NTS LogoSkeptical News for 1 June 2011

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Michele Bachmann's Stance on Evolution Demolished by High School Student


Michael Zimmerman, Ph.D..Founder, The Clergy Letter Project

Michele Bachmann, as virtually everyone knows, is currently deciding whether she's going to make a run for the Tea Party, oops, I meant to say, Republican, nomination for president. What most don't know, though, is that her educational policies are being challenged by an amazing high school student from Baton Rouge, La. You should get to know this student, Zack Kopplin, and his efforts because he's likely to make a difference.

I've written about Zack previously because both his story and his commitment are incredibly impressive. As I first noted, he recently began an effort to repeal an atrocious stealth-creationism law in Louisiana. The law, the Louisiana Science Education Act of 2008, encourages attacks on evolution to be taught in Louisiana's public schools under the banner of critical thinking. This is the only state law of its sort in the country and, as Zack so well points out, Louisiana students interested in science are being done a huge disservice by its very existence.

Zack hasn't been content to simply complain about an educationally irresponsible law, however. His organizational skills have been nothing short of phenomenal and he's gathered a collection of supporters second to none. His repeal effort has been endorsed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the largest general science organization in the world with over 10 million members; the National Association of Biology Teachers, the country's main organization for biological educators; The Clergy Letter Project, an organization of more than 14,000 clergy and scientists recognizing that religion and science need not be in conflict; as well as a host of other scientific groups including the American Institute for Biological Sciences, The American Society for Cell Biology, the Society for the Study of Evolution, The Society of Vertebrate Paleontology and The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Additionally, the New Orleans City Council voted unanimously to support the repeal.

Zack's work didn't stop there. He wrote a petition that was adopted as Change.org's featured one of the week where it has amassed more than 65,000 supporters. And, as I reported in April, in his most extraordinary effort, he collected the endorsement of 43 individuals who won a Nobel Prize in science.

Which brings me back to Michele Bachmann. Not only is Bachmann a fan of creationism and its anti-intellectual offshoot, intelligent design, she's made some outlandish claims about the pseudoscientific subject. For example, she's asserted, "there is a controversy among scientists about whether evolution is a fact ... hundreds and hundreds of scientists, many of them holding Nobel prizes, believe in intelligent design."

Zack has now challenged Bachmann on her claims. Using a poker analogy and the huge number of scientists who have endorsed evolution, in general, and his repeal effort, in particular, Zack has written, "Congresswoman Bachmann, I see your 'hundreds' of scientists, and raise you millions of scientists."

Given the strength of the hand he has, he doesn't stop there.

For the next hand, I raise you 43 Nobel Laureate scientists. That's right: 43 Nobel Laureate scientists have endorsed our effort to repeal Louisiana's creationism law. ... Congresswoman Bachmann, you claim that Nobel Laureates support creationism. Show me your hand. If you want to be taken seriously by voters while you run for President, back up your claims with facts. Can you match 43 Nobel Laureates, or do you fold?

It would be difficult for someone with a sincere interest in science education not to take Zack Kopplin's challenge seriously. Having said that, I fully expect that Michele Bachmann will completely ignore Zack, the voice of the scientific community, the combined pleas of 43 Nobel scientists and thousands of religious leaders.

All of this reminds me of a Sunday afternoon a couple of years ago when I was in Lambeau Field with my two sons watching the Packers play the Bears. After a controversial and costly penalty was called against the Packers, the referee began to give a convoluted explanation of his ruling. The entire crowd of 73,000 plus was completely silent while the odd explanation was being delivered over the PA system. Then, all of a sudden, one fan with a booming voice that could be heard throughout the entire stadium shouted, "Stop making shit up!"

Representative Bachmann, I urge you to pay attention to that fan.

The New York Times on the ark park


May 31st, 2011Kentucky

The New York Times offered its view on Kentucky's decision to grant tax incentives to Ark Encounter, the proposed creationist theme park in northern Kentucky. In its May 31, 2011, editorial, the Times wrote, "A project just approved in Kentucky pushes the constitutional envelope," arguing that although the incentives are likely to withstand a possible legal challenge, "granting tax incentives to the explicitly Christian enterprise clearly clashes with the First Amendment's prohibition on government establishment of religion. Public money is not supposed to pay to advance religion. Kentucky's citizens should certainly ask themselves if this is really the best use of taxpayer dollars."

Kentucky's own newspapers have been concerned about the state's involvement with Ark Encounter as well as the message it sends about the state's commitment to science. For example, the Louisville Courier-Journal (December 2, 2010) editorially complained, "in a state that already suffers from low educational attainment in science, one of the last things Kentucky officials should encourage, even if only implicitly, is for students and young people to regard creationism as scientifically valid," and the Lexington Herald-Leader (December 3, 2010) editorially observed, "Hostility to science, knowledge and education does little to attract the kind of employers that will provide good-paying jobs with a future."

Life, Purpose, Mind: Where the Machine Metaphor Fails


Evolution News & Views June 1, 2011 11:55 AM

[This article is authored by Biologic research scientist Ann Gauger, whose work uses molecular genetics and genomic engineering to study the origin, organization and operation of metabolic pathways. She received a BS in biology from MIT, and a PhD in developmental biology from the University of Washington, where she studied cell adhesion molecules involved in Drosophila embryogenesis. As a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard she cloned and characterized the Drosophila kinesin light chain. Her research has been published in Nature, Development, and the Journal of Biological Chemistry. Dr. Gauger also appears in the upcoming film Metamorphosis.]

Over the last decade I've become convinced that in spite of our overflowing databases we don't understand much about biology. We're like students who have learned the Bohr model of the atom, and think we have grasped atomic structure. As a beginning, it's a decent approximation. But atomic structure goes way beyond this simple model.

In the same way, we're accustomed to talking and thinking about the cell as made up of machines (hardware), with DNA as the software program that somehow determines the hardware. This is an advance over imagining the cell as a few simple chemical reactions. But it's still radically inadequate, if not obsolete, when trying to capture the reality of what we're discovering in the biological world. We're in search of more adequate conceptual categories. And the outcome will make our current descriptions look utterly inadequate. What we want to do is to catch up to the evidence, and get beyond our own, quite limited ways of speaking of these realities.

In a recent essay Steve Talbott highlights the inadequacies of our current way of thinking and speaking about biology. He points out that organisms are more than the sum of their mechanisms. In fact, he rejects the machine metaphor as completely inadequate to describe living things. Living beings are adaptable and responsive to their environments, changing their behavior based on external cues and their own requirements. They are transformative, existing as entities that are much more than the molecules that compose them. They are not what they eat -- they make what they eat into themselves. Living beings are integrated wholes that come from other living things. And they are more than their DNA. DNA requires a functional cellular environment to be properly read and interpreted, just as a cell requires DNA to be able to sustain itself. In order to understand the whole picture you have to look at the cell from many points of view, not just a gene-centric one.

Everything in organisms is interconnected causally. Everywhere in biological systems, chicken and egg problems abound. For example, amino acid biosynthesis pathways are composed of enzymes that require the amino acids they make, ATP biosynthesis pathways must have ATP to make ATP, DNA is needed to make proteins, but proteins are needed to make DNA, and the list goes on. Indeed, the scope of the problem is difficult even to grasp.

Ultimately, cellular systems can be made only by -- wait for it -- cells. We can isolate ribosomes or nuclei or mitochondria or Golgi, and study their parts, but we can't build them, even though we know what they are made of. It takes a whole cell to make them. For example, ribosomes and spliceosomes, the large ribonucleoprotein particles that are essential for the processing and translation of messenger RNAs into protein, must be synthesized, modified, and partially assembled in particular regions of the nucleus, and then be exported to the cytoplasm for further modification and assembly. Literally hundreds of other proteins and RNAs are involved in these dynamic processes, enabling the many RNA-RNA, RNA-protein, and protein-protein interactions and rearrangements that are required, all the while proof-reading and removing stalled assemblages that may occur along the way.1

What kind of processes can produce such interconnected, self-reproducing systems? Can a bottom-up process like neo-Darwinism boot-strap its way to such causally circular beings?

Many biologists would answer yes, because after all, what else is there besides neo-Darwinism? Their prior commitment to mechanistic, reductionist thinking and materialist presuppositions prevents them from seeing the problem. In fact, this insistence on purely materialistic, bottom-up explanations goes back a long way.

I have a book of lectures given at MIT by the famous developmental biologist and geneticist, Edmund Wilson, in 1923. The book is called The Physical Basis of Life . Wilson acknowledged that we knew nothing about the origin or functioning of cells or the development of body plans, but insisted as an article of faith that there would be a purely physical explanation, based in chemistry.

Up until now, the materialist, reductionist method has been very successful, because cells can be ground up, probed, measured and tested in a way that life forces or agency can't be. But now molecular, cellular, and developmental biologists are drowning in a flood of data that we don't know how to interpret. We do not know, for example, how to read a genome from an unknown new species to say what kind of organism it will produce. We can only determine what other genomes it most closely resembles. In order to predict the nature and appearance of the organism with that genome, we would need to know -- just for starters -- the maternal and paternal contributions to the egg and sperm, the whole of the developmental path from egg to adult, plus the particular effects of any mutations within that genome on its phenotype, not to mention its environmental history.

When we rely only on a reductionist approach, we cannot see the organism as a whole. An extremely simple analogy, drawn from a human artifact, might help to see why. Imagine an elaborately knit sweater, maybe an Irish fisherman's. Someone who wants to understand the sweater finds a loose end and starts to pull. He keeps pulling and pulling, expecting to arrive at some causal knot, until the whole thing comes apart and is unraveled on the floor. The sweater as a functional whole depends on the way the wool twines together. To understand the sweater you have to look at the patterns in the whole, not just what it was made of. Pulling it apart destroys its essential nature. Now this is a very poor analogy, but scientists are often like that poor fellow tugging on the string.

I like to show a video to illustrate the why we need to look top down as well as bottom up. It's a real-time visualization of a living cell, with various structures (organelles) highlighted one by one. Go here to see it.

These cellular components, and many others, function in a very crowded cellular milieu, somehow recognizing the molecules and structures with which they are supposed to interact. They send and receive signals, correct errors, and adjust their activity in a dynamic way according to the needs of the whole organism.

