NTS LogoSkeptical News for 25 April 2011

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The CSC Summer Seminars on Intelligent Design Could Change Your Life

Skeptics: It should not be necessary for me to remind you that 22 April is tomorrow, so you need to get your applications in ASAP -- editor.


Anika Smith April 20, 2011 11:14 AM | Permalink

It's a familiar scene -- a classroom full of students, most in their early twenties, their fingers flying over laptop keyboards as a lecture races on. Their agile minds soak in the dense material presented by an engagingly brilliant Ph. D. -- but this is like nothing they teach in college.

This is the CSC Summer Seminars on Intelligent Design, an intensive study program for college juniors, seniors and graduate students interested in ID. In just nine days, students from around the world gain exposure to the science of intelligent design theory, both in the classroom and the science lab.

This year the program runs from July 8-16, but the deadline to apply is quickly approaching.

While Darwinism maintains a monopoly on America's science classrooms, these students testify to the growing number of young scientists who aren't satisfied with the way Darwinist professors refuse to address the problems with Darwin's theory and the strengths of intelligent design.

Of course, this is part of what makes the discussion in that Seattle classroom unique: students awakening to a more full understanding of the relationship between science and nature are able to experience a broad perspective of intelligent design theory, many for the first time. Not only that, but they learn it all firsthand from some of the key scientists and policy experts at Discovery Institute, including Michael Behe, Stephen Meyer, Douglas Axe, Ann Gauger, Wesley J. Smith, David Klinghoffer, Richard Sternberg, Jonathan Witt, Jonathan Wells, Casey Luskin, Jay Richards, and John West.

This year, in addition to the seminar focusing on ID in the natural sciences, the Center for Science and Culture announces the new C. S. Lewis Fellows Program on Science and Society, which will explore the growing impact of science on politics, economics, social policy, bioethics, theology, and the arts.

The CSC Seminar on Intelligent Design in the Natural Sciences will explore cutting-edge ID work in fields such as molecular biology, biochemistry, embryology, developmental biology, paleontology, computational biology, ID-theoretic mathematics, cosmology, physics, and the history and philosophy of science. This seminar is open to students who intend to pursue graduate studies in the natural sciences or the philosophy of science. (Click here for details and to apply.)

The C. S. Lewis Fellows Program is an inspiration from the work of its namesake, particularly The Abolition of Man and That Hideous Strength, where Lewis foresaw the dangers of both scientism and technocracy. (Click here for details and to apply.)

Past participants have noted that what most encouraged and excited them about the seminar was the intellectual integrity they were finally seeing in scientists and instructors, Ph.D.s who seriously considered their questions rather than trying to shut down provocative discussion. Once they discovered science unrestrained by dogmatism, a torrent of excitement rushed through their class sessions.

"It was like taking a drink from a fire hydrant," one student said. The schedule is a demanding one, packed with lectures and readings. The material covered in the course goes far beyond an overview and into the technical discussion of intelligent design and Neo-Darwinism. Students learn from Discovery scientists about methods of design detection, the intricacies of DNA and information processing in the cell, quantum theory and materialist metaphysics, and the moral implications of Darwinism.

The experience is eye-opening for many. One student already very familiar with intelligent design said of the seminar, "For the first time, I was astounded."

Another said she had never before considered the metaphysical implications of Darwinism and intelligent design. Few, if any, had ever heard of the "scientific" eugenics crusade of the 20th century.

Besides giving students a thorough education in the science and philosophy of intelligent design, the program also prepares students for the challenges they likely face in their careers as pro-ID scientists. Students hear from Douglas Axe and Richard Sternberg, scientists who were persecuted by their employers for supporting ID, and the message is clear: it is dangerous to stand as a part of the ID movement, but we have been there, and we're here to make the way easier for you.

This free study program is the open door for students who want to join the new scientific revolution. The inspiration and advice from those who know the field, the relationships and networks they build with other students there, and the depth and breadth of knowledge and direction they're given equip the next generation of leaders in intelligent design.

Discovery Institute will pay expenses for students who are accepted into these programs (travel, lodging, meals, books and other course materials), but the deadline for applications is April 22, 2011.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Philosophers and the tone argument


Category: Creationism
Posted on: April 19, 2011 1:53 PM, by PZ Myers

A recent issue of the philosophy journal, Synthese, focused on creationism and intelligent design; the articles I've read from it have so far all been anti-creationist, or at least recognize that creationism is in deep conflict with science. It's all interesting stuff, anyway.

But there's a problem. This issue was assembled with two guest editors, Glenn Branch and James Fetzer, and represents well the consensus view on ID and creationism. The editors-in-chief, however, published a disclaimer in the print edition.

Statement from the Editors-in-Chief of SYNTHESE

This special issue addresses a topic of lively current debate with often strongly expressed views. We have observed that some of the papers in this issue employ a tone that may make it hard to distinguish between dispassionate intellectual discussion of other views and disqualification of a targeted author or group.

We believe that vigorous debate is clearly of the essence in intellectual communities, and that even strong disagreements can be an engine of progress. However, tone and prose should follow the usual academic standards of politeness and respect in phrasing. We recognize that these are not consistently met in this particular issue. These standards, especially toward people we deeply disagree with, are a common benefit to us all. We regret any deviation from our usual standards.

They actually used the tone argument! What's also remarkable is that this is an academic journal, and if you read the papers, you'll discover that no one is called a poopyhead, there is no broken crockery, and no rhetorical blood is spilled. It's a gang of philosophers, for christ's sake, people who can look on a flaming nitwit like Ray Comfort and ruminatively ponder the cognitive framework and perceptual concept-space of the crocoduck icon. Apparently, some creationists, like Francis Beckwith, were deeply offended at the criticism of their nonsense and screamed "libel!" at the journal, and the editors-in-chief covered their butts by disparaging their authors in print, instead.

One of the papers singled out for its wicked "tone" was the article by Barbara Forrest…and already your eyebrows should be rising. She's one of the nicest people we've got combating creationism, who, while fierce, always goes after the wackos with a smile and good old Southern gentility. Here's the abstract for her article. The rest of the article politely eviscerates the epistemology of intelligent design, but the tone is not at all excessive.

Intelligent design creationism (ID) is a religious belief requiring a supernatural creator's interventions in the natural order. ID thus brings with it, as does supernatural theism by its nature, intractable epistemological difficulties. Despite these difficulties and despite ID's defeat in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District (2005), ID creationists' continuing efforts to promote the teaching of ID in public school science classrooms threaten both science education and the separation of church and state guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. I examine the ID movement's failure to provide either a methodology or a functional epistemology to support their supernaturalism, a deficiency that consequently leaves them without epistemic support for their creationist claims. My examination focuses primarily on ID supporter Francis Beckwith, whose published defenses of teaching ID, as well as his other relevant publications concerning education, law, and public policy, have been largely exempt from critical scrutiny. Beckwith's work exhibits the epistemological deficiencies of the supernaturally grounded views of his ID associates and of supernaturalists in general. I preface my examination of Beckwith's arguments with (1) philosopher of science Susan Haack's clarification of the established naturalistic methodology and epistemology of science and (2) discussions of the views of Beckwith's ID associates Phillip Johnson and William Dembski. Finally, I critique the religious exclusionism that Beckwith shares with his ID associates and the implications of his exclusionism for public policy.

That's the worst the evolution advocates could do? I think it's obvious that the decision to publish a disclaimer actually wasn't motivated by a concern about the tone at all, but was actually a surrender to the ranting ideologues of the creationist movement. All we can conclude from it is that the management at the journal is craven.

Brian Leiter is calling for a boycott until the editors-in-chief apologize, which is a rather mild demand. Branch and Fetzer have made a very strong criticism of the journal:

We are both shocked and chagrined that a journal of SYNTHESE's stature should have sunk so low as to violate the canons of responsible editorial practice as the result of lobbying by a handful of ideologues. This tells us -- as powerfully as Forrest's work -- that intelligent design corrupts. We regret the conduct of the Editors-in-Chief and the unwarranted insult to the contributors and ourselves as Guest Editors represented by the disclaimer. We are doing our best to make the misconduct of the Editors-in-Chief a matter of common knowledge within the philosophy community in the hope that everyone will consider whatever actions may be appropriate for them to adopt in any future associations with SYNTHESE.

Shame on Synthese. Let's all hope the journal staff see their way to correcting their colossal mistake.

A Peculiar Disclaimer


April 20, 2011

When Synthese, an academic journal that focuses on the philosophy of science, set out to tackle the combustible topics of evolution, creation and intelligent design in a special issue, some controversy was perhaps inevitable. Sure enough, the resulting edition of the journal -- "Evolution and Its Rivals" -- caused an uproar, including calls from some academics to boycott Synthese entirely.

But the anger wasn't provoked by any of the articles in the guest-edited issue, which wrestled with questions including "Are creationists rational?" (answer: yes, in one sense) and "Can't philosophers tell the difference between science and religion?" The outrage sprang from two paragraphs published in the front of the print edition: a note from the journal's three regular editors-in-chief, apologizing for the content that followed.

"We believe that vigorous debate is clearly of the essence in intellectual communities, and that even strong disagreements can be an engine of progress," the note read in part. "However, tone and prose should follow the usual academic standards of politeness and respect in phrasing. We recognize that these are not consistently met in this particular issue.… We regret any deviation from our usual standards."

The note did not name which of the articles readers might find offensive. The issue's guest editors said the editors-in-chief were referring to "The non-epistemology of intelligent design: its implications for public policy," by Barbara Forrest, a Southeastern Louisiana University professor who is a staunch critic of intelligent design. In the article, Forrest, a philosophy professor, "vigorously critiqued" Francis Beckwith, a professor of philosophy and church-state studies at Baylor University, said Glenn Branch, one of the two guest editors of the Synthese issue and deputy director of the National Center for Science Education, which promotes the teaching of evolution.

Beckwith, who studies the legal arguments in favor of teaching intelligent design, was previously a fellow at the Discovery Institute, best known for its promotion of intelligent design through its Center for Science and Culture.

