

Open letter signals shift in two-year controversy
11 Mar 2011, Silver Spring, Maryland, United States
Mark A. Kellner, Adventist Review

In an open letter welcomed by many Seventh-day Adventist Church leaders and members across North America, La Sierra University on March 9 acknowledged serious problems in its teaching of origins over the last several years, and apologized for not having adequately communicated Seventh-day Adventist beliefs about creationism to its students.

"We found that only 50 percent of the students surveyed agreed or strongly agreed that our Adventist view of creation was presented, and only 40 percent agreed or strongly agreed that our Adventist view was supported," LSU President Randall Wisbey and LSU Board Chairman Ricardo Graham wrote in the open letter.

The letter accompanyed the release of a Board-approved report on the controversy that has focused on the Riverside, California, campus for nearly two years.

"This is not acceptable, and we apologize," the two leaders added.

Dr. Lisa Beardsley, Education director for the Adventist Church world headquarters, called the statement "a step in the right direction."

"My prayer is that Adventist education at La Sierra University will grow and acknowledge its redemptive purposes," Beardsley said.

Larry Blackmer, vice president for Education for the church's North American Division, also saw promise in the university's letter.

"I am so pleased with the board and administration's openness in addressing the issues that have concerned the church for the past few years," Blackmer said. "I found their statements to be sincere, looking to do what is right.

"This issue has been a controversy regarding the university for the past two years, and I hope with strong administrative follow-through, with monitoring by the board of directors and a continued commitment to the core values of the church, that this chapter can be closed and we can focus on the many wonderful things that are happening on the LSU campus," he said.

A team from Adventist Accreditation Association (AAA) -- which recently conducted a site visit at La Sierra -- concluded that, subject to AAA approval, the university "should receive the maximum accreditation possible under AAA guidelines." La Sierra announced the team's findings online on February 8, but has since removed the statement from the university's website.

The full board of AAA will vote next month on a final accrediting recommendation for the school.

In its place, La Sierra has posted "An Open Letter Regarding the Teaching of Creation," in which the school states its apology, adding, "Instruction at the university, while being strong in many areas, has not adequately presented the denomination's position on the subject of creation."

"There is some evidence that students have not always been respected for their belief in the Biblical creation position," the La Sierra statement said.

In 2009, one LaSierra student said he'd felt that lack of respect. Louie Bishop told Adventist Review he was placed on "citizenship probation" by the school for circulating letters opposing the teaching of evolutionary concepts and for posting notes of a professor's classroom lecture online.

Following consultation with its Board of Trustees at a Feburary 10 meeting, the university announced, "The Board adopted, and directed campus administration to implement, the following measures:

Moreover, the school said, "The university president and provost identified steps to address this issue that have already been taken or are currently in progress. These include:

According to the statement, La Sierra's "biology department specifically commits to:

In conclusion, the statement said, "La Sierra University is committed to being an institution that does not just present the Church's view of creation, but fully supports it. We pledge our commitment to work prayerfully and diligently to ensure that our mission to provide a rigorous and faith-affirming Seventh-day Adventist education is carried out on behalf of our students and our Church."

Daniel Jackson, president of the church's North American Division, expressed hope at the news.

"I appreciate the expression of the La Sierra University administration and the Board in terms of their stated determination to promote the teachings of Scripture, in particular creation," Jackson said in a telephone interview.

"My prayer would be that God would give them the commitment and resolve to see this matter through in a way that will be a blessing to students, faculty and the constituency at large," Jackson said. "La Sierra University has had a reputation as an excellent institution."

David Asscherick, the Adventist pastor and evangelist whose open letter to church leaders in 2009 brought attention to the concerns at La Sierra University, also expressed optimism.

"I'm happy to see the university affirm the reality and seriousness of these issues, and I look forward to observing the implementation of their plan," he said during a March 10 visit to the Adventist Church headquarters.

ANN World News Bulletin is a review of news issued by the Communication department of the Seventh-day Adventist Church World Headquarters and released as part of the service of Adventist News Network. For reproduction requirements, click here. The opinions expressed by Commentary authors and sources in ANN news stories do not necessarily reflect those of Adventist News Network© and/or the Seventh-day Adventist© Church.