Notice the language of intentionality in the last paragraph: 'function', 'recognize', interact', 'signal', 'correct', 'adjust'. Such language is common in biological writing. Talbott points this out also, and explains why (emphasis added):

[Because] there is no possible way to make global sense of genes and their myriad companion molecules by remaining at their level, researchers have "simply bestowed upon the gene the faculty of spontaneity, the power of 'dictating,' 'informing,' 'regulating,' 'controlling,' etc." And today, one could add, there is at least an equal emphasis on how other molecules "regulate" and "control" the genes! Clearly something isn't working in this picture of mechanistic control. And the proof lies in the covert, inconsistent, and perhaps unconscious invocation of higher coordinating powers through the use of these loaded words -- words that owe their meaning ultimately to the mind, with its power to understand information, to contextualize it, to regulate on the basis of it, and to act in service of an overall goal.

Recognizing the implied intentionality in such language, several authors have called for biologists to abolish these words from their writing. According to them, anything that implies either teleology (being directed toward a goal or purpose) or agency (intelligence acting to produce an effect) is to be eschewed. After all, both teleology and agency have been discarded by modern biologists, along with vitalism. Yet teleological language persists. Maybe the reason such language is so common in biology research is because living things are directed toward a purpose. Maybe biological systems do reflect intelligent agency, because intelligent agents are the only known source capable of designing, assembling, and then coordinating so many interrelated sub-systems into a functional whole. And maybe, by acknowledging this, we can come to understand biology better.


1 Staley JP, Woolford JL (2009) "Assembly of ribosomes and spliceosomes: complex ribonucleoprotein machines." Curr Opin Cell Biol. 21: 109-118. doi:10.1016/j.ceb.2009.01.003.

Cellphones 'Possibly Carcinogenic,' WHO Panel Says


by The Associated Press

May 31, 2011 An international panel of experts says cellphones are possibly carcinogenic to humans after reviewing details from dozens of published studies.

The statement was issued in Lyon, France, on Tuesday by the International Agency for Research on Cancer after a weeklong meeting of experts. They reviewed possible links between cancer and the type of electromagnetic radiation found in cellphones, microwaves and radar.

The agency is the cancer arm of the World Health Organization and the assessment now goes to WHO and national health agencies for possible guidance on cellphone use.

The group classified cellphones in category 2B, meaning they are possibly carcinogenic to humans. Other substances in that category include the pesticide DDT and gasoline engine exhaust.

Last year, results of a large study found no clear link between cellphones and cancer. But some advocacy groups contend the study raised serious concerns because it showed a hint of a possible connection between very heavy phone use and glioma, a rare but often deadly form of brain tumor. However, the numbers in that subgroup weren't sufficient to make the case.

The study was controversial because it began with people who already had cancer and asked them to recall how often they used their cellphones more than a decade ago.

In about 30 other studies done in Europe, New Zealand and the U.S., patients with brain tumors have not reported using their cellphones more often than unaffected people.

Because cellphones are so popular, it may be impossible for experts to compare cellphone users who develop brain tumors with people who don't use the devices. According to a survey last year, the number of cellphone subscribers worldwide has hit 5 billion, or nearly three-quarters of the global population.

People's cellphone habits have also changed dramatically since the first studies began years ago and it's unclear if the results of previous research would still apply today.

Since many cancerous tumors take decades to develop, experts say it's impossible to conclude cellphones have no long-term health risks. The studies conducted so far haven't tracked people for longer than about a decade.

Cellphones send signals to nearby towers via radio frequency waves, a form of energy similar to FM radio waves and microwaves. But the radiation produced by cellphones cannot directly damage DNA and is different from stronger types of radiation like X-rays or ultraviolet light. At very high levels, radio frequency waves from cellphones can heat up body tissue, but that is not believed to damage human cells.

According to Cancer Research U.K., the only health danger firmly connected to cellphones is a higher risk of car accidents. The group recommends children under 16 only use cellphones for essential calls because their brains and nervous systems are still developing.

Also, a recent U.S. National Institutes of Health study found that cellphone use can speed up brain activity, but it is unknown whether that has any dangerous health effects.

Monday, May 30, 2011

At Forbes, John Farrell Joins in "Ayala'ing" of Jonathan Wells


David Klinghoffer May 24, 2011 3:20 PM | Permalink

As a friend of ours puts it, Jonathan Wells's The Myth of Junk DNA is in the process of being "Ayala'ed." To "Ayala" a book is to attack it in review without having bothered to read or even read much about it, simply on the basis of what you think it probably says given your uninformed preconceptions about the author. The term comes from the wonderful instance where distinguished biologist Francisco Ayala pompously "reviewed" Stephen Meyer's Signature in the Cell for the Biologos Foundation website while giving clear evidence of not having cracked the book open or even looked at the table of contents.

Thus we have several posts from University of Toronto biochemist Larry Moran, criticizing Myth while being totally open about not having read it first. Moran wrote no fewer than four posts on the book in this fashion, claiming as an excuse that Myth would not be published in Canada until May 31. (In fact, the book was available for purchase from Amazon since early May.) And now, as Casey already noted, we have Forbes science writer John Farrell, citing Moran as his source -- a "double Ayala," so to speak, where you attack a book without reading it citing as justification a review by someone else who also hasn't read it.

Farrell thinks the myth of junk DNA is itself a myth -- that "scientists never dismissed junk DNA in the literature." In other words, Wells has set up a straw man. Of course, not having looked at the book, Farrell can't have consulted Dr. Wells's fifty pages of notes documenting his argument. The notes may be downloaded for free here. (Also available in Canada.)

More oddly, Farrell goes on to cite as authoritative the view of botanist Stan Rice making...a classic "junk DNA" argument. But I thought the myth is a myth? Maybe Farrell didn't have time to read and think about the words he copied and pasted into his own blog post. Rice argues that the genome is constructed pervasively in a way that suggest haphazardness, or as Farrell puts it, "how not-so-intelligently designed [it] actually is." Rice points to the way information in the genome is fragmented, with coding and non-coding DNA, "exons" and "introns," all mixed up.

This is, at best, a clumsy system, because whenever a cell divides, all of this DNA is copied, not just the DNA that the cell will use. In addition, since each gene is broken into little "exon" fragments by a large amount of internal "intron" DNA, the genetic information must be spliced together in order to be put to use. That is, to get a functional enzyme, the genetic information from lots of exon fragments has to be cobbled together. If it works, there is no problem, but the whole system is so cumbersomely complex that it often fails.

So information being fragmented this way gives, according to John Farrell, evidence of unintelligent design? Funny, but that is almost exactly the way data is stored on a computer hard disk. Intuitively, you might expect that a given file on your HD -- a Word document, for example -- is all stored in one place, as in a filing cabinet. But of course that's not so. As more and more data is recorded, edited and altered, it is written in a scattered fashion across the vast yet still finite real estate of the hard disk. You'll find a clear explanation of how that works here.

Is this evidence of clumsy or unintelligent design? In the context of computer memory, clearly not. Disk fragmentation can be a problem, necessitating optimization where files are rearranged and put back together in sequence. But with the operating system I use, for example, Mac OS X, that's supposed to be unnecessary and even counterproductive. Apparently there's debate on this, which I can't claim to have followed.

The point is, the genome demonstrates exactly the kind of design choices that faced the folks who engineered the computer on which I'm writing this. Strewing information across physical space, to be retrieved and assembled as needed, is a design choice and one that computer engineers have found to be superior to other imaginable solutions. That's evidence of design, the intelligent kind, I would think.

Cancer patient puts trust in God, alternative medicine


Staff writer

Bryan Harper, 48, of Florence, keeps a quote by former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt on the wall by his desk at Midway Motors in Hillsboro.

"We do not have to become heroes overnight," Roosevelt said. "Just a step at a time, meeting each thing as it comes up, seeing it is not as dreadful as it appeared, discovering we have the strength to stare it down."

Harper said that is his approach to cancer.

In mid-February he said he was feeling fine, but one day there was blood in his urine. He thought that perhaps he had passed a kidney stone, but thought it was odd that he hadn't had any pain. After he drank a glass of water, the problem cleared up.

His urine was bloody again the next day. When he passed a blood clot, he decided it was time to see a doctor. The doctor couldn't find anything wrong with him, but scheduled an appointment with a kidney specialist three days later.

The next day Harper's stomach started hurting, and he went to the emergency room when it became too severe. That's when he got the news. A scan showed two softball-sized masses on his left kidney.

"I couldn't believe I had kidney cancer," he said. "I never hurt a day before."

Doctors removed the affected kidney a couple of days later. He felt fine recovering from the surgery.

"I'm just glad it wasn't in both of them (kidneys)," Harper said. "It's one of those things, you can live with one."

However, about a week later a full-body scan showed the cancer had spread to both of his lungs.

"It's pretty devastating news," he said.

His doctor told him modern medicine has no cure for the kind of cancer he has. Radiation and chemotherapy can slow the progression of the cancer, but can't stop it. Harper said he was grateful the doctor was straightforward with him. Since the news, he has continued to work at the car dealership.

"I'm not going to do chemo and radiation," Harper said. "It won't cure it."

He said he had seen his father wither away while undergoing treatment for incurable cancer, and he didn't want to follow that path.

"It'd be pretty easy to curl up in a corner, but that's not me," Harper said.

Instead, he is following a regimen of spiritual healing and herbal remedies. The healer he is working with has had success with other cancer patients, using diet and herbs intended to strengthen the immune system in conjunction with prayer. The diet he is on precludes pork, wheat and flour products, soda, and refined sugars.

"Cancer survives 100 percent on sugar," he said.

Meanwhile Harper has been eating more fruits and vegetables. He said sticking to the diet is tough but possible.

"You can do it," he said. "It's doable, but I have to bring lunch."

Harper trusts that with faith and determination, he can defeat the cancer.

"The Lord has given me a temple," he said, referring to his body.

Harper said that there isn't anything he could have done differently, except possibly getting expensive full-body scans on a regular basis. He doesn't smoke, tries to eat healthy, is active, and has had regular physicals.