After Forrest's article was published online in advance of the print edition, the editors-in-chief agreed that Beckwith would be allowed space to respond in a later issue, Branch said. They also expressed their concerns to Forrest, he said, and raised the possibility of revising the article or inserting an editor's note. But he was later told that no revisions would be required or editorial comment appended, he said.

When the digital edition was released online with a publication date of January 2011 and no note from the editors-in-chief, "it was a happy New Year," Branch said.

Then came the print edition, with its disclaimer. The note blindsided Branch and his co-editor, James Fetzer, Branch said. "I'm appalled and dismayed," he said. "I think the disclaimer insults the contributors, many of whom are friends and acquaintances, all of whom are philosophers whose work I respect."

Brian Leiter, a University of Chicago law professor who directs the Center for Law, Philosophy and Human Values at the university and publishes a widely read blog, has called for a boycott of Synthese until the issue is resolved, asking scholars to refrain from submitting articles to or refereeing for the journal until the editors-in-chief apologize.

"They ought to explicitly retract their implication that something was wrong with the articles in that particular volume," said Leiter, who suggested the boycott in a blog post Monday. "Alternatively, they've got to come forward and say exactly what was wrong with them." The note was insulting to the guest editors and contributors, he said, and its inclusion suggested that the editors had given in to concerns of proponents of intelligent design.

In addressing the politically fraught conflict between evolution and intelligent design, Synthese ventured somewhat beyond its usual terrain: its articles usually address more arcane questions, including "Models and Simulations," "Logic and Philosophy of Science in the Footsteps of E.W. Beth" and "Stance and Rationality," all titles of special issues either published or scheduled for publication this year.

"For all this to hit the fan is really kind of stunning," said Fetzer, who has previously guest-edited issues of Synthese that dealt with subjects including probability, rationality and objectivity.

And politics -- academic and otherwise -- lies just below the surface of the debate. Leiter, Fetzer and Branch, as well as John Wilkins, a philosopher at the University of Sydney, Australia, who is collecting names for the boycott, are all sharp critics of intelligent design and of Beckwith. (Fetzer is also no stranger to controversial theories; outside his work on philosophy, for instance, he is a proponent of the claim that the U.S. government is responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks.)

The professors object to the disclaimer in part because it undermines the guest editors' and contributors' work, but also because it appears that the editors-in-chief "caved in to pressure" from advocates of intelligent design, Leiter said.

"I don't think they acted with malice," he said. Since the journal's content is usually uncontroversial outside academe, the editors might not have realized what they were getting into, he said. "I don't think they secretly supported intelligent design. They thought doing this would actually take some of the pressure off them, but that, I think, was a bad judgment call."

On Tuesday, the controversy hit the philosophy blogosphere, with some arguing in favor of the boycott, others saying it was too extreme a step to take, and still others holding out for more information, including a statement from the editors-in-chief, who as of late Tuesday evening, had promised but failed to issue one.

Eric Merkel-Sobotta, executive vice president for corporate communications of Springer Science+Business Media, the journal's publisher, said via e-mail Wednesday morning that "the only comment we can give in this matter is that lively and robust debate around evolutionary theory is nothing new. Springer supports broad scientific discussion among peers through its journals, but does not, as a company, comment on debates between experts in a given field."

Beckwith, whose formal response to Forrest's article will be published in a forthcoming issue, wrote on his blog that he was "honored that these editors have chosen to distance their prestigious journal from the less-than-scholarly tactics of Professor Forrest." Forrest could not be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon.

How successful the boycott will be is still unclear. Wilkins, who is keeping track of the boycott on his website, Evolving Thoughts, said he had heard from roughly a dozen academics, including prominent philosophers, in support of the movement. But Leiter noted that it could encounter difficulties. Synthese, which was first published in 1936, appears on the "A" list of the European Science Foundation's philosophy journals, which helps determine research funding, he said. And other philosophers might see a boycott as an opportunity to play the odds and get published, hoping that they would have a better chance of being selected if fellow academics are withholding their work, he said.

Still, "If the editors don't come up with a good explanation for what's going on or they don't disclaim the disclaimer, I think they're going to see a drop in their submissions," Leiter said. "It won't be total, but there will be some costs to this."

— Libby A. Nelson

Monday, April 18, 2011

Fear of death leads to rejection of evolution: study


April 13, 2011

Lesley Ciarula Taylor


Thoughts of death turn people away from evolution and toward the theory of intelligent design, a Canadian study reveals.

Five separate tests examined the reactions from people with a wide range of backgrounds.

"No previous study has examined whether psychological motives influence the ongoing debate" between evolution and intelligent design, Jessica Tracy, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia wrote in the study, which was published by the Public Library of Science.

"They're rejecting evolution because of a desire to find greater meaning or a sense to the world," said Tracy. "It's much more comforting."

Intelligent design is creationism restated in scientific terms. In Canada, the study noted, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada in 2006 refused to fund research because there was no proof "that the theory of Evolution and not Intelligent Design, was correct."

While much support for intelligent design is inspired by conservative political and religious reasons, neither shifted attitudes in the five studies, done with Union College in Schenectady, N.Y. But exposure to writing by cosmologist Carl Sagan about how naturalism can give meaning to life reversed attitudes, said Tracy.

"That suggests people have a desire to find meaning. We were very surprised to get these effects. It's quite novel to be able to shift people's views."

Taken together, she said, the research tells her teachers of evolution need to realize they're ignoring people's need for "an existentially compelling solution to life's origins." To do so scientists need to recognize one of intelligent design's compelling attractions is its ability to calm fears of death.

Tracy cautioned the results were small and based on laboratory study, although consistent in all five tests. The researchers now want to examine whether just believing life is meaningless, without being confronted by thoughts of death, would have the same effect.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A Look at the Alternative


April 14, 2011 Pet Talk

This year marks the 250th anniversary of veterinary medicine, as the world's first veterinary school opened in Lyon, France in 1764. However, veterinary medicine has been around since people and animals have coexisted, and there are many ancient techniques in veterinary medicine that have been used for thousands of years. Those ancient techniques are reaching the forefront once more as clients demand all available treatment options for their pets and veterinarians start to consider the staying powers of antique methods.

According to Dr. M.A. Crist, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), alternative veterinary medicine is best described as a term for a group of treatments or modalities that lie outside of the conventional or mainstream treatment of veterinary medicine. Occasionally, the terms "alternative veterinary medicine", "integrative veterinary medicine", and "complementary veterinary medicine" have been used as synonyms; therefore, veterinarians now use the acronym CAM to reference all three terms.

The American Veterinary Medical Association guidelines for alternative and complementary medicine state that holistic veterinary medicine includes, but is not limited to, the practice of acupuncture and acutherapy (involves the stimulation of specific points on the body by use of acupuncture needles, low level lasers, and other tools), botanical medicine (the use of plants and plant derivatives for treatment), chiropractic (refers to the adjustment and alignment of specific joints to create comfort), homeopathy (unique form of medicine), massage therapy (touch technique used to eliminate pain and to improve the bloodflow) , nutraceuticals (the use of nutritional supplements to aid in treatment), as well as conventional medicine, surgery and dentistry.

"Holistic veterinary medicine considers all aspects of the animal's life in the context of its environment, behavior, medical and dietary history, emotional stresses as well as a comprehensive physical examination, and other factors that may play a role in the animal patient's life," explains Crist. "In other words, diagnosing and treating the animal patient in the context of the 'whole' patient."

Most alternative medicine treatments are based on clinically accepted medicine. However, it is difficult to find scientific data to support the theory that these modalities are safe and effective. More clinical data is becoming available, but it is a very slow process due to limited funding for research.

There are still a lot of questions concerning alternative veterinary medicine techniques as some practitioners believe there is still little evidence today to back up the powerful claims.

"Some veterinary practitioners view complementary and alternative medicine as controversial," notes Crist. "Some critics believe that there is limited to no evidence-based data to support unconventional therapies or modalities and others claim that the evidence-based data to support these therapies is of poor quality."

"Owners need to understand that some of these modalities are slow and gentle and take time to take effect," says Crist. "Others may believe that alternative medicine does not work at all, because they may have waited too long in the disease process and despite what therapy is used, nothing will work."

"The approach in the field of complementary and alternative veterinary medicine is the philosophy that an integrated approach with conventional veterinary medicine will increase the chances that the patient will do well," explains Crist. "Conventional and alternative veterinary medicine is becoming more available from veterinarians because of client demand and also because some veterinarians are recognizing the value in using these alternative modalities in their patients."

If an animal does partake in any alternative technique without the care of its primary veterinarian, it is necessary for the owner to notify its primary veterinarian of any alternative modalities; especially if a pet takes medications, herbs, and supplements on a regular basis. Some of these therapies may interfere with other medications prescribed by the veterinarian.

"The FDA has classified herbal products as food supplements and they are marketed as such," says Crist. "Most herbal products or remedies are sold in various forms such as dried bulk, herbs, oils, tinctures, ointments, creams, and capsules. It is important to purchase high-quality products from a reputable and established supplier."

If interested in learning more about alternative medicine practices, it is important to visit with a veterinarian who is trained in CAM. To practice in any of these modalities veterinarians must first be certified and well versed in their area of interest within the scope of complementary and alternative medicine.

"These modalities should be practiced by a veterinarian with licensure and referral requirements concerning each modality," explains Crist. "The certification includes hundreds of hours of continuing education in that field, numerous examinations, multiple case reports, and hours and hours of shadowing an expert in the field. It is important that if an owner requests any of these integrated modalities that he or she is referred to a veterinarian certified in that field. It is also important that if they are referred by their regular veterinarian, that the two work together to do the best for the pet."

Alternative medicine is another option for the treatment of your pet. It is your job to do extensive research and consult with your veterinarian to decide if it is the best option for your pet.


Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at http://tamunews.tamu.edu.

Suggestions for future topics may be directed to cvmtoday@cvm.tamu.edu

NCSE's Steve Newton and the "Creationism" Gambit


Casey Luskin April 15, 2011 1:52 AM | Permalink

Last December, I wrote an op-ed in Christian Science Monitor arguing that Darwin lobbyists abuse the First Amendment by relabeling scientific critique of evolution as "creationism":

Courts have uniformly found that creationism is a religious viewpoint and thus illegal to teach in public school science classes. By branding scientific views they dislike as "religion" or "creationism," the Darwin lobby scares educators from presenting contrary evidence or posing critical questions - a subtle but effective form of censorship.