Record Number of Stealth Creationism Bills Introduced in 2011

http://www.religiondispatches.org/dispatches/laurilebo/4364/record_number_of_stealth_creationism_bills_introduced_in_2011/

Lauri Lebo
March 11, 20118:36AM

The National Center for Science Education has tracked a record-setting number of nine anti-evolution bills introduced in state legislatures since Jan. 1.

The latest is Texas' HB 2454, which would prohibit an institution of higher learning from "discrimination related to research related into intelligent design."

"PROHIBITION OF DISCRIMINATION BASED ON RESEARCH RELATED TO INTELLIGENT DESIGN. An institution of higher education may not discriminate against or penalize in any manner, especially with regard to employment or academic support, a faculty member or student based on the faculty member's or student's conduct of research relating to the theory of intelligent design or other alternate theories of the origination and development of organisms."

What makes this bill such a precious gem is that it relies on creationists' persecution complex and oft-repeated talking point that the science community discriminates against ID research. But as we all know, there is no such thing as ID research, which has not yet produced one single legitimate peer reviewed paper. But that doesn't keep its proponents and gullible lawmakers from whining that science is mean to them. As NCSE points out, an example of this supposed persecution was exemplified in Ben Stein's cynical piece of schlock Expelled. (My review of the movie is here.)

In addition to Texas, another anti-evolution bill was also introduced this month in Florida. HB 1854 would require "a critical analysis" of the teaching of evolution in public schools. The bill is little different from legislation currently in committee in Tennessee, which 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 always, since intelligent design was ruled unconstitutional in Kitzmiller v. Dover, the introduced bills rely on such creationist code words as "teaching the controversy," "academic freedom," or "critical analysis." However, in the case of Florida, the bill's sponsoring lawmaker Rep. Stephen Wise had proposed similar legislation in 2009. The bill died in committee, but not before he spoke publicly about wanting to see intelligent design taught alongside evolution to promote "critical thinking."

Proposed bill's intention is to push a religious agenda

http://www.tennessean.com/article/20110311/OPINION03/103110363/-1/MICRO020701/Proposed-bill-s-intention-push-religious-agenda

3:33 AM, Mar. 11, 2011
Hedy Weinberg

Eighty-six years ago, on March 13, 1925, the Tennessee General Assembly passed the Butler Act making it "unlawful … to teach any theory that denies the story of the divine creation of man as taught in the Bible and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.''

Although the Butler Act was repealed in 1967, the Tennessee General Assembly is now deliberating about legislation that would allow public school science teachers to teach religious doctrine about the origin of humankind. Contrary to the bill's sponsors, the sole purpose of HB368/SB893 is to thwart the teaching of the theory of evolution.

Tennessee has long been involved in a curriculum struggle about teaching science and religion in public schools. In the well known "Scopes Monkey Trial,'' American Civil Liberties Union volunteer attorney Clarence Darrow represented high school teacher John Scopes who had violated the Butler Act by teaching the theory of evolution. The anti-evolutionists won the case and the Butler Act remained in place for four decades.

Six years after the repeal of the Butler Act, the state legislature again tried to suppress the teaching of the theory of evolution in public schools; they passed a statute barring public school use of any textbook teaching the theory of evolution "unless it specifically stated that it is a theory as to the origin and creation of man and his world and is not represented to be scientific fact'' and unless equal time was devoted to creationism. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit flatly rejected the law, holding that it was "obviously in violation of the First Amendment.'' Since then, the federal courts have been unequivocally clear that efforts to inject religious beliefs regarding the origin of life into public school science curricula are unconstitutional.

HB368/SB893 is the latest line of attack against the theory of evolution. Under the pretext of fostering "academic freedom'' and "critical thinking,'' the legislation would authorize teachers to present lessons regarding so-called "scientific controversies,'' calling into question the validity of the scientific theory of evolution by examining its alleged "strengths'' and "weaknesses.''

Bill will harm students

No one doubts the value of critical thinking to any serious course of scientific study, but this legislation is not aimed at developing students' critical thinking skills. Rather, it seeks to subvert scientific principle to religious ideology by granting legal cover to teachers who wish to dress up religious beliefs regarding the origin of life as pseudo-science.