He said he plans to face the problem head-on.

"I've always believed you look fear in the eye," Harper said. "Fear can be conquered.

"I know a lot of people think I have a death sentence," he said. "It's not a death sentence; it's a reality check."

Nobody lives forever, he said. He would prefer to live to see old age rather than succumb to cancer now, and he is doing what he can to fight it. But he isn't afraid of death.

"I have no regrets so far in life," Harper said. "It's been good."

Creationism and Cybervitalism


Posted on: May 25, 2011 10:03 AM, by Mike

Every so often, a creationist will start babbling about "information theory", and thereby defaming a perfectly legitimate line of research. While I'm at the airport, waiting for my flight back from ASM2011, here's something from the archives, "Creationists, "Biological Information", and Cyber-Vitalism" about that topic:

In response to us foul-mouthed evolutionists, Casey Luskin asks, "Yet for all their numbers and name-calling, not a single one has answered Egnor's question: How does [sic] Darwinian mechanisms produce new biological information?" I've never liked the whole "biological information" concept.

As far as I can tell, the creationists started bandying the term about after this George Gilder article in Wired was published:

Just as physicists discovered that the atom was not a massy particle, as Newton believed, but a baffling quantum arena accessible only through mathematics, so too are biologists coming to understand that the cell is not a simple lump of protoplasm, as Charles Darwin believed. It's a complex information-processing machine comprising tens of thousands of proteins arranged in fabulously intricate algorithms of communication and synthesis. The human body contains some 60 trillion cells. Each one stores information in DNA codes, processes and replicates it in three forms of RNA and thousands of supporting enzymes, exquisitely supplies the system with energy, and seals it in semipermeable phospholipid membranes. It is a process subject to the mathematical theory of information, which shows that even mutations occurring in cells at the gigahertz pace of a Pentium 4 and selected at the rate of a Google search couldn't beget the intricate interwoven fabric of structure and function of a human being in such a short amount of time. Natural selection should be taught for its important role in the adaption of species, but Darwinian materialism is an embarrassing cartoon of modern science.

As PZ notes, if you're going to comment on cellular function and organismal development, you really should know what the hell you're talking about. When you strip away the 'Power and Glory' bit, it's an absurd argument, particularly coming from someone who supposedly knows something about computers. Why? Because cellular functions don't happen sequentially, but in parallel--as in parallel processing. A 'technologist' should have heard of that before....

But then Gilder brings the Full Metal Stoopid: welcome to the world of Cyber-Vitalism! Brace yourself (italics mine):

Intelligent design at least asks the right questions. In a world of science that still falls short of a rigorous theory of human consciousness or of the big bang, intelligent design theory begins by recognizing that everywhere in nature, information is hierarchical and precedes its embodiment. The concept precedes the concrete. The contrary notion that the world of mind, including science itself, bubbled up randomly from a prebiotic brew has inspired all the reductionist futilities of the 20th century, from Marx's obtuse materialism to environmental weather panic to zero-sum Malthusian fears over population. In biology classes, our students are not learning the largely mathematical facts of 21st-century science; they're imbibing the consolations of a faith-driven 19th-century materialist myth.

Mind you (pun intended), Gilder doesn't actually present any evidence that "the concept precedes the concrete", but I suppose an emphatic declarative statement is just as good. Of course, if this sounds anything like the Genesis story where God speaks (i.e., generates information), and only then creation happens, I'm sure that's a coincidence. It's sure not evidence ("coincidence is not evidence"--I like the sound of that).

But enough about the possible origins of the creationist infatuation with "biological information"--I prefer the term genetics, but that's so Darwinist. (an aside: We, like, so need a Darwinist emoticon). Here's another problem with Luskin's argument (PZ demolishes the supposed production of new information problem): sometimes evolution results in the reduction of information, whether it be the loss of operons during the evolution of Shigella/E. coli, or the massive chromosomal reduction during the evolution of Wolbachia and other insect symbionts.

When you hear someone talk about "biological information" and evolution, there's a creationist lurking around somewhere.

La. senators reject repeal of science act


Associated Press

BATON ROUGE, La. -- A Louisiana law that allows public school science teachers to use supplemental materials in their classrooms in addition to state-approved textbooks will stay on the books.

The Senate Education Committee voted 5-1 Thursday against the repeal of the Louisiana Science Education Act, turning away arguments that it creates a way for teachers to challenge evolution and teach creationism in classrooms.

Senators sided with the governor and Christian conservatives who argued the law was designed to promote critical thinking, strengthen education and help teachers who are confused about what's acceptable for science classes.

More than 40 Nobel Prize-winning scientists urged the repeal of the law that was passed in 2008. But Thursday's vote against the repeal bill by Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, was expected to kill the measure for the session.

A push for repeal was led by high school student Zack Kopplin, who set up a blog to argue his case, lobbied legislators directly and drummed up support from scientists around the country.

"The lawmakers of Louisiana are a laughing stock as far as the scientific community is concerned," Harold Kroto, a Florida State University scientist who won the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1996, said in an email to The Associated Press. He added, "The present situation should be likened to requiring Louisiana school texts to include the claim that the Sun goes round the Earth."

Gov. Bobby Jindal and the Christian conservative group Louisiana Family Forum opposed the repeal.

"This bill is seeking to remove protections for teachers that give them the ability to teach the full breadth of scientific teaching," said Stafford Palmieri, with the governor's office.

While several opponents of Peterson's bill said the Louisiana Science Education Act was not about creationism, others who testified against it specifically challenged evolution as a scientific fact.

Guidelines adopted by the state education board after approval of the law banned promotion of a religious doctrine in the supplemental materials and required that information presented by teachers be "scientifically sound and supported by empirical evidence." The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education didn't include a specific ban on the teaching of creationism.

The law still requires science teachers to use state-approved texts. However, it allows use of supplemental materials, chosen at the local level, on science subjects including evolution, cloning and global warming. BESE can prohibit supplemental materials it deems inappropriate, but teachers and local school boards don't need BESE's prior approval to introduce supplemental material.

Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, questioned whether the law has had any impact or whether any complaints had ever been filed about creationism being taught in schools. A BESE official said no complaint has ever been lodged and no one had ever asked the board to prohibit materials.

Peterson called the law regressive, however, and said it could damage the state's ability to attract scientists and science companies, noting Louisiana is the only state to have such a law.

"If we don't curtail it, if we don't repeal it, it will threaten our ability to be competitive and to be progressive where far too often we are not," Peterson said. "It is fundamentally embarrassing to have this law on the books."

Voting against the repeal were Appel and Sens. Julie Quinn, R-Metairie; Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, Gerald Long, R-Winnfield; and Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa, chairman of the committee and sponsor of the Louisiana Science Education Act. Voting for the repeal was Sen. Yvonne Dorsey, D-Baton Rouge.

Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/05/26/2237321/la-senators-reject-repeal-of-science.html#ixzz1NrfIQdja

Sceptics question alternative claim: More chiropractors are treating more Australians every year


Paul Christensen From: The Australian May 28, 2011 12:00AM

CARLO Rinaudo came from a family that didn't believe in complementary medicines, but while studying postgraduate medicine he began seeing a chiropractor for headaches.

"I was taken by the general philosophy of holistic health care, the principle of treating the problem rather than the symptoms," he enthuses.

"So I changed my preference and started chiropractic."

He now works as a chiropractor at Sydney's Inner West Spinal & Sports Injury Centre, part of the steady growth in alternative and complementary medicines in Australia and other Western countries.

But while a recent national population study indicated that about one in six Australians had used chiropractic care in the past 12 months, not everyone is convinced by the claims of alternative health practitioners.

About a year after Loretta Marron was treated for breast cancer, she attended a talk at her cancer support group by a naturopath: "I was appalled at her antagonistic attitude to doctors and the misinformation she gave to us."

As Marron started to learn about complementary and alternative medicine, she became aware of a seeming explosion of false and misleading advertising claims and poor information being promoted to vulnerable consumers and patients. This led her to set up www.healthinformation .com.au, an advertising-free website that links to reputable information sources. She has also gone undercover for the Nine Network's A Current Affair to expose health practitioners who falsely claimed they could cure cancer using, for instance, intravenous bleach and homeopathy.

More recently, Marron made news after submitting a 20-page complaint about the chiropractic clinic of RMIT University to Health Minister Nicola Roxon, stemming in good part from the fact it offers treatment to children.

"I would not have written a submission if the chiropractors were treating adults for lower back pain," she says. "Pediatric chiropractic is a form of faith healing and it should be in theology, not health science."

RMIT runs four chiropractic teaching clinics in Melbourne, but pediatric services are offered only at its Bundoora campus. The clinic there has 113 patients on its books aged 13 or under.

In a prepared statement, the head of RMIT's chiropractic discipline, Tom Molyneux, writes that "pediatric patients at RMIT teaching clinics are treated by accredited chiropractic practitioners, not students". He adds: "RMIT promotes evidence-based chiropractic education and practice, and recognises there is an overall lack of high-level clinical evidence in chiropractic."

But Marron claims that the staff at RMIT continue to promote the concepts of chiropractic's 19th-century founder D. D. Palmer, including the belief that most diseases are caused by so-called vertebral subluxations of the spine.

Ken Harvey, a public health physician from La Trobe University's school of public health, agrees with Marron that the claims of some chiropractors go beyond what limited evidence is available. But he admits that it is a complicated area. "There's some controversy in the chiropractic profession between the more adventurous members of the profession and the more conservative ones who believe that chiropractics should be restricted to muscular-skeletal problems, for which they probably do as much as physiotherapists," he says.

Harvey argues a case can be made that chiropractic may work as a placebo, especially with chronic illnesses.

Loretta Marron, too, acknowleges some elements of chiropractic may have a valuable placebo effect. "Doing something is better than doing nothing when you are ill," she says, "but that doesn't mean that you should be exploited by people peddling snake oil and disproven treatments."

She claims that unproven treatments should not be government-funded in any way.

Rinaudo suggests that the increasing volume of research into the effectiveness of chiropractic is opening the eyes of many chiropractors to the value of evidence-based practice, particularly when communicating and working with other health practitioners.