The media fall prey to this tactic, resulting in articles that confuse those asking for scientific debate with those asking for the teaching of religion. And Darwin's defenders come off looking like heroes, not censors.

Those who love the First Amendment should be outraged. In essence, the Darwin lobby is taking the separation of church and state - a good thing - and abusing it to promote censorship.

One Darwin lobbyist who (especially of late) makes strong use of this tactic is Steve Newton of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE). Newton isn't shy about tossing out the "creationist" label over and over and over again in hopes it will stick. He consistently uses what Paul Nelson calls "the creationism gambit." According to Dr. Nelson, the creationism gambit goes something like this:

Probably the most effective strategy for quenching such dissent is to label it as "creationism." Since the teaching of creationism in public school science classrooms has been ruled unconstitutional, one can effectively foreclose awkward but perfectly reasonable questions about evolution simply by saying, "Well, that's the sort of question a creationist would ask -- and creationism is out of bounds in this classroom."

Let's call this the creationism gambit. The creationism gambit silences questioning and dissent not only by removing a wide array of important topics from scientific discussion, but more subtly by conveying the implicit value that good scientists don't ask certain kinds of questions. ... The argument is familiar:

•Creationist X wrote about topic Y.

•EE discusses topic Y.

•Therefore, EE recycles a creationist argument (topic Y), which does not belong in public school science classrooms.

When seen in clear daylight, however, the creationism gambit is nothing more than the logical fallacy of the undistributed middle. Compare:

•Karl Marx wrote about capitalism.

•Milton Friedman discussed capitalism;

•Therefore, Milton Friedman had Marxist sympathies.

But the creationism gambit is far more than a logical fallacy. Pervasively illiberal and censorious, the creationism gambit steals from teachers and students their freedom to ask legitimate scientific questions--because of what someone else wrote, in another context, at another time.

If this guilt-by-association principle were applied broadly in educational practice, it would spell the end of knowledge and open inquiry. In particular, within biology teaching itself, influential and widely-cited texts in evolutionary theory--including Darwin's Origin of Species or Stephen Jay Gould's The Panda's Thumb--would fall under the same ban, along with many publications in the current scientific literature. Start with a fallacy, and its destructive illogic is impossible to control.

Let's look at just a few examples of Mr. Newton's use of the creationism gambit.

In January, 2011, Newton wrote a response to my 2010 Christian Science Monitor op-ed which, not counting the title, used the word "creationist" no fewer than 16 times. (For a more-detailed response to Newton's op-ed, see here.)

Similarly, in a recent article in the Oklahoma Gazette, Newton holds nothing back and puts all his money on the creationism gambit, claiming: "Discovery Institute is trying to get creationism into public schools."

Despite the utter falsity of his claim, I will show civility in response to Mr. Newton. Discovery Institute does not support teaching creationism in public schools. In fact, we don't even support pushing intelligent design into public schools, which is different than creationism. Rather, we think public schools should simply teach the scientific evidence for and against neo-Darwinian evolution.

Newton further claims that "academic freedom" is a euphemism for "creationism," which is odd because the Oklahoma Academic Freedom bill he was attacking contained a provision that expressly barred the teaching of religion and creationism:

The provisions of the Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act shall only protect the teaching of scientific information, and shall not be construed to promote any religious or nonreligious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs or nonbeliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion. The intent of the provisions of the act is to create an environment in which both the teacher and students can openly and objectively discuss the facts and observations of science, and the assumptions that underlie their interpretation.

So while Oklahoma's academic freedom bill only allowed the teaching of science and did not allow the teaching of religion, Newton would relabel legitimate scientific content allowed under the bill as "creationism." His purpose is simple: he wants to use the First Amendment in order to censor from students legitimate science that might challenge neo-Darwinian evolution.

Newton most recently made the creationism gambit when speaking to Science about the Louisiana Academic Freedom Law and the current Tennessee Academic Freedom bill:

If the bill passes, Tennessee would join Louisiana as the second state to have specific "protection" for the teaching of evolution in the classroom. The effects of the Louisiana law, which passed in 2008, are still unclear. "Some teachers there are teaching creationism, were before, and now will be even more encouraged to bring out antievolution rhetoric," says Newton.

But just like the Oklahoma bill, both the Louisiana law and the Tennessee bill contain express provisions that prohibit teaching religion, including creationism.

Indeed, in other venues Newton hasn't been so shy about trying to censor non-Darwinian views by labeling them "religion" or "creationism."

In 2009, Newton released talking points on behalf of the NCSE for activists in Texas where he tried to relabel scientific critiques of evolution as both religion and creationism. Using typical NCSE rhetoric, he told activists to testify that "creationist 'weaknesses' of evolution are inherently religious," apparently unable to not repeatedly use the phrase "creationist Discovery Institute." All told, his Texas talking points used the word "creationist" and its cognates no fewer than 50 times!

Newton's Texas talking points are a study in the creationism gambit at its best, but they can also teach us other things about why he makes heavy use of this tactic.

Scientism and Busting the Ghost of Creationism

Why is Newton so focused on labeling people, specifically those he brands "creationists"? As we've already discussed, it's a convenient argument to ban views you disagree with from public education. But perhaps we may find a deeper answer in Newton's own personal views which are revealed in the Texas talking points document:

Not only do Newton's Texas talking points assert that "rational thinking" denies the supernatural, but they unambiguously state that "[s]cience posits that there are no forces outside of nature. Science cannot be neutral on this issue. The history of science is a long comment denying that forces outside of nature exist, and proving that this is the case again and again."

The talking points even encouraged activists to condescendingly demean those who believe in the supernatural by stating: "All educated people understand there are no forces outside of nature." (emphasis added)

To be clear, Newton isn't merely adopting methodological naturalism by saying that science cannot study the supernatural. He clearly tries to say that science denies "that forces outside of nature exist." Such arguments don't just say that science is merely a way of knowing--it asserts that science is the only way of knowing. There's a name for this position: it's called scientism.

Mr. Newton is fully welcome to believe in scientism if that's what he wishes. But perhaps what he fears most is someone who would suggest that forces outside of nature may have influenced the natural world. Perhaps he's constantly afraid that critiquing neo-Darwinian evolution really will lead to "creationism"--even if such critiques are different from creationism. Perhaps this explains Mr. Newton's extremely strong tendency to make the creationism gambit, relabeling legitimate science that challenges neo-Darwinian evolution by misrepresenting it as "creationism."

What Newton is actually fighting of course isn't creationism--it's science that he disagrees with. But since the courts have found creationism is religion, he clearly finds it convenient to call whatever scientific views he doesn't like "creationism" for the purpose of censoring them from public school students. To reiterate:

By branding scientific views they dislike as "religion" or "creationism," the Darwin lobby scares educators from presenting contrary evidence or posing critical questions - a subtle but effective form of censorship.

While Darwin lobbyists like Newton constantly charge that "creationism" has been relabeled as "academic freedom," the only party who is doing any relabeling is the Darwin lobby itself, which constantly claims--wrongly--that academic freedom to scientifically critique evolution is the equivalent of teaching "creationism."

Moth Mutation Explains Classic Example of Evolution


By Tina Hesman Saey, Science News April 15, 2011 | 10:45 am | Categories: Biology

The molecular mechanics behind a classic example of evolution that dates back to Darwin's time may soon be revealed.

As soot from coal-fired factories blackened trees and buildings in 19th-century England, naturalists noticed that peppered moths were also trading in their light-colored wings sprinkled with black specks for a sleek, all-black stealth-bomber look known as the carbonaria form. Within a few decades of their first appearance near Manchester, the black moths dominated, making up 90 percent or more of the peppered moth population in local urban areas.

Biology textbooks often cite peppered moths as a classic example of adaptation to changing environmental conditions. The trouble is, no one really knew which molecular changes led the moths to switch wing color. It was an open debate whether the change, which presumably allowed moths to blend better into the increasingly grimy background and avoid bird predators, was due to one mutation or many, and if the adaptation occurred once or several times.

Now, researchers led by Ilik Saccheri, an ecological geneticist at the University of Liverpool in England, report online April 14 in Science that they have traced the mutation responsible for the funereal look to a single page in the moth's genetic instruction book. That page is a region of a chromosome that contains genetic instructions for creating color patterns on wings in butterflies and other related species. This region of the butterfly and moth genome is an adaptation hot spot — one in which mutations produce hundreds of different wing-color patterns in many species, including variations that allow edible butterfly species to mimic foul-tasting species, and mutations that control the size of eyespots on butterfly wings.

"The fact that the carbonaria mutation maps to the same region as butterfly-wing-pattern genes is amazing," says Robert D. Reed, an evolutionary developmental biologist at the University of California, Irvine, who was not involved in the study. "Presumably it takes hundreds of genes to make a wing pattern, so why does this region appear over and over again?"

As yet, no one has identified the precise DNA changes that lead to the hundreds of different color patterns, but scientists are actively scouring the region for the pattern-changing mutations.

Likewise, Saccheri and his colleagues don't yet know which genes or regulatory elements are altered by the carbonaria mutation. What they do know is that the black moths they collected from 80 sites in the United Kingdom share some key genetic signposts, suggesting that the carbonaria mutation involves only one spot in the genome and happened just once, probably shortly before the first reported sightings in 1848 near Manchester.

"I think we have fairly strong evidence that industrial melanism in the U.K. was seeded by a single recent mutation," Saccheri says. That might not settle the matter, though. "Until we find the causal mutation it's still open to some debate."

Peppered moths in continental Europe and the eastern United States also went dark during the industrial revolution. Saccheri does not know if those moths have mutations in the same region as the British moths or if mutations elsewhere produced the same color pattern.