By allowing teachers to deviate from this science curriculum, we take the risk that our students will be unprepared for advanced college coursework in science, and we disadvantage them in our increasingly competitive global economy.

Passage of this legislation will have serious consequences for the future well-being of our children, our economy and our state overall.

As the Supreme Court explained in Edwards v. Aguillard, "(f)amilies entrust public schools with the education of their children, but condition their trust on the understanding that the classroom will not purposely be used to advance religious views that may conflict with the private beliefs of the student and his or her family.'' We also entrust the public schools to prepare our children for higher education and success in the job market. HB 368 and SB 893 represent a betrayal of that trust and must be rejected by our legislature.

Hedy Weinberg is executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union — Tennessee.

Cerabino: State should at least profit from its ignorance

http://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/schools/cerabino-state-should-at-least-profit-from-its-1312478.html

Palm Beach Post

By Frank Cerabino Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Updated: 11:13 p.m. Thursday, March 10, 2011

Posted: 7:32 p.m. Thursday, March 10, 2011

Maybe it's time for Florida to cash in on its vast reservoir of ignorance.

That's what Kentucky is doing.

Kentucky's giving $37 million in tax breaks to a theme park run by a religious organization that teaches that the Earth is 6,000 years old and was created in six days.

The "Ark Encounter" theme park, which features a giant Noah's Ark, is being built by a Christian ministry called Answers in Genesis, which also runs the nearby Creation Museum, a place where tourists can see dinosaurs with riding saddles and attend lectures on that crackpot philosophy masquerading as science, something better known as evolution.

Shouldn't Florida have this? At least we'd be creating jobs and skimming tax revenue from all this pre-Enlightenment nuttiness.

State's logic not highly evolved

Kentucky's governor, Steve Beshear, defended using public money to promote religion by stressing its economic benefits to the state rather than its obvious constitutional shortcomings.

The creationist theme park is projected to create 900 jobs in Kentucky and bring in scads of tourists to ogle at all this scientific preposterousness rendered in three dimensions.

Some people might laugh at Kentucky, but surveys have shown that only four in 10 Americans embrace Darwin's theory of evolution and that a large plurality of Americans actually favor the Earth-created-in-six-days fairy tale.

And Kentucky's crass commercialism is so much more refreshing than the pernicious anti-evolution nonsense we're getting these days in Florida. That would be Senate Bill 1854, yet another attempt to force teachers in public schools to present religion in a classroom as if it were really science.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Steve Wise, R-Jacksonville, would change the way evolution is taught by requiring public school teachers to also present a "critical analysis of the scientific theory of evolution."

Wise, an evolution critic who serves as chairman of the Senate Education Pre-K-12 Committee, would be better off channeling his religious zeal into a Garden of Eden flume ride (Look out for that snake!).

This would at least follow the time-honored tradition of cashing in on religion, a practice that predates the story of Jesus throwing the money changers out of the temple back in the day.

Court: Religion in school not smart

Besides, the courts have already taken a dim view on attempts to bring creationism and its neutered offspring "intelligent design" into science classrooms.

"The fact 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 to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions," U.S. District Judge John E. Jones wrote six years ago in a Pennsylvania intelligent design case.

The judge, a Republican, noted that evolution does not preclude belief in a supreme being. But treating intelligent design as science amounted to "breathtaking inanity."

And so if we're shooting for breathtaking inanity in Florida, let's at least make it the kind that rings up the cash registers, rather than finding a new way to punish schoolteachers, who have already been designated the sacrificial lambs of this legislative session.

~ frank_cerabino@pbpost.com

The Hypocrisy of "Young Earth" Creationism

http://inewp.com/?p=7250

Categorized | RELIGION

Posted on 10 March 2011

The below letter was sent to various "Young Earth" (Creation Science) groups on March 3rd, 2011. They were told that the letter would be made public in seven days unless they attempted to resolve the biblical issues brought forth to them.

They didn't respond. For years, such creationist groups have been running away from reality, teaching their failed and foolish doctrines, misrepresenting the Word of God. I urge everyone to stop giving donations to these "creationist clowns", that refuse to both learn and teach the truth of Genesis. Every time I confront them with correct "literal interpretation" of scripture, they either redefine the scripture's meaning, or run away.