"I think as a profession we need to do more," he says, "and [communication is] only a good thing."

According to Harvey, the best approach is to encourage professional codes of conduct and try to get the practitioners to better regulate themselves.

The Chiropractic Board of Australia is part of the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency. National registration of chiropractors began last July and a code of conduct was published, with which all those registered to practise in Australia are expected to comply.

The board also handles complaints from the public. Anyone with concerns about the conduct of a chiropractor is encouraged to notify AHPRA via its website or by telephone.

AHPRA's code of conduct includes advertising guidelines for practitioners, stating that they must be able to substantiate claims made in advertising material.

But Harvey believes that the Chiropractic Board needs to look more seriously at whether some of the claims being made are appropriate. For that reason he considers that having chiropractic and other forms of alternative medicine taught at universities may in fact be a good thing.

"Some would argue that it's a way of bringing evidence-based discipline and more rigour, and hopefully that will encourage the good guys," he says.

Harvey argues it can give practitioners an academically critical perspective on their disciplines, as well as encouraging research.

"It gets them out of their isolationist belief structure and, hopefully, into a more scientific one," he says.

"But I think that promise is yet to be fully delivered."

No legislation will stop people seeking out alternative health treatments such as chiropractic, of course, and Rinaudo firmly believes that alternative medicine fills an important niche.

"When you're in an accident or something, orthodox medicine serves well," he says. "But if you want to maintain a healthy body and look at the body from a holistic point of view, I think chiropractic has a lot to offer."

If present trends are anything to go by, the future of Western medicine will depend on its being able to integrate the best of both approaches.

Phone AHPRA on 1300 419 495

American Muslim clerics sign up for evolution


16:56 27 May 2011 by Andy Coghlan

Almost 13,000 Christian clergy have done it. Nearly 500 Jewish rabbis have too. Now, Islamic teachers, or imams, have begun signing an open letter declaring that there is no clash between their religious faith and evolution.

The Imam Letter, launched this week in the US, is the latest challenge to fundamentalists of the three Abrahamic religions who reject evolution in favour of creationism. The Clergy Letter was launched in 2006 and now has 12,725 signatures, followed three years ago by the Rabbi Letter, which has 476 signatures.

Like its predecessors, the Imam Letter explains why it's OK for believers to accept the truth of evolution. It also calls for a ban on creationist teaching in science classes. "As imams, we urge public school boards to affirm their commitment to the teaching of the science of evolution," says the letter, written by T. O. Shanavas, a doctor in Michigan and member of the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo in Perrysburg, Ohio.

"It shows that evolution and science can transcend what some people see as quite deep religious divisions, providing a unifying factor representing common ground between them," says Michael Zimmerman of Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana, the architect of the Clergy Letter Project. "Christians are really excited about the Muslim letter," he says. "They realise that Islam is just as fractured as Christianity, with just as many people who take their scriptures out of context to deny the truth of evolution."

Recently, for example, an imam in London was hounded out of his mosque and has suffered death threats for openly declaring support for Darwinism. Likewise, in Christian communities, especially in the US, fringe fundamentalists continue to push for teaching of creationism in science classes.

Evolution education update: May 27, 2011

The effort to repeal Louisiana's antievolution law was stymied in committee. Creationism is officially unwelcome in Britain's new free schools. Previously in Louisiana, the Baton Rouge Advocate endorsed the effort to repeat the state's antievolution law, while Barbara Forrest explained in detail why the effort is necessary.


Despite the overwhelming support for SB 70 from scientific and educational organizations around the state and across the country, the Louisiana Senate Education Committee voted 5-1 to shelve the bill on May 26, 2011, according to a blogger for the Baton Rouge Advocate (May 26, 2011). If enacted, SB 70 would have repealed Louisiana Revised Statutes 17:285.1, which implemented the so-called Louisiana Science Education Act, passed and enacted in 2008. As Barbara Forrest recently explained in a column for Louisiana Progress (May 18, 2011), the LSEA "was promoted only by creationists. Neither parents, nor science teachers, nor scientists requested it. No one wanted it except the Louisiana Family Forum (LFF), a religious organization that lobbies aggressively for its regressive agenda, and the Discovery Institute (DI), a creationist think tank in Seattle, Washington, that couldn't care less about Louisiana children."

Among those testifying for SB 70 were Zack Kopplin, the Baton Rouge high school student who spearheaded the repeal effort; Ian Binns, a professor of science education at Louisiana State University; the Reverend C. Welton Gaddy (by proxy), the president of The Interfaith Alliance; and Patsye Peebles, a veteran science teacher, recipient of the Louisiana Outstanding Biology Teacher Award, and cofounder of the Louisiana Coalition for Science. Among those testifying against the bill were representatives of the Louisiana Family Forum, the radical religious right group that orchestrated the passage of the LSEA, and a representative of Governor Bobby Jindal, who signed the LSEA into law in 2008 despite the exhortation of educators and scientists, including Brown University's Arthur Landy, who expressed his hope that his former student "doesn't do anything that would hold back the next generation of Louisiana's doctors."

NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott, who watched the webcast of the hearings, commented, "Listening to the opponents of the repeal bill during this hearing was like listening to old tapes of Henry Morris [of the Institute for Creation Research]. There was even the claim that evolution is dubious because it is 'origin science' -- a notion to be found only in creationist literature." Reflecting on the result of the committee's vote, she expressed disappointment, but emphasized her admiration for Kopplin, the Louisiana Coalition for Science, SB 70's sponsor Karen Carter Peterson (D-District 5), and the host of Louisianans who worked to rally support for the bill. "This is more than anyone ever expected when Zack launched his campaign last fall," she added, "and with such a strong response in favor of repealing the antievolution bill, I feel confident that we haven't heard the last of the attempt to restore the integrity of science education in Louisiana."

For the blog post at the Baton Rouge Advocate, visit:

For Forrest's "Respect Requires Repeal," visit:

For Landy's advice to Jindal (PDF), visit:

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


"Free school bids from groups advocating creationism and intelligent design as scientific theories will not be approved, according to the first government guidance on the issue," reports the Times Education Supplement (May 20, 2011). The guidelines by which applications to establish free schools are assessed provide, "Creationism, intelligent design and similar ideas must not be taught as valid scientific theories," and a spokesperson for the Department for Children, Education, and Schools told The Telegraph (May 20, 2011) that the Secretary of Education, Michael Gove, "will not accept any academy or free school proposal which plans to teach creationism in the science curriculum or as an alternative to accepted scientific theories."

Like charter schools in the United States, "free schools" are established by local groups of parents, teachers, businesses, colleges and universities, and/or non-profit organizations, but funded directly by the government. Allowing free schools was a key point of the Conservative Party's education platform in the 2010 British election. After the present coalition government took office, free schools "were given approval in the Academies Act 2010, which paved the way for existing state primary and secondary schools to become academies," according to the BBC (May 23, 2011). As of May 2011, the Department for Children, Education, and Schools had received 323 proposals from groups wanting to establish a free school; between ten and twenty are expected to open by September 2011.

The guidelines were issued just a week after a new campaign -- Creationism In Schools Isn't Science, or CrISIS -- petitioned the government to enforce its stated position on the teaching of creationism. "Creationism is known, and officially acknowledged, to be contrary to scientific fact," the petition argued. "We therefore demand that creationism should not be presented as a valid scientific position, nor creationist websites and resources be promoted, in publicly funded schools or in any youth activities run on publicly funded school premises." Endorsed by the National Secular Society, the religious thinktank Ekklesia, and the British Centre for Science Education, CrISIS was started by a concerned parent, Laura Horner, after a young-earth creationist was invited to speak at her son's school in Exeter.

"The guidance is wonderful news and shows the Government taking a step in the right direction," Horner told the Times Education Supplement. "We now expect the ban to be extended to apply to any activity taking place in school." (The new guidelines concern only free schools; in the Exeter case, the creationist speaker was allowed to present his views as scientifically credible in a religious education class in a state school. Since creationism is often discussed in religious education, such classes offer a possible venue for creationism to be improperly presented as scientifically credible.) Roger Stanyard of the British Centre for Science Education told The Telegraph (May 20, 2011) that his organization was "largely happy" with the guidelines, but warned, "It depends how it is implemented. People will always find ways around the rules."

For the articles in the Times Education Supplement and The Telegraph, visit:

For the BBC's article on free schools, visit:

For the CrISIS petition, visit:


The Baton Rouge Advocate endorsed the repeal of Louisiana's antievolution law, editorially writing (May 23, 2011), "We hope the Louisiana Legislature takes the opportunity it has this year to repeal entirely the misnamed 'Louisiana Science Education Act.'" The Advocate thus joins the New Orleans City Council, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Louisiana Science Teachers Association, and forty-three Nobel laureates in calling for a repeal of what the newspaper termed "an embarrassment for our state."

Interestingly, the Advocate focused on "a facet of the 'Louisiana Science Education Act' that goes beyond the crackpot notion that the theory of evolution is somehow flawed": its reference to global warming and human cloning. "What this country's students do not need is to transplant the mythology of creationism as a persecuted science into other fields, such as climatology or genetics," the editorial observed, worrying that "inaccuracy based on political pressure could be replicated as it has in the evolution debate. ... It could harm education more than just in biology classrooms."

For the Baton Rouge Advocate's editorial, visit:

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


Barbara Forrest explains the murky origins and adverse effects of the so-called Louisiana Science Education Act -- and argues that respect for the integrity of science education requires a repeal of the antievolution law -- in a long essay posted at the Louisiana Progress website on May 18, 2011.

"This law was promoted only by creationists," Forrest recounts. "Neither parents, nor science teachers, nor scientists requested it. No one wanted it except the Louisiana Family Forum (LFF), a religious organization that lobbies aggressively for its regressive agenda, and the Discovery Institute (DI), a creationist think tank in Seattle, Washington, that couldn't care less about Louisiana children."

"Besides damaging Louisiana's already tattered reputation concerning public education," Forrest continues, "the LSEA has done tangible harm, the most compelling example being the SICB boycott" -- where the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology boycotted New Orleans in favor of Salt Lake City for its 2011 meeting, with the cost to the city estimated at 2.7 million dollars.