Notably, once the air was cleaned up in Britain, the black moths declined in numbers while the peppered form increased. The carbonaria form now account for only a few percent of peppered moths in England and Wales, Saccheri says.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Lynn Margulis Criticizes Neo-Darwinism in Discover Magazine (Updated)


Casey Luskin April 12, 2011 12:05 AM | Permalink

National Academy of Sciences member biologist Lynn Margulis does not support intelligent design. She's a materialist who is seeking materialist explanations of evolution. However, as revealed in a recent interview with Discover Magazine, she's a skeptic of neo-Darwinian evolution, and she expressly admits that many of her criticisms of neo-Darwinism are the same as those made by proponents of intelligent design (ID). She first explains why she disagrees with the adequacy of mutation and natural selection:

This is the issue I have with neo-Darwinists: They teach that what is generating novelty is the accumulation of random mutations in DNA, in a direction set by natural selection. If you want bigger eggs, you keep selecting the hens that are laying the biggest eggs, and you get bigger and bigger eggs. But you also get hens with defective feathers and wobbly legs. Natural selection eliminates and maybe maintains, but it doesn't create.... [N]eo-Darwinists say that new species emerge when mutations occur and modify and organism. I was taught over and over again that the accumulation of random mutations led to evolutionary change-led to new species. I believed it until I looked for evidence.

In this vein, when asked about the Grants' famous studies of evolution in Galapagos finches, she states: "They saw lots of variation within a species, changes over time. But they never found any new species--ever."

When asked, "What kind of evidence turned you against neo-Darwinism?" she replies it is a lack of evidence for gradual change in the fossil record:

What you'd like to see is a good case for gradual change from one species to another in the field, in the laboratory, or in the fossil record--and preferably in all three. Darwin's big mystery was why there was no record at all before a specific point [dated to 542 million years ago by modern researchers], and then all of the sudden in the fossil record you get nearly all the major types of animals. The paleontologists Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould studied lakes in East Africa and on Caribbean islands looking for Darwin's gradualchange from one species of trilobite or snail to another. What they found was lots of back-and-forth variation in the population and then--whoop--a whole new species. There is no gradualism in the fossil record.

One fascinating comment comes when ID is brought up. The question posed was: "Some of your criticisms of natural selection sound a lot like those of Michael Behe, one of the most famous proponents of 'intelligent design,' and yet you have debated Behe. What is the difference between your views?" And she answered:

The critics, including the creationist critics, are right about their criticism. It's just that they've got nothing to offer by intelligent design or "God did it." They have no alternatives that are scientific.

So obviously Margulis disagrees with the positive argument for design laid out by ID proponents (though she puts forth a false caricature of the ID argument), but she agrees that ID proponents (which wrongly she lumps as "creationists") are "right about their criticisms" of neo-Darwinism. One thing is clear: Margulis shows that one can critique neo-Darwinism and not be a "creationist."

Are Darwin-Critics Tolerated in the Academy?

The short answer is sometimes maybe--but only if they are materialists like Margulis who openly oppose intelligent design. Even then, many anti-ID biologists feel pressured to withhold critiques of neo-Darwinism.

Nonetheless, some Darwin lobbyists have cited Margulis as evidence that one can critique the neo-Darwinian paradigm and not face opposition. Let's consider that argument in light of her express attacks on ID.

In the interview, Margulis shares some personal experiences about whether she receives pushback due to her non-Darwinian views. She explains that "[a]nyone who is overtly critical of the foundations of his science is persona non grata. I am critical of evolutionary biology that is based on population genetics."

Amazingly, while materialists who challenge neo-Darwinism are apparently "persona non grata," Margulis explains that scientists who continue to pursue Darwinian explanations will readily receive grants and support even though they admit the paradigm is failing:

Population geneticist Richard Lewontin gave a talk here at UMass Amherst about six years ago, and he mathemetized all of it--changes in the population, random mutation, sexual selection, cost and benefit. At the end of his talk he said, "You know, we've tried to test these ideas in the field and the lab, and there are really no measurements that match the quantities I've told you about." This just appalled me. So I said, "Richard Lewontin, you are a great lecturer to have the courage to say it's gotten you nowhere. But then why do you continue to do this work?" And he looked around and said, "It's the only thing I know how to do, and if I don't do it I won't get grant money." So he's an honest man, and that's an honest answer.

In the end, however, there's no doubt that as a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, Margulis is generally tolerated. Why is that?

Well, for one Margulis has made significant contributions to evolutionary thinking with her endosymbiosis hypothesis--an idea which is highly flawed--but nonetheless courts her favor with modern evolutionary biologists.

But when critics of the Darwinian paradigm like Margulis are tolerated, it's because they wholly reject intelligent design and believe that unguided material causes built all of life's complexity. They don't threaten the core materialism of neo-Darwinism, making it unsurprising that they have experienced no persecution. Rejecting ID and embracing materialism seems to be a necessary condition of being tolerated as a dissenter from neo-Darwinism.

As I explain at 'Expelled Exposed' Is Wrong: Materialists Allowed to Challenge Neo-Darwinian Orthodoxy, Intelligent Design Proponents Are Not, "One can express scientific dissent from neo-Darwinism--albeit rarely, sheepishly, and full of disclaimers and political pledges to materialism--so long as that dissent does not support intelligent design." Margulis is welcome to disagree with ID if that's how she feels. But her hasty (and inaccurate) rhetoric against ID proponents as "creationists" who say "God did it" and offer "no alternatives that are scientific" is evidence that my point is correct.


Update: It seems that even materialist critics of neo-Darwinism like Margulis face strong pushback in some quarters. Jerry Coyne has already picked up on her interview, stating: "When discussing evolutionary biology, then, Lynn Margulis is dogmatic, wilfully ignorant, and intellectually dishonest."

He also tries to pressure Discover Magazine into publishing an article defending neo-Darwinism (isn't this what virtually every other issue of Discover Magazine does?), for the purely political goal of not lending credence to what he calls "the creationist Discovery Institute":

Margulis's interview comes off as unsullied, uncontested, and ultimately unwarranted criticism of modern evolutionary biology (it has, of course, already been picked up by the creationist Discovery Institute). It would seem incumbent on Discover to offer a counteropinion. Otherwise, they've acted like a referee who lets a favored boxer get away with punching below the belt.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Bill Allowing Teachers to Challenge Evolution Passes Tennessee House


by Sara Reardon on 7 April 2011, 6:14 PM

In a 70-28 vote today, the Tennessee House of Representatives passed HB 368, a bill that encourages science teachers to explore controversial topics without fear of reprisal. Critics say the measure will enable K-12 teachers to present intelligent design and creationism as acceptable alternatives to evolution in the classroom.

The bill's text, if passed into state law, would protect teachers from discipline if they "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," namely, "biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning." The bill also says that its "shall not be construed to promote any religious or non-religious doctrine."

In a letter to the House education subcommittee, Alan I. Leshner, the chief executive officer of AAAS (which publishes ScienceInsider), said, "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."

In addition to AAAS, the Tennessee Science Teachers Association, the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, and the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) have expressed their opposition to the bill.

"There has been a widespread pattern of discrimination against educators who would challenge evolution in the classroom," Casey Luskin, a policy analyst for the pro-intelligent design Discovery Institute, in Seattle, Washington, told ScienceInsider. "Schools censor from students the evidence against evolution. This protects the rights of teachers to teach in an objective way." The Discovery Institute supports the bill and others like it in other states.

"We think it's very unfortunate that the House has chosen to push this forward," Steven Newton, policy director at NCSE, told ScienceInsider. "It would be especially unfortunate if this took the next step and became law, as it might give momentum to antievolution forces and forces that seek to deny the reality of climate change."

If the bill passes, Tennessee would join Louisiana as the second state to have specific "protection" for the teaching of evolution in the classroom. The effects of the Louisiana law, which passed in 2008, are still unclear. "Some teachers there are teaching creationism, were before, and now will be even more encouraged to bring out antievolution rhetoric," says Newton.

An identical Tennessee Senate bill, SB 893, is up for a vote by the Senate Education Committee at the end of the month. If it follows the party line vote seen in the House, Newton expects it to pass and Republican Governor Bill Haslam to sign it into law.

Follow ScienceInsider on Facebook and Twitter

Anti-Science Bill Passes Tennessee House


April 11, 20112:29 AM
Post by Lauri Lebo

The "strengths and weaknesses" bill introduced by Tennessee State Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, passed overwhelmingly in the House last week by a 70 to 23 vote.

While Dunn insists that the bill is not anti-evolution, but merely about improving teaching in the public schools, comments by the bill's supporters reveal a stunning hostility towards science and education.

Andy Sher writing for the Chattanooga Free Press, quotes bill-supporter Rep. Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga, saying that "since the late '50s, early '60s when we let the intellectual bullies hijack our education system, we've been on a slippery slope."

Floyd sounds as if he's been listening to Texas Board of Education Don McLeroy, who, in arguing for creationist language in public school textbooks, said, "Someone has to stand up to the experts."

Sher also quotes Rep. Sheila Butt, R-Columbia, who said when she was in high school, "we gave up Aqua Net hair spray" because of fears "it was causing global warming."

"Since then scientists have said that maybe we shouldn't have given up that aerosol can because that aerosol can was actually absorbing the Earth's rays and keeping us from global warming."

Mother Jones has video of the debate.

The bill, which has yet to pass the Senate, would require teachers to be helped "to find effective ways to present the science curriculum as it addresses scientific controversies." It also says that teachers 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."

Those "controversial" theories would include, "Biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning."

The bill's language is based on sample legislation proposed by the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, an organization that promotes intelligent design.

The Senate version is scheduled for the Senate Education Committee on April 20.

In March, the Sensuous Curmudgeon predicted that of the record number of creationist bills that have been introduced in states across the country, the Tennessee bill would be the one to become law. So far, he's half right.

Attacks Mount on Teaching of Evolution


Robert Roy Britt, Editor in Chief
Date: 11 April 2011 Time: 07:12 PM ET

Creationism and intelligent design are not science, whereas evolution is a solid scientific theory.

The anti-evolution crowd has come out swinging this year. So far the theory has not taken one on the chin, but that could change soon in Tennessee.

The pounding is coming not from scientists, but from politicians who would chip away at the solid theory's foundations in an effort to interject religion into the teaching of science in public schools.