The worlds of Creationism and Theology have always had the wrong view of Genesis, and refuse to come to the realization that they are not helping mankind. They in fact are a hindrance to the truth. Hundreds of people die every week, without ever knowing the truth of Genesis, and the Clergy (along with academia) tries to keep the truth from being presented the people.

It is despicable that "young Earth" creationist groups deceive their followers, that think that the groups are supporting Genesis, when in reality, they are teaching foolishness and actually run from the truth of scripture. Just as the evolutionist "worships" the theory of evolution, Creation science worships the doctrine of young Earth, rather than embracing the truth of Genesis. The correct reading of Genesis (first two chapters) does not support any young Earth doctrine.

In case you didn't know, the correct opposing view to the evolution theory is the "Observations of Moses", not the falsehoods of (young Earth) Creationism. For seventeen years, these hypocrites have resisted even learning what the truth is, let alone admitting to their ignorance of scripture. The letter follows this paragraph.

***********

This letter is written to the following "Young Earth" (Creation Science, Flood Geology) creationism groups: Young Earth Organization, Answers in Genesis, Institute of Creation Research, Creation Research Society, Creation Ministries International, Creation Studies Institute, and the Kolbe Mission Center. These groups will be referred to as "YEC".

Being "copied in" is the National Center for Science Education (NCSE),whom I hope to publicly confront with the truth of our origins. I amserving the NCSE notice that I hope/plan to face off against them in apublic examination of the geologic and fossil record data. They wantto maintain the monopoly of the evolution theory being taught in public schools, which actually supports the tenets of Atheism. That is unconstitutional, and has poisoned the minds of mankind.

But first things first. All of the above "young Earth" creationist groupsare being given the opportunity to band together with me in this venture,by accepting and propagating the truth of Genesis, rather than the failed and foolish doctrines they now adhere to. Genesis is not a joke book, as these organizations present it to be. Genesis is a bookof history, and advanced math & science, being literally true.

In seven days, starting from March 2nd 2011, this letter will be made public. The YEC groups have until then to resolve the issues that are later presented in this epistle. I am presently under the impression that most all "young Earth" advocates are hypocrites, and will refuse to accept the truth of scripture.
They would rather prolong the creation/evolution controversy, than to repent, admit that they were in error, and preach the (new found) truth of Genesis. Instead, they will redefine the scriptures, and deny both biblical truth, and scientific reality. Both the YEC and"old Earth" movements are a hindrance and stumbling block to the secularworld, preventing acceptance of the Bible, as being the Divine Word of God. How can an untruth (creationism), ever prove another lie (evolution), to be in error?

A similar letter following this one (the Infidelity of "Old Earth"), is being written to various "old Earth" creationist organizations, that teach such false doctrines as Theistic Evolution, various "Gap" theories, Progressive, and Day/Age.

The four "theses" that I bring for resolution are the following:
1. Where did the body of water come from on "the first day"?

a) How did it come into existence?

b) Did that chaotic existence come into being before, during, or after "Creation Week"?

c) Did God do or say something before He said "Let there be light" on the day in question?
2. Did God create the birds on the fifth day, before mankind, asin chapter one of Genesis, or was it after Adam as in chapter two?

a) No matter how much "focus" is put on history, thesequence of events never change, unless there isan error. God's Word is without error. So whyis there a difference?

b) Genesis 2:18 "And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him." The next verse says that God made birds (fowls of the air) out of the ground. How isthis possible? Do not insult me with any "had formed"foolishness, referring to what God created the previous day.

3. Were the land animals made first, before mankind, as inGenesis chapter one, or was mankind made first, as in chaptertwo?a) Just as in 2:a, why is there a difference in the narrative?

4. The Moon was created on the Fourth Day of Creation Week. Approximately how old is the Moon? The Moon rocks wereanalyzed to be 4.6 billion years old.

a) The Moon has impact craters. Larger craters on the near side, and smaller (and more numerous) on the farside. Just as is throughout our solar system, there is undeniable evidence of bombardment which occurred sometime in the past. How far back in the past?

b) Did it occur before Adam & Eve, or after Adam & Evewere made?
Either band together, and accept the truth of Genesis, or be exposed as hypocrites, which deny both the complete literal truth of God's Word,and the discovered reality of our natural world. Be advised that those thatcontinue to be in denial, after exposure to the truth, are generally considered insane.
I've contacted some of you in the past, and each time you ran away with yourtail between your legs. This time, such denial will be made public. The above theses await your response.