Perhaps worse, antievolutionists have not only sought to undermine the law's provision allowing challenges to unsuitable supplementary materials but also invoked the law to support proposals to teach creationism in the public schools of at least two parishes (Livingston and Tangipahoa) and to attack the treatment of evolution in biology textbooks proposed for adoption by the state.

Forrest concludes, "If the legislature and Gov. Jindal truly want to make Louisiana a great place to live and raise a family rather than merely a colorful tourist attraction and the object of catastrophe-induced pity, the legislature must repeal this law." Senate Bill 70, which would do so, is currently scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Education Committee on May 26, 2011, according to Zack Kopplin of Repeal Creationism.

A member of NCSE's board of directors, Forrest is Professor of Philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University and a founder of the Louisiana Coalition for Science. Louisiana Progress informs, engages, and mobilizes community leaders, activists, advocates, and policymakers to lead Louisiana into the 21st century.

For Forrest's "Respect Requires Repeal," visit:

For the Repeal Creationism and Louisiana Coalition for Science websites, visit:

And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Louisiana, 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 x305
fax: 510-601-7204

Read Reports of the NCSE on-line:

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!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Baton Rouge Advocate endorses repeal effort


May 23rd, 2011

The Baton Rouge Advocate endorsed the repeal of Louisiana's antievolution law, editorially writing (May 23, 2011), "We hope the Louisiana Legislature takes the opportunity it has this year to repeal entirely the misnamed 'Louisiana Science Education Act.'" The Advocate thus joins the New Orleans City Council, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Louisiana Science Teachers Association, and forty-three Nobel laureates in calling for a repeal of what the newspaper termed "an embarrassment for our state."Interestingly, the Advocate focused on "a facet of the 'Louisiana Science Education Act' that goes beyond the crackpot notion that the theory of evolution is somehow flawed": its reference to global warming and human cloning. "What this country's students do not need is to transplant the mythology of creationism as a persecuted science into other fields, such as climatology or genetics," the editorial observed, worrying that "inaccuracy based on political pressure could be replicated as it has in the evolution debate. ... It could harm education more than just in biology classrooms."

Political Polygraph: Mailer on Hancock's evolution views


By The Denver Post
Posted: 05/25/2011 01:00:00 AM MDT

Q&A with Denver mayoral candidate Michael Hancock

Editor's note: Throughout this election season, The Post will be regularly analyzing campaign claims via our political polygraph.

Claim: "Michael Hancock doesn't believe in evolution. But he wants to decide what our children learn in science class."

A glossy mailing from the political-action committee Citizens for Accountability arriving in Denver homes at the same time as ballots for the all-mail Denver runoff election.

Facts: Overall, we find this mailing's first claim in "the gray area," its second claim is "a whopper" and that, overall, it "leans deceptive."

The mailer bases its first claim on a Fox31 report of a response Hancock gave at an April forum when asked in a yes-or-no round whether he believes in evolution. Hancock answered, "I believe in God."

Earlier this month, he elaborated on that statement, saying: "I believe in evolution, and I believe in God. I don't hide from that."

During a Denver Post/9News debate Monday, he said: "Let me make it very clear. I believe in evolution. I believe in scientific process. That's what belongs in the classroom. ... I made the mistake of misspeaking more than once, but I cleared it up. We moved on."

The mailing also cites a posting on the Coloradopols.com blog from a forum earlier this month that quoted Hancock's "yes" response to the question: "Should creationism and intelligent design be taught in Denver Public Schools?"

That evening, he released a statement that he misunderstood the question and clarified his position, saying: "While I am a man of great faith, I believe creationism and intelligent design are religious beliefs that have no place in a public-school curriculum. The best place for religion to be taught is at home or place of worship."

To substantiate the claim that Hancock wants to decide what children are taught in science class, the mailing cites a candidate survey done by Education Reform Now and a Jan. 19 Denver Post story.

The survey does not have a specific question on what should be taught in class. It does ask whether the mayor should take over Denver Public Schools if the district moves in the wrong direction, to which Hancock said he "agreed."

In the Jan. 19 story, Hancock was quoted as saying: "Everything we do will be determined by education. It is the foundation. We have to let go of the concept that the mayor doesn't run the schools."

Citizens for Accountability treasurer Peter DeCamillis did not return calls seeking comment.

Anthony Cotton, The Denver Post

Read more: Political Polygraph: Mailer on Hancock's evolution views - The Denver Post http://www.denverpost.com/politics/ci_18133759#ixzz1NPS03esz
Read The Denver Post's Terms of Use of its content: http://www.denverpost.com/termsofuse

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Evolution education update: May 20, 2011

Kentucky plans to grant tax incentives to a creationist theme park. Meanwhile, Missouri's antievolution bill died in committee, NCSE is offering a preview of Steve Jones's The Darwin Archipelago, and seats are still available for NCSE's next trip down the Grand Canyon.


The Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority voted unanimously on May 19, 2011, to grant tax incentives to Ark Encounter, according to the Associated Press (May 19, 2011). Ark Encounter is the proposed creationist theme park in northern Kentucky. According to the Louisville Courier-Journal (December 1, 2010), "Ark Encounter, which will feature a 500-foot-long wooden replica of Noah's Ark containing live animals such as juvenile giraffes, is projected to cost $150 million and create 900 jobs ... The park, to be located on 800 acres in Grant County off Interstate 75, also will include a Walled City, live animal shows, a replica of the Tower of Babel, a 500-seat special-effects theater, an aviary and a first-century Middle Eastern village." Collaborating on the project are Ark Encounter LLC and the young-earth creationist ministry Answers in Genesis, which already operates a Creation "Museum" in northern Kentucky.

The tax incentives will allow Ark Encounter to recoup 25 percent of its development costs by retaining the sales tax generated by the project. With the development costs of the park estimated at 150 million dollars, the incentives would amount to 37.5 million dollars over ten years. Whether it is consistent with the federal and Kentucky constitutions for the state to grant the incentives to the project is still not clear; Erwin Chemerinsky of the University of California, Irvine, School of Law told The New York Times (December 5, 2010) that "if it's the Bible's account of history that they're presenting, then the government is paying for the advancement of religion," while Bill Sharp of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky told USA Today (December 5, 2010), "Courts have found that giving such tax exemptions on a nondiscriminatory basis does not violate the establishment clause, even when the tax exemption goes to a religious purpose."

In a May 19, 2011, press release, the Reverend Barry Lynn, the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, declared, "The state of Kentucky should not be promoting the spread of fundamentalist Christianity or any other religious viewpoint ... Let these folks build their fundamentalist Disneyland without government help." Lynn said that Americans United would investigate whether the incentives violated the separation of church and state, but argued that the state's funding of the project was bad policy in any case. "[Governor] Beshear wants to launch this ark on a sea of tax breaks -- money that will ultimately have to be made up by Kentucky taxpayers," Lynn said. "This misguided project deserves to sink." He added, "I feel sorry for the children of Kentucky. At a time when they should be learning modern science, their public officials are subsidizing fundamentalist religion."

For the Associated Press's story (via the Lexington Herald-Leader), visit:

For the stories in The New York Times and USA Today, visit:

For Americans United's press release, visit:

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


When the Missouri General Assembly adjourned on May 13, 2011, House Bill 195 died in the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee without receiving a hearing. If enacted, the bill would have required state and local education administrators to "endeavor to create an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues, including biological and chemical evolution" and to "endeavor to assist teachers to find more effective ways to present the science curriculum where it addresses scientific controversies."

HB 195 was the second of the nine antievolution bills introduced in seven states in 2011 so far. Of the remaining bills, Florida's SB 1854, Kentucky's HB 169, New Mexico's HB 302, and Oklahoma's SB 554 and HB 1551 are dead; Texas's HB 2454 is still in committee but is expected to die when the legislature adjourns on May 30, 2011; and Tennessee's HB 368 passed in the House of Representatives, but its counterpart SB 893 is on hold until 2012. In the meantime, Louisiana's Senate Bill 70, which if enacted would repeal the state's antievolution bill enacted in 2008, is in the Senate Education Committee -- currently chaired by Ben Nevers (D-District 12), who shepherded the so-called Louisiana Science Education Act through the state senate in 2008.

For the text of Missouri's House Bill 195, visit:

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


NCSE is pleased to offer a free preview of Steve Jones's The Darwin Archipelago: The Naturalist's Career Beyond Origin of Species (Yale University Press, 2011). The preview consists of the first two pages of each of the nine chapters -- "The Queen's Orang-Utan," "The Green Tyrannosaurs," "Shock and Awe," "The Triumph of the Well Bred," "The Domestic Ape," "The Thinking Plant," "A Perfect Fowl," "Where the Bee Sniffs," and "The Worms Crawl In" -- and thus conveys a sense of how Jones approaches his task of exploring and updating the more obscure works in Darwin's oeuvre, from The Various Contrivances by which Orchids are Fertilised by Insects to The Formation of Vegetable Mould, through the Action of Worms.

The publisher writes, "Charles Darwin is of course best known for The Voyage of the Beagle and The Origin of Species. But he produced many other books over his long career, exploring specific aspects of the theory of evolution by natural selection in greater depth. The eminent evolutionary biologist Steve Jones uses these lesser-known works as springboards to examine how their essential ideas have generated whole fields of modern biology. ... Through this delightful introduction to Darwin's oeuvre, one begins to see Darwin's role in biology as resembling Einstein's in physics: he didn't have one brilliant idea but many and in fact made some seminal contribution to practically every field of evolutionary study."

For the preview of The Darwin Archipelago (PDF), visit:

For information about the book from its publisher, visit:


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

For information about the trip, visit:

For NCSE's report on the story in The New York Times, visit:

For NCSE's YouTube site, 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 x305
fax: 510-601-7204

Read Reports of the NCSE on-line:

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!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Previewing Metamorphosis: The Case for Intelligent Design in a Nutshell Chrysalis


David Klinghoffer May 18, 2011 7:46 AM

The other night, I watched the latest production from Illustra Media, Metamorphosis, with our oldest kid, nine-year-old Ezra. Given that he pretty strictly requires that video entertainment involve robots flying around blowing things up, I expected him to scoff at a movie about caterpillars that crawl around, turn into butterflies then proceed to fly to Mexico. Conspicuously, on its remarkable unguided cross-continental journey, the luminous orange-and-black Monarch butterfly fails to blow up anything at all.