So far this year, seven states have proposed bills that would weaken evolution's standing in the classroom. The legislation is often couched as supporting academic freedom, points out the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), a group that defends the teaching of evolution in public schools. But critics say each bill has been, in fact, an attempt to foster the false belief among students that evolution is "just a theory" with "significant holes" that is wide open to competing ideas. And those competing ideas favor a deity. [See What's a Theory? & How Evolution Works]

"In an era when biology education is increasingly critical to industry and to an informed citizenry, this sort of law is especially dangerous," said Josh Rosenau, a biologist and programs and policy director at the NCSE.

Trouble in Tennessee

The latest anti-evolution legislation advanced last week when the Tennessee House of Representatives passed a bill by a vote of 70-28 that encourages teachers to question the theory of evolution, as well as the science of global warming, in science classes.

But the ideas proposed as alternatives to evolution — creationism and intelligent design— are not science. Creationism is religion. Intelligent design is just plain sneaky: It is rooted in religion but couched in pseudoscience with enough scientific-sounding mumbo-jumbo to confuse a kid into thinking there just might be something to it.

Neither has any place in a science curriculum, scientists overwhelmingly agree.

"A clear understanding of biology is critical to careers in biotechnology, and to being an informed patient in a doctor's office," Rosenau told LiveScience. "Bills like this will confuse students in what may be their last science class."

Likewise, the vast majority of climate scientists see zero controversy on the data showing that the planet is warming.

The Tennessee bill, HB 368, states that "the teaching of some scientific subjects, including, but not limited to, biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning, can cause controversy," and the legislation would protect teachers from discipline if they "help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories."

That all sounds great, if there were indeed controversy that needed teaching.

"There is virtually no scientific controversy among the overwhelming majority of researchers on the core facts of global warming and evolution," said Alan I. Leshner, the chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which publishes the leading journal Science. "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," Leshner wrote March 2 in a letter to the House education subcommittee.

Widespread disbelief

In a study earlier this year that might surprise many scientists, 13 percent of biology teachers in the United States were found to advocate teaching creationism in the classroom. The survey also revealed that a majority of high school biology teachers in this country wimp out when it comes to taking a solid position on evolution in the classroom — but mostly to avoid conflicts, they say.

Tennessee teachers tend to think HB 368 is a lousy bill.

According to the National Center for Science Education, the Tennessee Science Teachers Association, which represents the supposed beneficiaries of the bill, characterizes it as "unnecessary, anti-scientific, and very likely unconstitutional."

"I wish I knew why politicians were substituting their judgment for that of classroom teachers," said Rosenau, who follows anti-evolution legislation closely and has testified before school boards and met with legislators. "Teachers and scientists got together and evaluated the science in preparing Tennessee's state science standards, but the legislature is now second-guessing that effort. No high school teachers or administrators have spoken out for this bill, while a biology teacher at the top science high school in Tennessee has twice testified against it."

A similar bill is likely to be voted on in the Tennessee Senate later this month, and some expect the governor to sign the ultimate legislation.

"It's looking increasingly likely that the Tennessee bill will become law," Rosenau said. "Concerned parents and teachers and scientists in Tennessee are still fighting to stop it, but so far the legislators supporting the bill have not been responsive to their constituents' concerns."

Mutate and spread

Other anti-evolution bills have been introduced this year in Florida (in committee), Texas (in committee), Missouri (has not advanced), Kentucky (dead), Oklahoma (dead) and New Mexico (dead).

History suggests that what happens in Tennessee doesn't stay in Tennessee.

"There's no doubt that this bill's passage would encourage other states to pass similarly misguided laws," Rosenau said.

He points out that after Tennessee passed the first "monkey" bill in the 1920s — which led to biology teacher John Scopes being fined $100 for teaching evolution to high-school students—dozens of other states went on to consider the same sorts of laws, "with one such law staying on the books in Arkansas until the 1960s, when the Supreme Court finally struck it down," Rosenau said.

You can follow Robert Roy Britt on Twitter and Facebook.

Alternative medicine is not medicine


By Michaeld Dippold – Michael.S.Dippold@gmail.com

Published: Monday, April 11, 2011

Updated: Monday, April 11, 2011 14:04

You may have heard about a branch of "medicine" available to people who want to get away from all of those icky unnatural substances that greedy pharmaceutical corporations put into medicines designed to produce drug dependency with no real benefit. It's for those who want to return to a more natural, alternative way of living.

Of course, all of the above is complete nonsense. As comedian and musician Tim Minchin wryly quipped in the middle of a beat poem called "Storm," "by definition alternative medicine has either not been proved to work, or has been proved not to work. Do you know what they call alternative medicine that's been proved to work? Medicine."

Alternative medicine, like homeopathy, vitamins and minerals, herb-based therapies, crystal healing, faith healing and most "eastern medicine," is usually based on historical or cultural practices – time-tested traditions that people have long known to be effective, even though conventional medicine hasn't gotten around to scientifically verifying, bottling and commoditizing it yet.

Alternative medicine claims are all based on anecdotes – stories about their success that are usually either wholly fabricated or confuse correlation with causation. In either case, alternative medicine is fundamentally unscientific. It's not evidence-based and shouldn't even be called medicine. The term "alternative medicine" presupposes that it's a legitimate alternative to real medicine, when it's clearly not. If you want to sell people vitamins and herbs, that's fine, but don't call it medicine, and don't tell people that it works.

Some alternative medicine is so bizarre that it's hard to believe that anyone could be fooled by it. Homeopathy is my favorite example. It works based on the "law of similars", which German physician Samuel Hahnemann made up in the late 18th century. The preparation of a homeopathic remedy involves taking a very small amount of some substance and putting that substance into distilled water. This is followed by vigorous shaking, and then a small sample of that dilution is taken and put into fresh distilled water, which is also shaken. That process is then repeated several times. When it's finished, there's usually not any of the original substance left. If there is any of the original substance left, it's so small that it's basically immeasurable. They then give this to the patient.

Thankfully, science has weighed in on homeopathy, and it's repeatedly been proven to be no more effective than a placebo. Not a terribly surprising result, since the recipient of the treatment is basically just drinking water. The same is often true of other alternative medicines. This is one of the sillier examples of the impotence of natural remedies, but there are still plenty of people who believe that it works.

Alternative medicine also isn't always harmless. While there are a lot of jokes to be made at the expense of alternative medicine providers and their gullible customers, there can be real danger involved. There's a website called whatstheharm.net that does a good job of documenting examples of harm caused by pseudo-science. It includes a lot of examples of people dying unnecessarily because they chose alternative medicine at the expense of real medicine, including a 9-year-old German boy named Dominick. "His parents chose an alternative treatment for his cancer involving vitamin and mineral doses. The government tried to intervene. The boy eventually died." There are many other stories like that on the site.

Vitamin and mineral doses didn't kill Dominick though; his parents' belief in pseudo-science did. Alternative medicine becomes more than an oddity when it's substituted for real medicine, especially in life-threatening cases. And this wasn't a fluke – that's how it's marketed. It's an alternative to other (scientific) medicine.

It may seem like I'm wholly opposed to natural remedies, but that's not the case. Much of real medicine is based on recognizing benefits that come from natural substances and making them suitable for human use. I'm fine with natural remedies as long as they are based in solid empirical research, as opposed to the unproven and unscientific "alternative medicine." Science gives us a good idea of what works and what doesn't, and it's absolutely the only thing that we should trust for something as important as our health. Alternative medicine may charm you with talking points about the need to go "natural," and need to get away from pill dependency, but don't fall for it – it's just snake oil. It's a waste of your time and money, and depending on what real medicine you forgo, it could cost you your life.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Evolution education update: April 8, 2011

Bad news from Tennessee, where antievolution legislation passed the House and is under consideration by a Senate committee. Plus the winner of NCSE's UpChucky award for 2010.


Tennessee's House Bill 368 passed the House of Representatives on a 70-23 vote on April 7, 2011. "The debate ranged over the scientific method, 'intellectual bullies,' hair spray and 'Inherit the Wind,'" reported the Chattanooga Times Free Press (April 7, 2011).

The bill, if enacted, would require state and local educational authorities to "assist teachers to find effective ways to present the science curriculum as it addresses scientific controversies" and permit teachers to "help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught." The only examples provided of "controversial" theories are "biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning." The sponsor of HB 368, Bill Dunn (R-District 16), claimed that the teaching of "intelligent design" would not be protected by the bill. Its chief lobbyist, David Fowler of the Family Action Council of Tennessee, claimed otherwise in the Chattanoogan (February 21, 2011).

The Tennessean (in its editorial of March 29, 2011), the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee have all expressed their opposition to HB 368, with the Tennessee Science Teachers Association -- representing the supposed beneficiaries of the bill -- characterizing it as "unnecessary, anti-scientific, and very likely unconstitutional." The TSTA's Becky Ashe, who is also the executive director of curriculum and instruction for Knox County Schools, told the Knoxville Metro Pulse (April 6, 2011) that in her decade of service there, no teacher has been disciplined for mentioning alternative beliefs to evolution in the classroom. She added that the science standards already emphasize critical thinking, making the bill completely unnecessary.

The Senate version of the bill, SB 893, was discussed, but not voted on, by the Senate Education Committee on March 30, 2011; according to the Metro Pulse, a committee vote is not expected until April 20, 2011.

For the story in the Chattanooga Times Free Press, visit:

For Fowler's op-ed in the Chattanoogan, visit: http://www.chattanoogan.com/articles/article_195128.asp

For the editorial in The Tennessean, visit:

For NCSE's coverage of the opposition to HB 368, visit:

For the story in the Knoxville Metro Pulse, visit:

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


Tennessee's Senate Bill 893 was discussed, but not voted on, by the Senate Education Committee on March 30, 2011. The Chattanooga Times Free Press (March 31, 2011) reported that its sponsor Bo Watson (R-District 11) denied that SB 893 -- recently dubbed "the monkey bill" by a fellow legislator -- attacks evolution. But high school biology teacher Wesley Roberts, who testified against the bill, told the committee, "part of our rich cultural history in Tennessee is opposition to evolution education. This bill is part of that tradition. It is not inviting students to discuss the controversy of the Vietnam war. It's not encouraging students to discuss the true value of pi. It's aimed at science and evolution."