WRIGHT WAY: Creation refuses to cut class

http://www.clevelandbanner.com/view/full_story/12218969/article-WRIGHT-WAY--Creation-refuses-to-cut-class?instance=most_recommended

by WILLIAM WRIGHT Cleveland Daily Banner

A recent report from the John Templeton Foundation stated that the science of evolutionary biology has won every battle with creationism in the courtroom but in classrooms across America the theory of evolution is being undermined.

That is the conclusion of Penn State political scientists Eric Plutzer and Michael B. Berkman, authors of "Evolution, Creationism, and the Battle to Control American Classrooms." The book is based on their survey of 926 public high school biology teachers.

The authors say they uncover evidence that creationism is "surprisingly resilient" in many biology classrooms in America, and that science and the scientific method are being systematically undermined.

"We find that about 13 percent of public high school biology teachers are active advocates for creationism or Intelligent Design," Plutzer tells Templeton Report, whose grant supported the book's writing.

"They emphasize to their students that these are 'valid scientific alternatives' to mainstream evolutionary biology and devote at least some formal class instruction to the topic. An additional 5 percent of teachers take the same position, though typically in brief responses to student questions."

Plutzer says he and Berkman find that "active proponents of creationism as science can be found in every state, even in fairly cosmopolitan school districts."

Why is the teaching of creation so "surprisingly resilient" in schools when the theory of evolution is more widely promoted? If evolutionary biology was an indisputable fact, why would a number of biology teacher's across the country insist on teaching Intelligent Design to their students?

Could it be because the evidence leans more toward creation than blind chance for all the life reproducing on this planet? If the theory of evolution was completely sound there should be no biochemists to argue against it.

Yet, Michael J. Behe, a professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, asserts that "Cells are simply too complex to have evolved randomly; intelligence was required to produce them."

In an interview released in September 2006, Behe said, "The conclusion of design is not due to ignorance. It's not due to what we don't know; it's due to what we know. When Darwin published his book 'The Origin of the Species' 150 years ago, life seemed simple.

"Scientists thought that the cell was so simple that it might just spontaneously bubble up from sea mud. But since then, science has discovered that cells are enormously complex, much more complex than the machinery of our 21st-century world. The functional complexity bespeaks purposeful design."

Behe's 1996 book, "Darwin's Black Box — The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution," has left evolutionary scientists scrambling to counter the arguments he raised.

As part of her education in biology, Paula Kincheloe spent four years focusing on just the cell and its components. Now that she has spent years as a researcher in the fields of cell and molecular biology and microbiology at Emory University in Atlanta, Kincheloe has come to a startling conclusion.

"The more I learned about DNA, RNA, proteins, and metabolic pathways, the more amazed I became with the complexity, organization, and precision involved," she said. "The obvious design evident in the cell is one reason I believe in God."

If evolution was scientific fact, how do we account for these learned individuals believing in a Creator? Kincheloe said she "concluded that the Bible's account of creation is accurate and does not conflict with true science."

Enrique Hernandez-Lemus, a theoretical physicist working at the National University of Mexico, said, "The mathematical probability of the random generation of a single chromosome is less than 1 in 9 trillion, an event so unlikely that it can be considered impossible. I think it is nonsense to believe that unintelligent forces could create not just a single chromosome but all the amazing complexity present in living beings."

Could such comments by other scientists who dismiss evolution be one reason why it is being undermined in American classrooms? Ask yourself: What takes greater faith — to believe that millions of intricately coordinated parts of a cell came about by accident or to believe the cell is a product of intelligent Creation? Either version requires faith, but only one version can be true.

People are born yearning for truth. When they hear it, it feels right. Proven science shows life comes from life. The Bible says all life originates with God. What feels right to you?

As Psalm 139:16 says of God, "Your eyes saw even the embryo of me, and in your book all its parts were down in writing, as regards the days when they were formed and there was not yet one among them." — New World Translation.

For me, creation is in a class all by itself.