Yet Ezra sat entranced throughout, as I did, which leads me to think Metamorphosis is going to be a big, cross-generational hit.

Scheduled to be released in DVD form on June 15, Metamorphosis follows on the heels of past Illustra offerings, including Privileged Planet, Unlocking the Mystery of Life, and Darwin's Dilemma. It's probably true that with these films taken altogether, Illustra producer and documentarian Lad Allen has made the most easily accessible, visually stunning case for intelligent design available.

If you have one shot at opening the mind of an uninformed and dismissive friend or family member, the kind who feels threatened by challenges to Darwinism, then presenting him with a copy of a 600-page volume like Signature in the Cell, or even a slimmer alternative like Darwin's Black Box, would probably be less effective than choosing one of Mr. Allen's DVDs.

Among those, Metamorphosis might well make the best initial selection, since the argument for intelligent design doesn't come in till the third and final act. When it comes, it's a soft sell, preceded by a gorgeous, non-threatening nature film that only hints at what's ahead in Act III. In Act I, the focus is on the mind-blowing magical routine by which the caterpillar enters into the chrysalis, dissolves into a buttery blob and swiftly reconstitutes itself into a completely different insect, a butterfly.

A cute graphic sequence shows, by way of analogy, a Ford Model T driving along a desert road. It screeches to a stop and unfolds a garage around itself. Inside, the car quickly falls to pieces, divesting itself of constituent parts that spontaneously recycle themselves into an utterly new and far more splendid vehicle. A sleek modern helicopter emerges from the garage door and thumps off into the sky.

In Act II, we follow a particular butterfly, the Monarch, on its journey to a volcanic mountain lodging site in Mexico for the winter, accomplished each year despite the fact that no single, living Monarch was among the cohort that made the trip the year before. Only distant relations -- grandparents, great-grandparents -- did so. Given the brief life cycle of the insect, those elders are all dead. The Monarch follows the lead of an ingenious internal mapping and guidance system dependent on making calculations of the angle of the rising sun and on magnetic tugs from ferrous metal in the target mountain range.

Experts explain and comment, including CSC fellow and philosopher of biology Paul Nelson, Biologic Institute developmental biologist Ann Gauger, and University of Florida zoologist Thomas Emmel. The film argues that neither metamorphosis nor migration is the kind of feature with which blindly groping Darwinian natural selection could ever equip a creature. How could an unguided step-by-step process build metamorphosis, inherently an all-or-nothing proposition? As Dr. Gauger points, once the caterpillar has entered the chrysalis, there's no going back. It must emerge either as a fully formed butterfly or the soupy remains of a dead caterpillar.

If I had a criticism of the film, it would be that too little time is devoted to the evolution debate. You come away wondering how Darwinists would respond, and how ID-friendly experts would reply in turn.

Well, Lad Allen's film won't be the last word on the subject, just as it is far from the first. Contemplating butterflies was among the considerations that drove evolutionary theory's co-discoverer, Alfred Russel Wallace, to doubt the sufficiency of natural selection to account for the most wondrous aspects of animal life. Like lepidopterist and novelist Vladimir Nabokov a half-century later, Wallace noted the astonishing, gratuitous artistry with which butterflies adorn their wings.

In The World of Life, Wallace wrote of how he could satisfyingly account for this only as a feature intended by design "to lead us to recognize some guiding power, some supreme mind, directing and organizing the blind forces of nature in the production of this marvelous development of life and loveliness." Butterflies may not literally blow up bad guys like the robots in my son's favorite movies, but they strike another blow for Wallaceism.

More subtly, the transformation of the caterpillar hints at a deeper truth about life, that it is not bestowed on machines or other mechanical devices, as per the mechanistic myth. Ancient philosophers and mystics spoke of an "animal soul," different from the soul that makes human beings unique, although people possess both an animal and a divine soul, along with our physical bodies. The animal soul, in this view, is a vital force received by inheritance at conception and, among other functions, participating in the direction of how the body gets knitted together.

Speaking of it as a soul implies purpose, intention, intelligence. That sure does look like what's at work in those mere couple of weeks spent in the chrysalis. Darwinism, of course, has a hard enough time explaining the construction of a living machine. This is something much greater, posing a far harder challenge to materialist evolutionism.

Which is right: 'In your face' or staid professionalism?


Posted on: May 14, 2011 6:35 PM, by Greg Laden

I'm looking forward to the moment in a few weeks from now when Desiree Schell and I sit down and have a serious public conversation about approaches to promoting skepticism and science-based reasoning and policy. We'll also discuss New Atheism and Accommodationism, I assume.

As you know, Desiree hosts the highly popular radio program and podcast "Skeptically Speaking." This may be the first time she's engaged in a public conversation with some crazy New Atheist blogger anywhere other than on her own home turf (we'll be talking on Atheist Talk Radio, with Mike Haubrich hosting). It should be interesting to say the least. The word "Feisty" has been used in reference to the conversation likely to develop.

In the meantime, people are talking about "extreme atheists." There is no such thing as an "extreme atheist." Being an "extreme atheist" is a little like being totally unique. Of course, what is meant by "extreme atheist" is not someone who extremely does not believe in god (as opposed to only kinda not believing in god) but rather a person with something of an "in your face" approach to communication. That's an idea that is probably worth exploring.

Say I pose the question on the Internet: "What do you do, if you're a high school biology teacher, and a student shows up with Young Earth Creationist literature and tries to argue with you about evolution"? I've done that a few times, and when I do, I get all sorts of interesting answers. The answers include things like assigning the student a project in which they must face the evidence for evolution dead on. Or, that the teacher should provide the entire class with a history of scientific thinking since the enlightenment. Or suggestions that may involve the students parents. And so on and so forth. I could pose similar questions. What do you do if you are a teacher on "conference night" and a parent comes in demanding to know if you teach "alternative theories." What do you do if you are a school administrator and an applicant for an open position teaching biology gives an indication of being a creationist ... what do you ask that applicant?

I guarantee that if these questions were posed there would be a plethora of interesting suggestions about what to do and what to say. And some of those ideas would be illegal, some would get you fired, some would have a negative effect on the present situation even if they were somehow sadistically pleasurable to carry out. Some of the ideas would be extreme, some would be gentle, some passive aggressive and some in your face.

The conversation about what one would do in any of these situations may be quite spirited, the participants animated, and a number of rather troublesome assumptions might be challenged. If the conversation happened among civilians, said civilians may well be energized in their thinking on the evolution-creationism debate, but it may well be that no usable solutions would be reached. If, however, the conversation included a few educators with the appropriate training and experience, who would be inclined to point out relevant best practices, regulations, laws, and more subtle difficulties that may come up, then the same group (now including some expertise) may well come up with really good approaches to responding to creationist teachers, students, or others.

Why the difference? Context, training, and experience. For instance, if you've never been involved in the interview process in a public institution trying to hire an educator who is a member of a union, you may be unaware of the fact that the hiring process is tainted if interviewers come up with random questions for one applicant that were not asked of another applicant. So when the applicant says something indicating that they may be a creationist, you can't necessarily throw in a random novel question as a followup, no matter how much it makes sense to do that. Also, you may not be aware of the fact that you can't ask an applicant about his or her beliefs any more than you can ask a female applicant if she plans to have babies or an applicant you are interviewing over the phone if she or he happens to be black. So when the applicant gives a hint of being a creationist, the unwashed civilians would very naturally want to brandish their pitchforks and yell "Demand to know if the applicant is a creationist!" and indeed it seems a reasonable thing to do ... it makes sense to not hire creationists to teach biology. But, since being a creationist is a form of religious practice, you simply cant ask that and, in fact, if you know someone is a creationist, you can't avoid hiring them (to teach evolution) for that reason! Sucks, but that's the way it is. And, this is how it should be. And, if you don't understand that this is how it should be, then there are things that you don't know about that you may want to learn.

At the same time, it totally sucks that creationists teach biology in classrooms in the United States (and elsewhere). It is reasonable and potentially effective if society at large had a negative attitude towards creationist public school teachers. Not to the people themselves ... they're just regular people like you and me. Indeed, I've got friends and acquaintances who are creationist biology teachers ... I think one or two might be in my bathroom at this very moment in fact ... and I don't want to drive them into the swamp. But, the public attitude that creationism has no place in schools and a kind of meta raised eyebrow effect when it comes to creationist biology teachers is part of what keeps such teachers from sneaking creationism into the classroom. Also, public outrage about creationism in the classroom, if widespread and visible and normal, makes it a hella lot easier for teachers in conferences to stand their ground against creationist parents, and the creationist parents are not rare.

So the pitchfork waving of the unwashed rabble ... the in your face and extreme skeptic or atheist or whatever ... is how we win this fight. Oh, and the considered strategy of the professionalized experts who know how to not break the law even when our heart may lead us in that direction as we react to outrage and absurdity is how we win the fight. The former probably contributes more to the maintenance of energy internal to the struggle, and the latter is the sharp edged tool brought to bear at just the right moment at just the right spot cutting to the quick.

But we have a problem. The brimstone rarely appreciates the acuity of the scalpel and the scalpel usually thinks it does not need the very fire in which it was forged. But really, they need to talk, this yin and this yang.

Right now we see a version of this conversation playing out on the Internet. I summarized parts of it here and it continues and develops here (see the comment section in particular). And I'm not especially happy with the way this conversation is going. A famous pop psychologist once said "Every relationship needs a hero." Well, this conversation needs everybody to be a hero. (I quickly add that I'm not criticizing either Stephanie Zvan or Mike McRae who are currently slogging it out in the comments section ... I'm thinking more of those who are not actively engaging in dialog and more actively engaged in sniping, often in big hard to miss print. I think those two are both being rather heroic.)

I sit and read the Internet and notice that much of the energy spent on the "skeptical movement" or on defending evolution in the classroom or how atheism should look and feel and all sorts of related issues is over how to do it and how to think about it and how to act on it. It is important to have this conversation, but there is no reason to have it at all if the original motivating reasons for engaging are forgotten.