Speaking to reporters afterward, Watson acknowledged, "evolution is the most legitimate scientific process that we have to explain how the world works around us," but claimed "there are competing ideas" such as creationism. "They may not meet the scientific standard," Watson was quoted as saying, "but if they come up in a science class ... and it's not listed in the state's curriculum, a teacher should not be off-putting and say that's not in the curriculum -- if you want to talk about intelligent design you should go down the hall to the religious studies class. Teachers should be able to say, look, there are people who view that as a competing idea."

House Bill 368, the counterpart of SB 893, passed the House Education Committee on March 29, 2011, and referred to the House Calendar and Rules Committee, chaired by its sponsor Bill Dunn (R-District 16). In a stinging editorial published the same day, the Nashville Tennessean (March 29, 2011) denounced the antievolution legislation in Tennessee, writing, "when a piece of legislation is so distorted in fact, so misleading in its intent, and so fraught with the potential to do more harm than good to the people and the reputation of Tennessee, it must be shown for what it is," and describing it as "not only an attack on science but on First Amendment guarantees of speech and religious freedoms."

A later article in The Tennessean (April 3, 2011) -- headlined "TN bill would let God into science classrooms" -- discussed the legislation in the context of the state science standards, which include evolution but not creationism. Bo Watson told the newspaper, "Teachers should be able to answer [questions] without feeling they violate the curriculum standards," but Molly Miller, a professor of geology at Vanderbilt University, who testified against SB 893, told the Senate Education Committee, "This bill is unnecessary ... Teachers are already mandated to teach all sides of scientific controversies. Why should legislators change the science standards, overruling those that worked hard?"

For the story in the Chattanooga Times Free Press, visit:

For the editorial in The Tennessean, visit:

For the story in The Tennessean, visit:

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


Not content only to honor those who have valiantly defended the teaching of evolution in the public schools with its annual Friend of Darwin award (presented for 2010 to Niles Eldredge), NCSE also presents the annual UpChucky, bestowed on the most noisome creationist of the year. "It's a spoof award, of course," explained NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott, "but even so there's a lot of competition out there, unfortunately."

The nominees for 2010, as announced in a press release issued on March 29, 2011, were: Answers in Genesis, for its proposed Ark Encounter theme park; John Freshwater, the Mount Vernon, Ohio, middle school science teacher who was fired over his inappropriate religious activity in the classroom, including teaching creationism; and the Louisiana Family Forum, for its unremitting attempts to undermine the teaching of evolution in Louisiana's public schools.

And the winner is ... Answers in Genesis, whose "Ark Park" project is already controversial not only because of the threat it poses to the state's reputation but also because of the prospect of its receiving state tourism development incentives, to the tune of 37.5 million dollars over ten years. "I don't remember Noah asking for a government handout to build his ark," joked NCSE's Scott. "Why isn't Answers in Genesis following his model?"

For the UpChucky press release, visit:

For the 2010 Friend of Darwin award announcement, visit:

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

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

Subscribe to NCSE's free weekly e-newsletter:

NCSE is on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter:

NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today!

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Teacher says he may lose appeal in anti-Christian case


Published: April 8, 2011
Updated: 12:27 p.m.

MISSION VIEJO – James Corbett, the high school history teacher successfully sued by a former student for disparaging Christianity in class, says he believes he may lose his federal appeal after being backed into a legal corner by a lower court's ruling.

In a lengthy Letter to the Editor published Friday on the Register's website, Corbett explained that U.S. District Judge James Selna in Santa Ana framed his ruling against Corbett in such a way that the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals may have no choice legally but to side with student Chad Farnan. The 9th Circuit is considering the appeal now.

High school history teacher James Corbett, pictured in this September 2010 photo speaking to members of the high-IQ society Mensa in Irvine, says he believes he may lose his appeal of a federal judge's decision that found he violated a student's First Amendment rights by disparaging Christianity in class.FILE PHOTO: KEN STEINHARDT, THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTERRelated stories

Two years ago, Selna applied a legal litmus test known as the Lemon Test to a series of statements Corbett made in class, ruling that the Capistrano Valley High School teacher violated student Farnan's constitutional rights when referring to Creationism as "religious, superstitious nonsense."

All of the other statements cited in Farnan's lawsuit were deemed acceptable under the First Amendment's establishment clause, a law that has been interpreted by the courts to mean government employees cannot display religious hostility.

"My attorney believed a fair application of Lemon Test would turn in my favor, but the test fails in a case such as mine both as a matter of law and of logic," Corbett said in an interview. "Had I gone to court, I could easily have demonstrated that the recordings were edited and that Chad's claim of 'damages' was false."

Dan Spradlin, an attorney hired by the Capistrano Unified School District to defend Corbett in district court, could not immediately be reached for comment.

After Corbett was sued in December 2007, Spradlin advised him to seek summary judgment from a judge, rather than allow the case to proceed to a jury trial.

Corbett said that in retrospect, this decision prevented Farnan from being cross-examined under oath about whether he spliced and edited the lectures that he tape-recorded, and thus whether they could have been taken out of context.

"It was Selna who backed me into a corner with a ruling that, on the one hand made it appear as if Chad had a case, and on the other hand, prevented me from having a day in court," Corbett said. "I was never asked (by Selna) about the 'superstitious' comment at all, so I was never given the chance to explain the context. It wasn't even part of Chad's complaint. Selna pulled it out by himself during the hearing, and Dan (Spradlin) did his best to explain it, but the defendant has no right to speak in a hearing, so Selna never heard from me on the phrase."

(Click here to read Corbett's full Letter to the Editor.)

In an interview, Farnan's attorney, Jennifer Monk, said she believed the outcome of the case would have been the same if it had gone to a jury trial. She also denied the tapes were edited or out of context.

"It's very easy and convenient for Dr. Corbett to say that without any proof," Monk said. "I can't imagine how we could have spliced it to make it sound more or less than what it is."

If Farnan had been cross-examined, Corbett also said he would have had the opportunity to try to poke holes in Farnan's premise that he sued his teacher because his constitutional rights were being violated.

"A trial would have revealed Chad to be a confused young man who was little more than a pawn in the hands of the Advocates for Faith & Freedom (Farnan's attorneys), who used the publicity generated by the case to line their pockets," Corbett said in his Letter to the Editor.

"The main charge is that I was 'hostile' to Chad's religious views," Corbett wrote. "In that regard, he was asked (in his deposition), 'Did Dr. Corbett ever criticize any opinion that was ever expressed by any student in the class?' Chad said, 'Well, yes, mine.' He continued, 'Well, he probably didn't know that I had that opinion. ...I really didn't say anything ever.' My attorney asked, 'He never criticized anything you said?' Chad responded, 'Well, I didn't really say anything in class, so I guess, no.' To put it more succinctly, Chad admits I never criticized anything he said, because he said nothing."

Monk said that Corbett's recent efforts to disparage his former student and question Farnan's motives were irrelevant to the facts of the case.

"It doesn't matter why Chad filed the lawsuit," Monk said. "Dr. Corbett might think it matters, but it doesn't matter legally. The law is the law."

Although Selna ruled against Corbett on the Creationism comment two years ago, the judge also noted Corbett would not have necessarily known he was violating Farnan's constitutional rights and thus barred the teacher from having to pay attorney fees and damages under a "qualified immunity" defense. Qualified immunity is a form of federal protection for government employees who have violated an individual's constitutional rights.

Both sides have appealed the ruling to the 9th Circuit. Corbett is seeking to be vindicated; Farnan is seeking a stronger ruling against Corbett, and for Corbett's qualified immunity to be tossed out.

Corbett is now represented by a team of pro-bono attorneys led by nationally renowned constitutional scholar Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of UC Irvine's law school.

A three-member panel of federal appellate judges heard the case Feb. 11 in Pasadena; a decision is pending.

The 9th Circuit court, which has given no indication of how it might rule, has wide discretion with this case. It can rule on any or all of the arguments presented, declare portions to be moot, and/or send the case back to the trial court.

Corbett remains in his teaching position; Farnan, who brought the lawsuit as a sophomore at Capistrano Valley High in December 2007, is now a freshman at Pepperdine University in Malibu.

Contact the writer: 949-454-7394 or smartindale@ocregister.com

Citizen's Voice: Why intelligent design doesn't qualify as science


Elizabeth Cooper
Knoxville News Sentinel
Posted April 9, 2011 at midnight

As someone who has spent her career in science, I have no delusion that the debate over teaching evolution in public schools will go away. But after 10 years of teaching the scientific method at the college level, I hope we can put at least one issue to rest. Intelligent design is not science, and here's why:

The scientific method begins with a theory. Not just a "let's-take-a-crack-at-it" kind of theory but an actual scientific theory. Now, to be considered a scientific theory you need three key characteristics.

First, the theory must be the best explanation for what we know now. That means as many facts and pieces of data we have about a topic must be woven together into the most complete and least far-fetched story we can devise.

Second, it must be possible to test the theory. In fact, it must be possible to show that the theory is wrong. Evolution could be shown to be wrong. If we found conclusive evidence that the Earth is not very old or if we started finding fossils completely out of any reasonable chronological order (like humans during the time of dinosaurs), we would have to rethink the whole thing. Creation "scientists" know this, which is why they devote their careers to invalidating the current evidence and carbon dating techniques, etc. What they miss is the simple fact of debate that tearing down your opponent's argument does not make your explanation more valid. Intelligent design, however, relies on the argument, "It's so complicated only God could produce it." And maybe God is responsible, but there is no way for science to test if that's true or not - thus intelligent design misses the mark of a scientific theory.

The third characteristic is scientific theories must change in light of new data. If something is discovered that conflicts with current theory, then the theory must be modified to accommodate the new facts. The lack of this characteristic in intelligent design is well-illustrated by a conversation I had with the tour guide at a creationist museum near San Diego some years ago. I posited to the fellow: "Look, you and I are both trying to learn the truth. But in science, theories must be modified to account for new data, and you are never going to change your theory. So creationism - by any name - is not science!"

He calmly replied, "But I already know the truth and the truth doesn't change." I was a taken aback by the clarity of his statement. But it was also the answer. That statement explains precisely why creationism, intelligent design or whatever other label comes along 10 years from now, is not science. The theory refuses to change.

Ironically, the folks at the Discovery Institute, a group that pushes to get intelligent design into public schools and helps lawmakers introduce bills like HB368, likely know everything I just told you. I'm quite confident they know intelligent design is not science, but they're betting voters and state lawmakers don't get it. Maybe they think their appeal to "fair and balanced" treatment of multiple theories in the classroom will sound rational and acceptable. In fact, HB368, on the face of it, simply allows teachers to do what they already do in a science classroom: analyze the strengths and weaknesses of scientific theories. So why was this bill even introduced? Exactly who is it supposed to protect from being fired? I'll leave that bit of critical thinking up to you.

Elizabeth Cooper is a lecturer in psychology at the University of Tennessee and a member of the Rationalists of East Tennessee. She may be reached at bethcooper@utk.edu.

© 2011, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Concept of evolution continues to fragment


10:18 PM, Apr. 5, 2011

I think the headline "Bill would let God in science classroom" got it wrong. Rather than bringing the supernatural into science classrooms, the issue is about giving children a grounding in critical thinking and analysis. Evolution does not promote, or even invite, investigation based on modern day observations or knowledge.

Evolution is certainly discredited by Sen. Bo Watson's bill, but also by many of its own presumptions. The concept of evolution continues to fragment as we come to know more about the complexity of life and the world around us. So much of evolution must be taken on faith that it may itself be considered a religion.

Evolution is about teaching children what to think rather than how to think. In the few generations since neo-Darwinism has dominated the American classroom we have seen our scientific scholarship severely diminished. It is evident that a single, narrow-minded, and confusing dogma retards our scientific progress.

Christian creationism is not necessarily the "other side of the story." The other side of the evolution story is that evolution is not supported by our scientific understanding of the natural energies, forces and mechanisms in evidence today. Bad science is being taught as a given in American schools today.

This bill, properly applied to the Tennessee classroom, can help open the minds of children today that will guide our progress in the future.

Peter M. Davis
Hendersonville 37075

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Fear of death spurs belief in intelligent design


New study finds that people prefer intelligent design when faced with death since it provides meaning to their lives.

By LiveScience Mon, Apr 04 2011 at 12:15 PM

When faced with the thought of death, people are more likely to believe in intelligent design, the idea that life on Earth and other features of the universe can be explained by an "intelligent being" guiding the process, a new study finds.

People want to see science as providing their life with greater meaning, and on the surface, intelligent design does that whereas evolution does not," said study researcher Jessica Tracy, of the University of British Columbia. "It might help explain why there is such intense widespread support for intelligent design."

Thinking about death is known to have many psychological impacts. These impacts protect us from the fear of leaving this world. "We try to forget most of the time that we are mortal," Tracy told LiveScience. "It's impossible to forget, it's real, it's out there, it becomes harder and harder to deny that."

Often fear of death is tempered by a religious belief in the afterlife or the soul, but none of the ideas (intelligent design, evolutionary theory and naturalism) supposedly hold religious overtones or claim the existence of an afterlife. Still, belief that life is guided by a creator is enough to help dull this fear of mortality, Tracy said.

"The whole reason we have religion is that it is comforting. Intelligent design is doing something very similar," Tracy said. "Traditional science's goal isn't to comfort; there really is no goal other than to understand."

The basics

Intelligent design is the idea that some parts of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection and evolution. It is similar to creationism, the idea that God created the Earth and all of its inhabitants, but is often framed as a scientifically valid theory and makes no mention of who or what this "intelligent cause" is, doesn't mention the afterlife and doesn't explicitly espouse a religious ideology. It is not based in science.

Evolution is the scientifically supported idea that all of Earth's creatures developed spontaneously and through a process called natural selection, in which the best genetic traits get passed down to offspring.

A Gallup poll in 2010 found that 40 percent of Americans still believe in creationism — a literal interpretation of the Bible that says humans were created by a Christian God less than 10,000 years ago. Thirty-eight percent of Americans believe that humans were "intelligently guided" into being by a creator, while only 16 percent reported accepting evolution.

Thoughts about death

Tracy ran several studies testing the effects of the fear of death (primed by instructing study participants to think and write about their death) on belief in evolution and intelligent design.

After thinking about death, the participants were instructed to read over passages from either intelligent design proponent Michael Behe or by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. More than 1,600 participants answered a variety of questions about their feelings on intelligent design, religion, evolution and the authors of the passages — rating their agreement with each theory.

Some of the participants also read a passage by Carl Sagan on naturalism, the belief that even without a creator, human life still has worth and meaning.

In general, researchers found that when confronted with thoughts of death participants liked the idea of intelligent design more (or the idea of evolution less) than when they thought about the pain of a dental visit. The effect was small, but statistically significant.

The researchers also found that they could reverse this effect by following the intelligent design and evolution passages with the passage by Sagan. So even for those primed to think about death who showed a stronger acceptance of intelligent design, that effect went away after they read Sagan's passage. The only group that didn't show this was a group of natural science students. They responded to thoughts of death by increasing their support of evolution.

Inspired intelligent design

"What intelligent design does explicitly say is there is a purpose to human life. ... That we are here for a reason and there is a larger purpose to it," Tracy said. "That's an incredibly different idea than evolution."

If people fear the emptiness of an evolution-based worldview, perhaps stressing a naturalist option is important when discussing evolution. "Teaching people that science or a naturalist view can be meaningful makes people more interested in the theory that has actual scientific validity even when they are in a state of existential anxiety," Tracy said.

The study was published in the March 2011 issue of the journal PLoS ONE.

This article was reprinted with permission from LiveScience.

Did Homeopathic Medicine, Breast-Feeding and Veganism Kill a Baby?


By Bonnie Rochman Monday, April 4, 2011

Alternative medicine is far more commonplace today than it was in the past. Herbs and natural remedies can, in many cases, be effective at soothing colds and addressing muscle aches and plenty of other ailments. But a verdict handed down last week by a French court is a reminder that homeopathic treatment alone is hardly the answer to every health woe. In some cases, it may even be tantamount to child abuse.

Last week, French couple Joel and Sergine Le Moaligou were sentenced to five years in prison for "neglect or food deprivation" after their 11-month-old daughter died due to their failure to follow a doctor's advice. But due to a suspended sentence, they won't end up spending any more time behind bars than they already have awaiting trial.

The couple, strict vegans, brought their baby, Louise, to a doctor in Jan. 2008, two months before her death. The doctor suspected pneumonia and directed the couple to get their daughter a chest X-ray. Instead, they returned home and followed recipes they found in their books on natural medicine for mustard, garlic and clay poultices. (More on Time.com: The Government's Dietary Guidelines Get Guff From All Sides)

The couple's alternative 'bible' was "The Natural Guide to Childhood," written in 1972 by Jeanette Dextreit, 88, who defended her book in a video link to the court saying it had been written "a long time ago", according to The Guardian.

"It was a book on (child)rearing not a book of treatment. I didn't say to consult a doctor if the illness persisted because, for me, that was obvious," she said.

Louise had been losing weight — she wasn't even 13 pounds (5.9 kg) at nearly 1 year old — but her parents cancelled an appointment with her doctor. She died about a week later.

The case has attracted considerable attention in Europe, where proponents of both breast-feeding and veganism have rejected the connection made by state prosecutors between the breast-fed baby's death and her mother's diet, which was purged of all animal products including eggs and fish. (More on Time.com: Babies Who Start Solids Too Early More Likely To Be Obese)

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends babies be nourished exclusively on breast milk for the first six months; solid foods are gradually introduced one by one after that. It would be highly unusual for an 11-month-old to be solely breast-fed but even moreso in France, where apparently breast-feeding is "something akin to drinking your own urine," according to commentary from Fiachra Gibbons in The Guardian.

"As a gynaecologist reminded a friend of mine the day she confirmed her pregnancy," Gibbons wrote, "Your breasts are for your husband, not your baby."

Perhaps that's why France's breast-feeding rate is the lowest of any Western nation. A bestseller, The Conflict: The Woman and the Mother, portrays breast-feeding as a misogynistic practice that hobbles mothers by tying them down to "despotic, gluttonous babies who devour their mothers." (More on Time.com: Breast-Feeding: It Takes a Village to Help Moms Succeed)

The French may be known for being romantics, but apparently not when it comes to babes-in-arms.

Read more: http://healthland.time.com/2011/04/04/did-homeopathic-medicine-breast-feeding-and-veganism-kill-a-baby/#ixzz1IhN5X64Z

Critics' review unexpectedly supports scientific consensus on global warming


A UC Berkeley team's preliminary findings in a review of temperature data confirm global warming studies.

April 04, 2011|By Margot Roosevelt, Los Angeles Times

A team of UC Berkeley physicists and statisticians that set out to challenge the scientific consensus on global warming is finding that its data-crunching effort is producing results nearly identical to those underlying the prevailing view.

The Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project was launched by physics professor Richard Muller, a longtime critic of government-led climate studies, to address what he called "the legitimate concerns" of skeptics who believe that global warming is exaggerated.

But Muller unexpectedly told a congressional hearing last week that the work of the three principal groups that have analyzed the temperature trends underlying climate science is "excellent.... We see a global warming trend that is very similar to that previously reported by the other groups."

The hearing was called by GOP leaders of the House Science & Technology committee, who have expressed doubts about the integrity of climate science. It was one of several inquiries in recent weeks as the Environmental Protection Agency's efforts to curb planet-heating emissions from industrial plants and motor vehicles have come under strenuous attack in Congress.

Muller said his group was surprised by its findings, but he cautioned that the initial assessment is based on only 2% of the 1.6 billion measurements that will eventually be examined.

The Berkeley project's biggest private backer, at $150,000, is the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation. Oil billionaires Charles and David Koch are the nation's most prominent funders of efforts to prevent curbs on the burning of fossil fuels, the largest contributor to planet-warming greenhouse gases.