But in private something else is happening for me. In private I am a confidant of numerous biology teachers. I can't tell you most of what they tell me without putting people's careers at risk or revealing information that is protected. But I can tell you that there is some serious shit happening in high schools across this country, and the bits and pieces of news about this 'debate' that come to the surface now and then are like the hailstones collected by people and photographed that we then see on the TV news after a bad thunderstorm. You know, the chunks of ice placed next to a dime, or a quarter, or a golf ball, or more rarely, a tennis ball to indicate size, shown to us by the weather reporter after the fact. Those hailstones are not the only ones that fell that day!

According to some, the quiet, systematic, well research, communications-theory based approach that might even involve some kind of accommodation of religious groups is the only way to win the fight as it is corraled into the courtroom, which is the only place we really ever actually do win. But according to others, the angry pitchfork wielding mob driving the faith-based monster into the swamp is the only way to get enough people on board in this fight and the only way to bring sufficient shame to bear on the issue to make social sanctions work.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Evolution is a Jewish conspiracy


PZ Myers is a biologist and associate professor at the University of Minnesota, Morris.
Category: Creationism Evil Stupidity
Posted on: May 18, 2011 8:15 AM, by PZ Myers

The essay starts off stupidly enough.

In 1867 Karl Marx dedicated Das Kapital to Charles Darwin.

Actually, no, he didn't. It's a fairly common lie in creationist circles, though, just like the others sprinkled throughout the story.

Modern creation science is led by an array of top-flight Ph.D. scientists, including biochemists, paleontologists, astronomers and geologists. It presents a formidable battery of evidence now knocking hundreds of holes in traditional evolutionary arguments. As never before, scientific creationism debunks the contrived "evidence" that evolutionary theory has fed on since Darwin.

No, it isn't. Creation science is led by a gang of ignorant clods who can't read a paper without mangling it.

But OK, so far this is just your standard modus operandi for creationists. The really weird stuff is shouted out in the title: JEWISH SUPREMACISTS USE EVOLUTION TO CORRUPT MANKIND. Did you know that evolution is a Jewish conspiracy to corrupt Western civilization?

Why doesn't the scientific community abandon Darwin's failed hypotheses? Simple: The Jewish-dominated media and educational establishment are determined that, like unconditional support of Israel, Holocaust mythology, hate laws, and "civil rights" favoritism, there will be no end to the relentless force-feeding of evolution. Belief in evolution is a prerequisite for Jewish supremacism's new-world order.

Yet anti-Zionist leadership on the right remains oblivious to the fact that evolution is the largest, ugliest, most aggressive tentacle of the Jewish revolutionary octopus. Anti-Zionists are often evolutionists, claiming that Jews evolved in a way that makes them inherently degenerate, subversive, and corruptive. They make the most Luciferian, dehumanizing fable ever invented by pseudo-science into a pillar of their thinking!

The Reverend Ted Pike is kind of obsessed with Jews. They're behind everything.

You see, the degenerate Jews promote evolution, which led the Nazis to kill Jews, and we must organize resistance to the Jewish agenda and the Judaic threat, and we absolutely must support Israel without question. Every paragraph drips with anti-semitic bigotry, but at the same time he rants against the wicked anti-Zionists.

I've seen this often in fundamentalist Christians. Jews aren't really people; they're just props in the script of their eschatology. We have to keep them around because the True Final Solution is for Jesus to exterminate most of them and convert the survivors, and if we jump the gun and kill them all now, why, that would invalidate the Bible, which would be wicked.

The problem we face today originates in Jewish rebellion to Christ. It is primarily a moral issue which cannot be addressed by dehumanizing Jews or violence. It must be met with reason and persuasion, even love. The Bible presents Jewish apostasy as part of a long-range scenario that will ultimately result in anti-Christ world rule but also redemption of a remnant of Jews out of great tribulation at Christ's second coming. The problem of Jewish supremacism ultimately is Christ's problem, to be resolved by Him, not military or persecutive measures.

This is why Adolf Hitler and the Nazis must be damned. Not because they killed people, but because they lead us into "anti-biblical, evolutionary, racist errors". We must support Israel because it's a kind of holding pen for the Jews, where they will be annihilated in Armageddon, and you're a bad, bad person if you begin the slaughter prematurely.

Despite the fact that I don't have any evidence of any Jewish background in my lineage, I do have to cop to being an ugly evolutionary tentacle, and there are most certainly Jews in my readership. Does it make you feel all warm and happy and safe to peek into the minds of some of the most ardent Christian supporters of Israel?

Climate study gets pulled after charges of plagiarism


By Dan Vergano, USA TODAY

Evidence of plagiarism and complaints about the peer-review process have led a statistics journal to retract a federally funded study that condemned scientific support for global warming.

By Pietro Terna

George Mason University professor Edward Wegman chides student sloppiness.

The study, which appeared in 2008 in the journal Computational Statistics and Data Analysis, was headed by statistician Edward Wegman of George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Its analysis was an outgrowth of a controversial congressional report that Wegman headed in 2006. The "Wegman Report" suggested climate scientists colluded in their studies and questioned whether global warming was real. The report has since become a touchstone among climate change naysayers.

The journal publisher's legal team "has decided to retract the study," said CSDA journal editor Stanley Azen of the University of Southern California, following complaints of plagiarism. A November review by three plagiarism experts of the 2006 congressional report for USA TODAY also concluded that portions contained text from Wikipedia and textbooks. The journal study, co-authored by Wegman student Yasmin Said, detailed part of the congressional report's analysis.

"Neither Dr. Wegman nor Dr. Said has ever engaged in plagiarism," says their attorney, Milton Johns, by e-mail. In a March 16 e-mail to the journal, Wegman blamed a student who "had basically copied and pasted" from others' work into the 2006 congressional report, and said the text was lifted without acknowledgment and used in the journal study. "We would never knowingly publish plagiarized material" wrote Wegman, a former CSDA journal editor.

Plagiarism can result in research sanctions from federal funding authorities, says federal Office of Research Integrity's John Dahlberg. He would not say whether ORI was investigating the researchers.

The congressional report, requested by global warming skeptic Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, and the study concluded that climate scientists favorably publish one another's work because of too-close collaboration. They suggested this led to the consensus that the Earth is warming.

A 2009 National Academy of Sciences report found that climate studies show average global temperatures have increased 1.4 degrees in the past century, for example.

The study concluded that top scientists shouldn't collaborate. Instead, studies where a "principal author tends to co-author papers with younger colleagues who were his students" would produce less-biased results. Barton reiterated his support for the report last fall.

Computer scientist Ted Kirkpatrick of Canada's Simon Fraser University, filed a complaint with the journal after reading the climate science website Deep Climate, which first noted plagiarism in the Wegman Report in 2009. "There is something beyond ironic about a study of the conduct of science having ethics problems," Kirkpatrick says.

Azen says the study seemed novel and important at a time when social networking studies were "hot." Johns says his clients "stand by their work" despite the retraction.

George Mason University said in 2010 that it was investigating the charges of plagiarism. University spokesman Dan Walsch says the study retraction was a "personnel matter" and declined to comment.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Students, teachers, professors seek to repeal Science Education Act


11:00 PM, May. 14, 2011

Written by
Mike Hasten

BATON ROUGE -- High school students, teachers, scientists and college professors are asking the Legislature to repeal the Louisiana Science Education Act, which the group says is a misnomer because its goal is to introduce creationism into classrooms.

The act has given Louisiana "an anti-science reputation," said Baton Rouge Magnet High School senior Zach Kopplin, whose efforts to repeal the law are supported by 72 Nobel laureates around the country.

"Louisiana is addicted to creationism," he said, recalling a 1987 U.S. Supreme Court case that threw out a state law that said creationism could be taught with evolution.

At the urging of Kopplin and the Louisiana Coalition for Science, Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, is handling legislation (Senate Bill 70) seeking to repeal the act. She and others said just having the law on the books hurts the state.

The law requires the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, upon request of a local school board, to "allow and assist teachers, principals and other school administrators to create and foster an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that promotes critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied including evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning."

It says teachers are to instruct students on the material in the standard textbook but they may supplement it with other materials approved by the school board.

The measure has opened the door for creationism to be taught in school, members of the Louisiana Coalition for Science said recently in a rally on the state Capitol steps.

They pointed to school board discussions and plans in Livingston and Tangipahoa parishes to introduce creationism into the classroom.

The Livingston Parish board postponed its plans to include creationism this year after being advised that it could not afford an expensive lawsuit promised by the ACLU.

Proponents of Sen. Ben Nevers' bill adopted in 2008 said it was needed because teachers were afraid to teach "the controversy" that there's an alternative to evolution.

"The controversy to which they refer is a fabrication of their own imagination," said Kevin Carman, dean of the LSU College of Science. "Evolution is as integral to understanding biology as atoms are to understanding chemistry."

Carman said he and other scientists "urge legislators and Gov. Jindal to do what is right."

Ian Binns, assistant professor of science education at LSU, said when he attends national conferences, "it's an absolute embarrassment."

Binns teaches a science teaching methods class that discusses the Science Education Law.

Christie goes mum on creationism


Published: Sunday, May 15, 2011, 6:00 AM
By Star-Ledger Editorial Board The Star-Ledger

Gov. Chris Christie says his views on creationism are "none of your business."

Yes, actually they are our business, governor. You made it our business when you said you have no objection to public schools teaching creationism alongside evolution.

The governor says this is a local issue, whether or not schools instruct children that God created humans and the Earth and the heavens. In fact, as he well knows, the state decides exactly what should be taught in each subject each year. Evolution is taught, and creationism is not. That's because there are thousands of pages of peer-reviewed scientific research that back up the teaching of evolution. Not so for creationism, which is a religious idea, not a scientific one.

Christie's dismissal was telling for a governor who had only a year ago pledged to answer "directly, straightly, bluntly," so "nobody in New Jersey is going to have to wonder where I am on an issue."

"I think they've had enough of politicians who make them wonder," Christie had said of voters. "They make them wonder so they get an escape hatch."