The $620,000 project is also partly funded by the federal Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, where Muller is a senior scientist. Muller said the Koch foundation and other contributors will have no influence over the results, which he plans to submit to peer-reviewed scientific journals.

Ken Caldeira, an atmospheric scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science, which contributed some funding to the Berkeley effort, said Muller's statement to Congress was "honorable" in recognizing that "previous temperature reconstructions basically got it right…. Willingness to revise views in the face of empirical data is the hallmark of the good scientific process."

But conservative critics who had expected Muller's group to demonstrate a bias among climate scientists reacted with disappointment.

The Creation "Museum" makes it to the peer-reviewed literature


Category: Creationism
Posted on: April 4, 2011 12:55 PM, by PZ Myers

I'm afraid I don't have access to this specialty journal, Curator: The Museum Journal, so it's a good thing the author sent me a copy of his article on the modern treatment of human origins in museums. It's amusing, since part of it is a substantial comparison of the exhibits at the American Museum of Natural History in New York and the Smithsonian in Washington DC, but there is also a thorough discussion of Ken Ham's Creation "Museum" in Kentucky. The Creation Museum does not come off at all well.

Asma highlights a couple of things that leapt out to me, as well. It's not really a museum — there's no opportunity to explore or think, you're given a script to follow and you may not deviate.

When I visited, I discovered no way to break off the tour at any point prior to Consummation. About two hours in, I started to get claustrophobic; the spaces seemed to get tighter and darker as I walked the eschatological narrative. I decided to step away--just as racism and crime were being blamed on Eve's taste for forbidden fruit. I tried to find an exit to the cafeteria ("Noah's Cafe") so I might nourish my weakening spirit. To my horror, I discovered that one cannot actually exit anywhere along the pathway. The herding is so absolute that when you attempt to backtrack, you find that the doors you've been entering have no handles on the opposite side. Like someone in a haunted house, you must complete the entire circuit.

The other striking thing about it is that it is an empty shell, a hollow façade. Go to any other respectable museum in the country, such as the Science Museum of Minnesota (which does have a bit of a pop-science, entertainment quality to it), and you can find extensive collections and research facilities behind it. The part that most people visit is the public relations side, with nicely laid out exhibits and explanatory material and hands-on elements. Behind the scenes, you'll find large rooms with shelves everywhere and buckets and barrels and crates full of specimens, the smell of formaldehyde and alcohol, and spaces full of beetle larvae gnawing away at carcasses. Not at the Creation "Museum", though!

It's not quite accurate to call this evangelical center a "museum." It contains almost no "information," unless you count as information speculations on how Noah kept dinosaurs on the ark. It offers no new observations about nature, unless you think that inferring a Designer can be called observational. Unlike most other nature museums, it has no "research" component whatsoever. When I asked Mark Looy, vice president for AiG ministry relations, where the research labs and archive collections were located, he confessed that he didn't understand the question. "This is a museum," he finally said, chuckling.

That's revealing. These people don't even know what a real museum is.

When you finally spill out of this ball of confusion into the gigantic gift shop, you become keenly aware of the unholy mixing of piety and profit. Someone is making a fortune on this stuff. The museum speaks directly to the anxieties of a fearful subculture that sees its family values under attack by a rising secular tide. The visitors at the Creation Museum feel like David, facing the secular giant Goliath. They see themselves as underdogs of righteousness who've chosen an origin story that's different from the science story. Like bad reality television that drives up ratings with violent and abusive scenarios, the museum drives up profits by demonizing science. The search for meaningful origin stories is understandable, of course, but the museum's suggestion that science causes nihilism and racism is inexcusable.

It's actually a relief when the paper leaves the Creation "Museum" and focuses on comparing the AMNH and Smithsonian. Both are great museums, and even more glorious in contrast to that silly place in Kentucky. Asma does mention one failing of the AMNH — it made me happy to see that someone else noticed.

Near the end of the Spitzer Hall, a video kiosk presenting near-life-sized images of science administrator Ken Miller, Catholic biologist Eugenie Scott, and geneticist Francis Collins, waxes philosophical about evolution and faith. Collins, a "theistic evolutionist" who founded an organization called BioLogos in 2007 to explore religion-and-science intersections, offers most of the edifying reflections. Collins has since moved on to be the director of the National Institutes of Health--he was nominated by President Obama--but the AMNH is clearly happy to present his theory that religion and science are allies. The atheist new-guard--Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris, for instance--is not invited to convey its message of religion-and-science incompatibility. The AMNH wants to reassure and accommodate visitors. The kiosk video feels like a bit of a sop, however: tacked on the end of an otherwise strong exhibition in order to pacify a specific visitor contingent.

The Smithsonian, by contrast, seems to avoid this careful placating, sensitive tiptoeing, and accommodating consideration. Refreshingly, the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins does not treat the visitor with kid gloves. The curators do not seem nervous about evangelical blowback. They don't waste time and space repeatedly reassuring visitors with plaques and videos about the dignity of everyone's diverse cultural beliefs.

Asma also does mention the message of these respectable museums — they actually do have a moral, even in these sections on human evolution, and it's ecological. Creationism is over, don't you know.

The developers of these new exhibitions worked to engage the emotions of visitors: their hearts as well as their heads. Of course, no contemporary museum is complete without a cautionary morality tale at the end, and both the AMNH and Smithsonian follow form. In the 1940s and 1950s, museum directors like Albert Eide Parr at the AMNH began to redirect their giant institutional "arks" toward the new mission of ecology education and research. In 1943, for example, Parr begged an esteemed group of curators at the Field Museum to follow his lead and focus the new museum message on local ecology rather than exotic safari-type entertainment. And besides, he argued, the old mission of educating citizens about evolution had been successfully accomplished. That's right-- curators in the 1950s believed that evolution theory was now firmly entrenched in the common sense of mainstream America. The irony is delicious. Dim the lights, cue the diorama of Ken Ham's evangelical anti-Darwin displays, and watch the rapid spinning of Albert Parr in his grave.

But Parr's message has been rekindled by the recent mainstreaming of the environmental movement. Museums keenly feel the responsibility of eco-ethics. To that end, both museums stress the way that humans--uniquely, among our evolved animal brethren--can significantly transform our environment. We have become ecological niche-makers. This brings new drama to our consideration of the future. Both exhibitions educate us about the facts: the earth is getting warmer, habitats and species are disappearing, natural resources are depleting, populations are rising beyond sustainable levels, and so on. But both exhibitions resist the heavy-handed doom-and-gloom approach, and give us instead some more nuanced glimpses into our possible future. The AMNH presents an optimistic response to the apocalyptic characterization that sometimes colors eco-ethics. We are encouraged to learn that "humans have an extraordinary capacity to improve the future. Given the wondrous achievements in human history, from the wheel to computers and spacecraft, our potential for advances in art, science and technology is incalculable. By taking an active role in transforming our world and ourselves, we will affect our destiny, for better or worse."

I think that's appropriate. Creationism really is a freakishly weird fringe belief that is inconsistent internally and with the evidence, and needs to be dealt with with ridicule and laughter, which isn't exactly what museums are good at. Our prospects for the future are a serious matter that can be discussed rationally, and museums — the real ones, that is, not the "museums" — are well equipped for that.

Asma ST (2011) Risen Apes and Fallen Angels: The New Museology of Human Origins. Curator: 54(2): 141-163.

Teaching theology in public schools, and other 'scientific controversies'


Posted at 02:09 PM ET, 04/04/2011
By David Waters

Having failed to turn Muslims into felons, the holy warriors in the Tennessee legislature now are trying to turn science teachers into Sunday school teachers.

A bill that would "allow" science teachers to teach the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution, climate change and other "scientific controversies" sailed through requisite House committees and has been placed on a similar fast track in the Senate.

Science teachers and scientists see this sort of "strength and weaknesses" legislation for what it is:

A back-door attempt, under the guise of "academic freedom," to encourage public schools to teach Creationism and Intelligent Design in science classes.

Good morning, class. Today, we'll look at a commentary on the "weaknesses" of evolution and other secular humanist theories. Please turn in your text books to Genesis, Chapter 1.

In a devilish twist, supporters of the bill are enlisting the memory of John Scopes himself, the Tennessee science teacher tried for teaching evolution in the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925.

"Today's evolutionary scientists have become the modern-day equivalents of those who tried to silence Rhea County schoolteacher John Scopes for teaching evolution in 1925, by limiting even an objective discussion of the scientific strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory," David Fowler, head of the Family Action Council of Tennessee and chief lobbyist behind the legislation, wrote recently in an op-­ed in the Chattanoogan.

Employing Scopes to defend a bill that encourages science teachers to teach theology instead of science is like using the apple that fell on Newton's head to explain the apple that triggered "the Fall" in the Garden of Eden.

As journalist Lauri Lebo has reported, the bill's official sponsor, state Rep. Bill Dunn (R­-Knoxville), got the bill from Fowler's Family Action Council of Tennessee, an organization associated with James Dobson's conservative Christian Focus on the Family.

Fowler told Lebo that he drafted the bill based on sample legislation from the Discovery Institute, which promotes Intelligent Design.

Earlier this year, two other Tennessee legislators sponsored a bill that would have made it a felony to practice Islam. They didn't write the bill; they got it from the conservative advocacy group, Tennessee Eagle Forum. (Sanity prevailed and the legislobbyists revised the "anti-terrorist" bill and removed all references to Islam and shariah.)

Do state legislators ever write their own bills? Should we just cut the middlemen and allow lobbyists to submit their own legislation?

Am I being naive? Are we all being naive?

As Sarah Palin once said, "Science should be taught in science class."

Creationism isn't science.

Or as The Tennessean explained in a recent editorial, the language used by whoever wrote the science class bill "is cover for their real intent: to require teachers to concoct a phony debate over evolution, global warming and cloning as being matters of scientific controversy when they are only politically controversial."

Now there's a subject worth studying in high school.

Good morning, class. Today we're going to examine the strengths and weaknesses of political controversies such as Creationism, school prayer, the war on Christmas, foreign-born Muslim presidents and so forth. Please turn on your TV.

By David Waters | 02:09 PM ET, 04/04/2011