Maybe that's exactly what Christie needs, if he's being groomed by national conservatives for a bigger office. By contrast, the state's acting education commissioner, Christopher Cerf, made his own views perfectly clear: "I don't think creationism has any place in a science course," he said.

He's right. Because what should be taught there is science.

Denver mayoral candidates on creationism and science


By Jeremy P. Meyer
The Denver Post
Posted: 05/15/2011 01:00:00 AM MDT

Candidate Chris Romer said he would make sure that biology and science continue to be taught in Denver Public Schools a reference to an answer that his opponent Michael Hancock made in an earlier forum.

Hancock on Thursday answered "yes" when asked whether creationism or intelligent design should be taught in public schools. (The mayor has no control over DPS and its curriculum.)

He later issued a statement saying he misunderstood the question and that religious beliefs have no place in public school curriculum.

On Saturday Hancock referenced his erroneous answer by saying the mark of a true leader is one who can own up to his mistake.

"Leadership doesn't try to find a pitfall when someone stepped in it by saying, 'Let's capitalize on that,' " Hancock said. "Leadership says, 'I flubbed. I can do better than that.' "

Hancock has been a deacon at New Hope Baptist Church formerly led by the Rev. James D. Peters, who on Friday told The Denver Post that the church believes in God and creation.

"The first four words in the Bible are, 'In the beginning, God . . .,' " Peters said. "That means that according to our beliefs, whatever was made was made by God, whenever. You hear some people talk about it being slow or a big bang it doesn't matter if it was seven days, 7,000 years or 7 million years. Whenever it happened, it was done by God."

Hancock, 41, said he understands and respects the boundaries between personal beliefs and public policy.

"My faith does make me who I am, but I am very careful not to allow the two to intersect," he said. "I believe in science, very clearly. And I believe there ought to be a very strong separation between church and state."

The issue has been compounded by one of Hancock's answers in a forum held months ago when asked whether he believes in evolution.

Hancock answered, "I believe in God."

On Saturday, he said he should have given a more thorough answer.

"I believe in evolution and I believe in God," he said. "I don't hide from that. I can have my faith and also believe children should be taught evolution in schools."

Romer, 51, who grew up in the Presbyterian church, said he believes in evolution and that "we need to clearly commit ourselves to science and science-related jobs in our community."

John Green, political science professor at the University of Akron in Ohio whose specialty is the role of politics and religion in the United States, said spiritual beliefs can be advantageous and problematic for a candidate.

"Religion can incite loyalty, inspire people to justice and virtue," Green said. "It also can create great divisions and controversy. It taps into some of the most deeply held values that people have. Sometimes this works out in a very positive way. Other times it creates an enormous amount of dissension."

Part of the problem, he said, is that religion in America is enormously diverse. So is the Democratic Party. And candidates seeking to appeal to the Democratic base sometimes get into trouble.

In Denver, most of the voters are Democrats, though the city's elected positions are unaffiliated. Romer and Hancock are registered Democrats.

"What a lot of candidates learn is a view that would be accepted and praised in the context of their religious community is suddenly controversial when brought to the attention of the broader community," Green said.

"Sometimes they decide they will hold onto their religious position, and sometimes they decide that their personal view doesn't translate into politics very well," he said. "This can be really complicated for candidates."

Jeremy P. Meyer: 303-954-1367 or jpmeyer@denverpost.com Reporter Anthony Cotton contributed to this report.

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NJ Gov. Chris Christie: Schools Can Teach Creationism


Opinion by AUSCS
(22 Hours Ago) in Religion / Religion in Society
By Sandhya Bathija

If it were left up to Gov. Chris Christie, public education in New Jersey would be a free-for-all.

At a town hall in Manalapan, N.J., last week, Christie said he believes public school districts should get to determine whether to teach creationism in science classes because that's a decision that should be made "at the local level."

When asked at a press conference yesterday about this issue again, Christie reiterated his stance.

"Evolution is required teaching," Christie said. "If there's a certain school district that also wants to teach creationism, that's not something we should decide in Trenton."

So if the public school district in Manalapan wants to teach 2 +2 = 5, I guess that would be okay with Christie, too. After all, who cares about what's accurate, so long as school districts have the autonomy to teach whatever they fancy.

All I can say is that if I lived in Jersey, I wouldn't want a dime of my tax money paying for a school that teaches inaccurate arithmetic. And I definitely wouldn't want my taxes to fund religious education as part of science class, either.

I think most Americans feel the same way. (I just answered this poll about the issue on NJ.com, and an overwhelming 89 percent of voters agree that New Jersey public schools should not be allowed to teach creationism.)

I guess Christie misread the public on that one, as well as decades of legal precedent.

The U.S. Supreme Court, on more than one occasion, has ruled that creationism is a religious concept and does not belong in the public school science curriculum. The Religious Right and its lawmaker allies may not like it, but our Constitution prevents public schools from indoctrinating children in religious concepts, period.

It's foolish of Christie to suggest that school officials and boards should have the right to inject religion into science education. We have seen this doesn't go over well.

Texas has been a prime example. Last year, the far-right bloc on the elected state board of education voted to weaken science education and opened the door for religious concepts to be introduced as part of the Texas science curriculum.

Who knows how far back this will set Texas students and state taxpayers, who will end up paying for costly litigation if school officials adopt an unconstitutional curriculum. Does Christie want that to happen in New Jersey, too?

Instead of encouraging local school boards to violate the Constitution, governors should be supporting sound science education and a strong public school system.

Muslim creationists tour France denouncing Darwin


By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor

AUBERVILLIERS, France | Mon May 16, 2011 9:54am EDT

AUBERVILLIERS, France (Reuters) - Four years after they first frightened France, Muslim creationists are back touring the country preaching against evolution and claiming the Koran predicted many modern scientific discoveries.

Followers of Harun Yahya, a well-financed Turkish publisher of popular Islamic books, held four conferences at Muslim centers in the Paris area at the weekend with more scheduled in six other cities.

At a Muslim junior high school in this north Paris suburb, about 100 pupils -- boys seated on the right, girls on the left -- listened as two Turks from Harun Yahya's headquarters in Istanbul denounced evolution as a theory Muslims should shun.

"We didn't descend from the apes," lecturer Ali Sadun told the giggling youngsters. Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, he said, was "the scientific basis to defend atheism."

Harun Yahya, one of the most prolific publishers in the Muslim world, gave proudly secularist France a scare in January 2007 by mass-mailing thousands of free copies of his "Atlas of Creation" to schools and libraries across the country.

The Education Ministry quickly ordered headmasters to seize and hide copies of the large format book that, over 768 pages of glossy photographs and easy-to-read text, argues that all living things were created by God exactly as they are formed today.

It followed up with a special seminar to train teachers how to counter a small but growing group of pupils who challenge evolution with creationist theories.

In October 2007, with strong French support, the Council of Europe denounced the creationist views laid out in the "Atlas of Creation" as a religious assault on science and human rights.


Christian and Muslim creationists believe God created the world as described in the Bible and the Koran. Both books say God made the universe and all living things in six days. The Bible presents that as the exact time needed for creation but the Koran says "days" actually means long periods of time.

Christian creationism enjoys popular support in some parts of the United States but courts have ruled it is a religious view that cannot be taught in state-run schools.

Koran-based creationist views are traditional in the Muslim world. Advised by U.S. creationists, Harun Yahya has developed a series of books that have helped spread this view in recent years beyond the Middle East, including to France, whose five million Muslims make up Europe's largest Islamic minority.

"People who defend evolution can't accept the existence of a Creator," Sadun said at La Reussite ("Success"), one of the few Muslim-run private schools in France.

"Life is not the result of chance, it's the creation of a higher power, which of course is Allah," he said in fluent French, adding that the confiscation of the "Atlas of Creation" was similar to book-burnings staged by the Nazis in the 1930s.

Sadun's lecture depended heavily on slides purporting to show ancient fossils of a fish, cricket, lizard and frog looking exactly like photographs of their modern day descendants. He claimed no fossils proving evolutionary transitions existed.

Scientists in Turkey, Europe and North America argue the Atlas is riddled with errors, but this seems neither to bother Harun Yahya's followers nor to crimp his books' sales.


Harun Yahya is the pseudonym of Adnan Oktar, 55, a preacher who keeps secret the sources of the ample funds that allow him and a group of followers to produce hundreds of thousands of slick and simple books on Islam under his pen name.

He told Reuters in 2008 that he was preparing the return of Jesus Christ, who he said would come back to Earth in about 25 years as a Muslim to help the Mahdi -- Islam's savior figure -- to defeat evil and establish Islam around the world.

After Sedun's anti-evolution talk, a colleague from Istanbul spoke about "scientific miracles in the Koran," another small but well-financed field of self-styled experts claiming the Muslim holy book predicted many modern scientific discoveries.

Avni Karahisar cited Koran verses he said indicated hidden proof of phenomena such as the Big Bang, planetary orbits and the expansion of the universe. Pupils avidly took notes on scrap paper distributed by teachers before the talk.

"Technology now shows these truths announced in the Koran 1,400 years ago," Karahisar said. "This shows in a miraculous way that the Koran is the word of Allah the All Powerful."


Nidhal Guessoum, an Algerian astrophysicist at the American University in Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, dismisses these so-called miracles as "fanciful interpretations."

They have "exploded and expanded to quickly occupy large parts of the cultural landscape of the Islamic world (particularly the Arab part) over the last few decades," he wrote in his new book "Islam's Quantum Question."

Because the conferences are held on private premises, the Education Ministry has no authority over them and has not commented on what one Harun Yahya follower called their "second wave" of campaigning in France after the 2007 controversy.

This "second wave" began with conferences in January in Paris, Marseille, Lyon and other cities. The group plans similar conferences this month in Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands.

While these conferences may not attract much interest outside Muslim communities in Europe now, the organisers clearly hope the creationist ideas they spread will have an impact.

A teacher at the La Reussite meeting said French educators called him an Islamic fundamentalist for his creationist views, but he thought they were actually secularist fundamentalists.

"As a Muslim school, we're lucky to have people who give us tools for this debate," he said, nodding toward the lecturers.

"This is very important for you and for your pride," he told the pupils.

(Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton)