NTS LogoSkeptical News for 17 July 2011

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Evolution education update: July 15, 2011

A preview of Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway's Merchants of Doubt, new photographs from the Scopes trial, and a new issue of RNCSE.


NCSE is pleased to offer a free preview of Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway's Merchants of Doubt (Bloomsbury Press, 2010). The preview consists of chapter 6, "The Denial of Global Warming," which describes how public skepticism about global warming was fomented by "a small network of doubt-mongers," even while the scientific consensus continued to solidify. "Journalists were constantly pressured to grant the professional deniers equal status -- and equal time and newsprint space -- and they did," Oreskes and Conway comment, adding, "This divergence between the state of the science and how it was presented in the major media helped make it easy for our government to do nothing about global warming."

The reviewer for Science described Merchants of Doubt as "a fascinating and important study," and the historian of science Robert N. Proctor wrote, in his review for American Scientist, "Historians a thousand years from now may wonder what went wrong: How, after scholars had so thoroughly nailed down the reality of anthropogenic climate change, did so many Americans get fooled into thinking it was all a left-wing hoax? Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway give us some very good -- if disturbing -- answers in their fascinating, detailed and artfully written new book, Merchants of Doubt. ... There is much in this book to outrage anyone who cares about the future of the planet, human health, or scientific integrity."

For the preview (PDF), visit:

For information about the book, visit:

For Proctor's review in American Scientist, visit:

In honor of the anniversary of the Scopes trial, which ran from July 10 to July 21, 1925, the Smithsonian Institution Archives just released a new set of twenty-five portraits of scientists who agreed to testify on behalf of the defense, according to a post at The Bigger Picture, the Smithsonian Photography Initiative's blog. The photographs, taken by Watson Davis, managing editor of the syndicated news service Science Service, have been added to the existing "Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes Trial Photographs" set on the Smithsonian Flickr Commons. The historian Marcel Chotkowski LaFollette, whose book Reframing Scopes: Journalists, Scientists, and Lost Photographs from the Trial of the Century (University Press of Kansas, 2008) examined the trial from the perspective of journalist-photographers Watson Davis and Frank Thone, commented in a separate post at The Bigger Picture, "During the week of July 13, an impressive group of experts made their way to Dayton ... Remarkably, the Archives' Science Service collections contain photographs of them all, many taken by Davis or his Science Service colleague, Frank Thone, when they boarded, from July 10 to 22, in a mansion that had been set up to serve as the defense team's temporary quarters."

For the Bigger Picture's post about the photographs, visit:

For the photographs on Flickr, visit:
For LaFollette's post, visit:

NCSE is pleased to announce the third issue of Reports of the National Center for Science Education in its new on-line format. The issue -- volume 31, number 3 -- features Phil Senter's "The Defeat of Flood Geology by Flood Geology," which concludes, "Flood Geology began in order to find support for YEC doctrine but ironically it has now produced an impressive body of evidence against it." For his regular People and Places column, Randy Moore discusses the career of a controversial defender of Lamarckian inheritance in "Paul Kammerer 1880-1926."

Plus a crop of reviews of books on science: Steven Dutch reviews Michael Leddra's Time Matters; Arthur G. Hunt reviews Michael Yarus's Life from an RNA World; Jonathan Marks reviews Jeremy Taylor's Not a Chimp; Anya Plutynski reviews Evolution: The Extended Synthesis, edited by Massimo Pigliucci and Gerd Mόller; Pat Shipman reviews Brian Switek's Written in Stone; and Marvalee H. Wake reviews In the Light of Evolution: Essays from the Laboratory and Field, edited by Jonathan Losos.

All of these articles, features, and reviews are freely available in PDF form from http://reports.ncse.com. Members of NCSE will shortly be receiving in the mail the print supplement to Reports 31:3, which contains, in addition to summaries of the on-line material, news from the membership, a new column in which NCSE staffers offer personal reports on what they've been doing to defend the teaching of evolution, and more besides. (Not a member? Join today!)

For the table of contents for RNCSE 31:3, visit:

For information about joining NCSE, 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
http://ncse.com Read Reports of the NCSE on-line:
http://reports.ncse.com Subscribe to NCSE's free weekly e-newsletter:
http://groups.google.com/group/ncse-news NCSE is on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter:
http://twitter.com/ncse NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A taste of S. E. Cupp


Category: Creationism • Culture Wars • Policy and Politics
Posted on: July 12, 2011 7:34 PM, by Josh Rosenau

Long-time readers know that, last April and May, I invested a decent amount of time in tearing apart a book by conservative punditress S. E. Cupp. Cupp, a self-proclaimed atheist, had written a book defending the religious right, and she titled it Losing Our Religion: The Media's Attack on Christianity.

Why, you may be asking, would an avowed atheist describe fundamentalism as "our religion"? I don't know. But she does, consistently adopting the fringiest, least atheist-friendly forms of Christianity as if they were the only form Christianity could take. Thus, she mocked Chris Matthews's Catholicism because he's pro-evolution, even though the Pope is pro-evolution. At the time, she was wrapping up a masters in religious studies from NYU. The mind truly boggles at how little someone can learn if she tries hard enough not to.

All of which I could put behind me except she's still playing the same games. To wit, talking with MSNBC's Martin Bashir about Michele Bachmann's support for creationism and Bachmann's and her husband's use of religious practices to attempt to "cure" homosexuality, and her attempt to legally protect such "therapy". Every relevant scientific and medical authority has denounced this practice as rooted in a faulty premise about the nature of sexuality, demonstrably ineffective, and demonstrably harmful to the patient.

Cupp, like any right-thinking person, says that this is junk science, but she doesn't want anyone to criticize the Bachmanns for employing it:

BASHIR: You said this is junk science.

CUPP: I think it's a valid argument to say that praying away the gay is junk science.

BASHIR: It's not just you saying that, it's the Association of American Psychologists who are saying this.

CUPP: I think it's a valid argument, that it's junk science. But I don't think you can implicate 80 percent of the population which is Christian, who believe that homosexuality is a sin as crazy and kooky and extreme.

BASHIR: I'm not going there. I'm not suggesting that at all. What I'm asking you is, does Michele Bachmann therefore embrace junk science.

CUPP: I can't tell you what motivates Michele Bachmann's belief that homosexuality is a sin. I have a feeling it's the Bible.


BASHIR: Is a potential Republican candidate for the presidency embracing junk science?

CUPP: If you don't believe that homosexuality is a sin, if you don't believe that you can pray away the gay, if you don't [sic] believe that gays should be married then you would disagree with Michele Bachmann and you would say that she is embracing junk science.

If you are a Christian who believes like she does, that homosexuality is a sin, creationism is the story of how we all got here, then I don't think you would call it junk science, I think you would call that, you know, Scripture, Christianity.

There are any number of problems here. First, that ex-gay therapy is junk science is not "a valid argument," it's true. There's no evidence that it works, or is safe, or is medically justified. It simply is junk science, and Cupp offers no counter-argument to that point.

But she does come up with a surprising bit of relativistic nonsense, and argue that whether it is or isn't junk science depends whether you're Christian. And then she claims that dismissing such harmful and ineffective therapies would label as "crazy and kooky and extreme" the "80 percent of the population which is Christian, who believe that homosexuality is a sin."

No. Literally everything here is wrong. First, 80% of the US does not think homosexuality is a sin. In 2003, Pew asked 1,515 Americans whether they think homosexuality is a sin, and 55% said it was. Which is high – troublingly high, indeed insultingly high to anyone who thinks America should be a land of the free – but it is not 80%. Even among the Americans who attend church the most, only 76% thought homosexuality was a sin. The American public has far less negative views of homosexuality today than it did 8 years ago, so I'd guess that less than half of Americans today regard homosexuality is a sin.

In 2008, Pew asked a slightly different question, and found that 50% of the public says "Homosexuality is a way of life that should be accepted by society," rejecting the argument that it should be "discouraged by society" (which only 40% backed). Mainline Protestants favor acceptance 56:38, while Catholics favor acceptance over discouragement by a ratio of nearly 2:1 (58:30). The only subgroup approaching Cupp's fantastical 80% are Jehovah's witnesses, in which 76% would rather discourage the homosexual lifestyle.

This was borne out again by a 2010 CNN poll, which asked "Do you personally think that homosexual relationships between consenting adults is morally wrong, or not a moral issue?" 48% said "morally wrong," 50% said it was "not a moral issue." That's an odd way to dichotomize the matter (what about "morally right"?), but even with that biased language, less than half of Americans condemn the morality of same sex relationships.

What Cupp is doing is assuming that every Christian regards homosexuality as a sin, so if 80% of Americans are Christian, then 80% of Americans must find same sex orientations sinful. You'd think a master of religious studies would know better, but no. This is her standard schtick, and she's not going to let an education or facts get in the way of her conservative talking points.

Plus, even if 80% of Christians did find homosexuality sinful, that wouldn't change the empirically documented fact that the sorts of pseudo-therapy employed by the Bachmanns doesn't work and does harm to patients. Whether something is junk science is simply not a matter of opinion, it's an empirical matter.

That goes for attempts to "cure" same sex attraction, and it goes for creationism. Is a Republican candidate embracing "junk science"? Yes! Is she also embracing what she regards as "Scripture, Christianity"? Yes. Are there other Christians who reject Bachmann's form of Christianity and her reading of Scripture, who regard it as un-Christian and counter-scriptural to condemn their brothers and sisters because of their sexual orientation? Yes! But you'll never hear that from Cupp. She may be an atheist, but heart is with fundamentalist Christianity.

Monday, July 11, 2011

..Believers In Mysterious Planet Nibiru Await Earth's End http://www.space.com/12194-comet-elenin-planet-nibiru-doomsday-2012.html

By Natalie Wolchover, Life's Little Mysteries Staff Writer Space.com | SPACE.com – 6 hrs ago

Renowned astrophysicist Carl Sagan once described a "baloney detection kit" — a set of tools that skeptical thinkers use to investigate any new concept. A few of the key tools include a healthy distrust of information that isn't independently verified, critically assessing an idea rather than becoming irrationally attached to it simply because it's intriguing, and a preference for simple explanations over wildly speculative ones.

The waxing obsession with the planet Nibiru , which conspiracy theorists say is a planet swinging in from the outskirts of our solar system that is going to crash into Earth and wipe out humanity in 2012 — or, in some opinions, 2011 — shows that an astonishing number of people "are watching YouTube videos and visiting slick websites with nothing in their skeptical toolkit," in the words of David Morrison, a planetary astronomer at NASA Ames Research Center and senior scientist at the NASA Astrobiology Institute.

Morrison estimates that there are 2 million websites discussing the impending Nibiru-Earth collision. He receives, on average, five email inquiries about Nibiru every day.

"At least a once a week I get a message from a young person — as young as 11 — who says they are ill and/or contemplating suicide because of the coming doomsday," Morrison told Life's Little Mysteries, a sister site to SPACE.com.

What's the origin of this mass panic about Nibiru, which astronomers say doesn't exist?

A suspect origin

The idea that doomsday will result from a planetary collision was first proposed in 1995 by Nancy Lieder, a self-described "contactee." Lieder claims she has the ability to receive messages through an implant in her brain from aliens in the Zeta Reticuli star system. On her website, ZetaTalk, she stated that she was chosen to warn mankind of an impending planetary collision which would wipe out humanity in May 2003. (When no such cataclysmic event occurred, Lieder's followers chose 2012 as the new date for the Nibiru collision, which coincides neatly with other doomsday prophecies focused on the ending of the Mayan calendar.) [Doomsday Facts (or Fictions)]

Lieder originally called the bringer of doom "Planet X," and later connected it to a planet that was hypothesized to exist by a writer named Zecharia Sitchin in his book "The 12th Planet" (Harper 1976). According to Sitchin (1920-2010), the ancient Sumerians wrote about a giant planet called Nibiru — the "twelfth planet" in the solar system, after the other planets (including Pluto), the sun and moon — which has an oblong orbit that swings near Earth every 3,600 years. Humans actually evolved on Nibiru, he said, and colonized this planet during a previous flyby.

Historians and language scholars say that Stitchin grossly mistranslated ancient texts. The Sumerians did indeed believe in a cosmology involving planets; however they thought there were five planets, not 12, and they did not believe that humans hopped to Earth from a place called Nibiru. Furthermore, astronomers have pointed out that a planetary orbit like the one Sitchin proposed for Nibiru is impossible: No celestial body could maintain a stable orbit that swings it through the inner solar system every 3,600 years and keeps it beyond Pluto the rest of the time. The body would quickly get sucked in or pushed out.

Nonetheless, Sitchin's books have been translated into 25 languages and sold millions of copies worldwide. Lieder's planetary collision theory has adopted the name of Nibiru for Earth's planetary nemesis. Many people who believe that doomsday will occur when the Mayan calendar ends in 2012 have adopted Lieder's Nibiru collision prophecy as the cataclysm that will bring us to that end.

Missing planet

The biggest missing link in the doomsday prophecy is Nibiru itself. Because no giant, rogue planet has been found in the outer solar system to play the role of Nibiru, some conspiracy theorists have decided that a small comet called Elenin (which will pass nearest Earth in October 2011) is actually Nibiru. Even then, though, scientists say Elenin will come no closer than 100 times farther than the distance from Earth to the moon. [What If Our Solar System Formed Closer to Milky Way's Edge?]

"The fact is that these folks are constantly changing their story," Morrison wrote in an email. "For some, Nibiru is no longer the Sumerian god or planet that is supposed to be returning to Earth in late 2012. It has become a catchword for almost any cosmic catastrophe."

Internet rumors about Elenin began spreading earlier this year. Its approach to Earth was blamed for shifting the Earth's axis by 3 degrees in February, precipitating the Chile earthquake, then shifting the pole even more to trigger the Japan quake in March. "Ignoring plate tectonics as the cause of earthquakes, they suggest that the comet exerted strong gravitational or electromagnetic effects on our planet," Morrison wrote.

When scientists pointed out that the comet is a mere 3-mile-wide glob of ice with no magnetic field and that it won't even pass very near Earth — and that plate tectonics, not comets, cause earthquakes — rumors began to circulate that NASA was withholding information about Elenin.

"Ironically, the inconspicuous nature of this comet plays into some of the conspiracy theories," Morrison pointed out. "For people who are convinced the comet did cause the earthquakes, this proves that Elenin is not a comet at all, but a much more massive, and dangerous, interloper." Conspiracy theorists began speculating that the comet is Nibiru in disguise — a planet or even an enormous brown dwarf star.

In fact, Elenin is a textbook comet; it has visible "coma," or nucleus, and a long tail made of vaporizing ice. [What's the Difference Between an Asteroid and a Comet?]

If it were a brown dwarf, "it would not have a coma or tail, because the gas cannot escape from an object with substantial gravity. In addition, if it were massive we would be seeing its gravitational influence on the orbits of the planets, especially Mars and Earth, but there is no change in these orbits," Morrison wrote. "Finally, if it were a brown dwarf it would have been easily detected in various previous astronomical surveys, including the recent WISE infrared mission, even when it was still in the outer solar system," he wrote.

The fact that the comet isn't headed our way is overlooked by most conspiracy theorists, while others say its path is going to change. "[Some] websites suggest that the comet is accompanied by a giant UFO, which controls its orbit," Morrison told us; in effect, who cares if Elenin doesn't seem to be headed in our direction — it'll be steered here.

Distinguishing truth from lies

Morrison offered some advice to those who are interested in astronomy or are worried about impending collisions. "If it [a story] is real, it is likely to be in regular news media, not just posted on some website," he told us. Furthermore, "not everyone who claims on YouTube to be a scientist or an employee of NASA is. But there is no simple way to distinguish truth from lies."

The Nibiru conspiracies are so nonsensical that Morrison wonders whether even their purveyors believe them. Because many websites sell Nibiru books, tapes and even "survival kits," Morrison thinks they are purposely taking advantage of people who aren't able to distinguish credible sources from crackpot ones. "This is especially a problem for young people, which is why I am so angry at those who target children," he said.

This article was provided by Life's Little Mysteries, a sister site to SPACE. Follow us on Twitter @llmysteries, then join us on Facebook. Follow Natalie Wolchover on Twitter @nattyover.

Evolution education update: July 8, 2011

Further details on the impending antievolution bills in New Hampshire. A review of recent events in the creationism/evolution controversy in Church & State. And a bumper sticker contest sponsored by NCSE.


A columnist for the Nashua Telegraph (July 3, 2011) discusses the two antievolution bills on the horizon in New Hampshire. As NCSE previously reported, two requests to have antievolution bills drafted for the 2012 legislative session were included on a list of legislative service requests dated June 14, 2011. David Brooks, who writes the "Granite Geek" column for the Telegraph, interviewed both of the legislators who submitted the requests.

Jerry Bergevin (R-District 17) asked for a bill "requiring the teaching of evolution in public schools as a theory" -- which, as Brooks notes, seems to imply that evolutionary theory is "nothing more than a complex guess." Responding to Brooks's query, Bergevin explained, "My LSR is not anti-evolution, I am anti-indoctrination," and added, "This LSR would include a study of the proponents' ideology and position on atheism." Brooks commented, "I'm not sure what he means by evolution's 'proponents,' since that constitutes most of the world's scientific community."

Gary Hopper (R-District 7), who asked for a bill "requiring instruction in intelligent design in the public schools," explained, "Darwin's theory is basically antiquated," and also complained that evolutionary theory is at bottom "a theory that we are here by accident, that there is no purpose. The conclusion is that we're a bunch of accidents … you really have no purpose for existence. ... Teaching a child that it's very possible that they were designed would infer [sic] that they actually have a purpose. There's some purpose they were created, so that is a reason to live."

Brooks, for his part, disagreed with the legislators' view that accepting evolution is tantamount to nihilism, writing that on the contrary, "[c]reationism is meaningless, but evolution is a door to infinite wonder." "But," he concluded, "this is irrelevant here, because it has no bearing on what to teach in science class. My taxpayer dollars pay science teachers to teach science, not philosophy. Let's hope lawmakers don't try to get in the way."

For the column in the Nashua Telegraph, visit:

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


Rob Boston's "Creationism Crusade," published in the July/August 2011 issue of Church & State, reviews the latest battles, in state legislatures and elsewhere, over the teaching of evolution. The antievolution bills in Tennessee -- House Bill 368, which passed the Tennessee House of Representatives in April 2011, and its counterpart Senate Bill 893, which is on hold in the Senate until the legislature reconvenes in 2012 -- were described as "showing an increasing sophistication on the part of activists who are determined to revise biology instruction to conform to religious dogma."

Also discussed was the attempt to repeal Louisiana's antievolution law. Zach Kopplin, the Baton Rouge high school student who spearheaded the repeal effort, told Church & State, "I've always wanted to take this law on, since it was passed three years ago ... When it first passed, friends and family from around the country read about it in The New York Times, and it was really embarrassing. This law doesn't just affect my reputation with friends and family though. Louisiana has an anti-science reputation that will make it harder for Louisiana students to get the cutting-edge jobs in science that they want."

Boston also cited Michael B. Berkman and Eric Plutzer's National Survey of High School Biology Teachers, which found that only 28% taught evolution forthrightly, while a whopping 60% were "cautious" about teaching evolution, often due to pressure from their communities. NCSE's deputy director Glenn Branch commented, "Teachers need to know that they have support for teaching evolution forthrightly ... in a scientifically accurate and pedagogically appropriate way, without any compromises to mollify the objections of those who reject evolution on religious grounds."

After noting that not all people of faith are opposed to evolution (and citing NCSE's Voices for Evolution, which includes a number of denominational statements on evolution), Boston concluded by quoting Barry W. Lynn, the executive director of Americans United for Separation for Church and State (which publishes Church & State), himself an ordained minister. "The Religious Right aims to replace science instruction in public classrooms with fundamentalist Sunday School lessons," Lynn commented. "Religious liberty and good science education are at stake. That's why we must speak out."

For "Creationism Crusade" in Church & State, visit:

For NCSE's previous coverage in Tennessee and Louisiana, visit:

For NCSE's previous coverage of Berkman and Plutzer's survey, visit:

And for NCSE's Voices for Evolution, visit:


It's time to sharpen your pencils, cudgel your brains, and consult your muse: NCSE is running a bumper sticker contest! This is your chance to speak loud, speak proud for evolution, by crafting a killer slogan that could end up on the tail end of thousands of cars. The aim of this mobile message: to spread the good word about evolution and evolution education. Your bumper sticker can be funny, profound, fierce -- whatever, as long as it's good. Full details of the contest, and a list of the fabulous prizes on offer, are available on NCSE's website. The contest ends on September 5, 2011.

For details of the contest, 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!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Cargill must put education first


End the zealotry on the State Board of Education.
Express-News Editorial Board
Updated 12:04 a.m., Sunday, July 10, 2011

Cargill must put education firstYour Turn — July 9, 2011Texas Lege needs ethics watchdogPage 1 of 1

Texans can hope that Gov. Rick Perry's nomination of Barbara Cargill as chair of the State Board of Education represents an improvement over his previous two appointments to lead the SBOE. Unfortunately, there is little reason to believe Cargill will be any less ideologically minded than her immediate predecessors.

Perry picked Don McLeroy, a Republican from Bryan, to head the board in 2007. McLeroy, an avowed advocate of creationism, presided over disastrous rewrites of science, English and reading curriculum standards that rejected the recommendations of experts and scholars.

The Texas Senate appropriately declined to confirm McLeroy during the 2009 session. Perry nominated Republican Gail Lowe of Lampasas to replace him.

There was hope that Lowe, who had served on her school district's board of trustees and sent three children to public schools, would tone down the SBOE zealotry. But under her leadership, the board once again rejected the recommendations of experts and adopted controversial social studies standards that even a conservative educational think tank criticized as "historically misleading and potentially damaging to our shared values as a nation."

The Texas Senate justifiably declined to confirm Lowe during the 2011 session. Now Perry has made an interim nomination of Barbara Cargill, a Republican from The Woodlands, who has been part of the same board bloc as McLeroy and Lowe.

We hope that as chair, Cargill will make education, not religion or politics, her priority. The public will have a good idea of what kind of leader she is in two weeks, when the board meets to consider supplemental materials for science classrooms. The problem is not that Cargill is conservative and that opponents are therefore out to get her, as SBOE member Ken Mercer — another zealot — told the Express-News.

The state board had strong, Republican conservative leadership prior to McLeroy, leadership that didn't make Texas public education a national laughingstock, didn't enfeeble Texas schools, and didn't make students unprepared for the challenges of a competitive world.

The problem will be if Cargill continues to make the SBOE's mission an ideological mission, as McLeroy and Lowe did. Since 2007, a majority on the state board has pushed an agenda that has been a dead weight on public education. Let's hope Cargill lightens the load.

Read more: http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/article/Cargill-must-put-education-first-1458346.php#ixzz1RkdrZxvN

New Jersey home schooling: The Wild West of education


Published: Sunday, July 10, 2011, 6:15 AM
By Julie O'Connor/The Star-Ledger The Star-Ledger

Imagine your kid came home from high school one day and recited the day's lessons:

Many parents would march into the principal's office or storm the next meeting of the school board, demanding an explanation for a misguided curriculum that defies science and, well, common sense.

But this is regular reading material for a few hundred home-schooled students in New Jersey. In this state, there are no laws shielding thousands of these students from lesson plans that recognized educational experts would consider nonsense.

"One of the goals of creating clear, agreed-upon curriculum standards is to protect kids against people who have extreme ideological positions," said Robert Schwartz, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. "This crosses some serious boundaries, which wouldn't be allowable in a public school."

Home schooling has had plenty of headliner success stories: Mozart, Theodore Roosevelt and Susan B. Anthony were educated at home. Home schoolers have swept national spelling and geography bees, and taken home the top prize at the famed Siemens Westinghouse Competition.

Even among the largest subset, who are conservative Christians, they're a diverse group. At a recent Christian home schooling convention in Edison, parent Matt Carlino said he believes there should be a clear line between education and politics, or children will form a worldview that's "too black and white."

And while many home schooling parents vehemently oppose any attempt at state oversight, he worries that without it, parents have too much leeway.

"Then all of a sudden you have these extreme cases, which give a bad name to home schoolers in general," he said.


The lessons at the beginning of this article come straight from Conservapedia, a conservative version of Wikipedia that teacher Andrew Schlafly uses with about 200 high school-age students. The teens help write and edit the website, an interactive textbook where their homework and tests are posted.

Examples, verbatim, of the website's descriptions of people and things.

On Barack Obama:

Obamunism is a word that was created by mixing together the words of Obama and Communism, coined by critics of the Obama administration to describe Barack Obama's socialistic and "fascism light" economic policies (Benito Mussolini defined fascism as the wedding of state and corporate powers. Accordingly, trend forecaster Gerald Celente labels Obama's corporate bailouts as being "fascism light" in nature). Obamunism can also refer to Obama's ruinous fiscal policies and reckless monetary policies which have contributed to high unemployment rates in the United States.

On evolution:

There have been significant and negative social ramifications of the adoption of the theory of evolution. The theory has been foundational to Social Darwinism, Nazism, Communism, and racism. Generally speaking, leading evolutionists no longer debate creation scientists because creation scientists tend to win the creation vs. evolution debates.

On evolutionists who have had problems with being overweight and/or obese:

Since World War II a majority of the most prominent and vocal defenders of the evolutionary position which employs methodological naturalism have been atheists. For a list of overweight and/or obese notable atheists please see: Atheism and obesity

Given the pseudoscientific nature of the evolutionary paradigm, it not surprising that many overweight and obese prominent evolutionists/atheists ignore or take lightly the recommendations of nutritional science, exercise science, and medical science in terms of the harmful effects of being overweight (see also: Evolution, Liberalism, Atheism, and Irrationality).

On professor values:

(Includes a listing of crimes committed by professors and former professors)

Professors' common value system typically includes atheism, antichristian politics, censorship, socialism, unjustified claims of expertise and knowledge (for example, the dogmatic promotion of the theory of evolution), liberal beliefs, liberal grading, liberal bias, anti-patriotism, lack of productivity, bullying or discouraging conservative students (for example, homeschoolers), and promotion of sexual immorality.

On homosexuality:

There is a strong argument that one can leave homosexuality. In addition, given that the homosexual population has significantly higher rates of many diseases and the homosexual population also has significantly lower rates of various measures of mental health it can be strongly argued that engaging in homosexual acts is a bad choice for individuals. Another other factor that makes engaging in homosexual acts a bad choice for individuals is the significantly higher rates of domestic violence in homosexual couples. In addition, according to experts homosexual murders are relatively or quite common and often homosexual murders are very brutal. Also, the homosexual population has a greater propensity to engage in illegal drug use.

On kangaroos:

Modern kangaroos are the descendants of the two founding members of the modern kangaroo baramin that were taken aboard Noah's Ark prior to the Great Flood. It has not yet been determined by baraminologists whether kangaroos form a holobaramin with the wallaby, tree-kangaroo, wallaroo, pademelon and quokka, or if all these species are in fact apobaraminic or polybaraminic. After the Flood, these kangaroos bred from the Ark passengers migrated to Australia.

Schlafly, a bespectacled, Harvard-educated lawyer and tea party activist who lives in a mansion in Far Hills, is a son of well-known conservative leader and anti-feminist Phyllis Schlafly. He readily acknowledges he uses his classes on writing, economics, government and history — for which students pay $250 per semester — to spread his own views.

So what?

It's all factual, according to him. And he's free to teach whatever he wants. New Jersey law says home schooling must be "equivalent" to a public school education, but because there are no state standards for these students, there's no way to ensure that. Other than parents, no one keeps track of what these students are being taught, or even how many of them exist. New Jersey home schooling organizations say it's likely in the thousands.

It's like the Wild West of education. And because the overall movement has such fierce ideological views and political muscle, any attempt to impose standards gets shut down fast.

"Home schooling has been unregulated in New Jersey for a long time," Schlafly says. "That's the way we like it."


No reliable data exist on whether home schoolers do better as a whole, because their parents don't have to notify the state or district of their choice to home-educate. They aren't required to show a curriculum or textbooks. They don't even have to be high school graduates. And their kids don't have to take state tests or earn diplomas.

Most have a strong libertarian streak when it comes to education, and insist it should be entirely up to the parent, not the state. They home-school for different reasons: academic rigor, concern about the social dynamics of public school, their religious convictions.

Although we don't know the exact breadth of the movement in New Jersey, home schooling's biggest national organization, the Home School Legal Defense Association, has about 1,500 members and a mailing list of 3,000 in this state. Nationally, millions are being home-schooled, and experts say their numbers are growing quickly.

That also means an expanding role for home schooling businesses, such as online schools, private learning centers or freelance teachers. They don't have to be state-certified, and operate under even fewer guidelines than do private schools, which are almost always formed as 501(c)(3) charities in order to accept tax-deductible donations, and are thus prohibited from any kind of political activity.

If you accuse Schlafly of indoctrinating his students, he'll tell you that's exactly what goes on in public schools. He views his classes as an antidote to a state-run school system imbibed with liberalism, which he sees as the root of countless social evils. This, after all, is a man who urges members of the public to help translate the Bible on his website, to edit out any "liberal bias" that "improperly encourages the 'social justice' movement among Christians."

"Medical professionals emphasize that they do not know what causes mental illness," Conservapedia states. "Accordingly, they cannot rule out that liberal indoctrination is a contributing factor."


Conservapedia grew out of the lecture classes Schlafly has taught for nearly a decade at church facilities in Morris County. He's attracted most of his students by word-of-mouth. The teenagers helped set up his website and "learn by contributing," Schlafly says.

A self-employed attorney with degrees in electrical engineering from Princeton and law from Harvard, Schlafly taught administrative law as an adjunct at Seton Hall Law School and home-schooled his daughter. He now teaches home schoolers one afternoon a week, rotating between history, economics, writing and government. He's not Advance Placement-certified, and won't seek it because he feels the board would "censor" him.

But he calls himself a "specialist" in all those subjects, as well as politics and law. He says many of his students have scored high on SATs, won full scholarships and attended top colleges. He's impeccably polite and strikes a dignified, serious presence in class. For some students, he's the first teacher they've ever had outside their homes.

Addison, 18, of Flemington says Schlafly's been a huge influence, inspiring him to go into politics. After the teenager argued for evolution, Schlafly lent him a book that advocated creationism. It was "pretty persuasive," said Addison, who was recently accepted to Drew University.

(Schlafly, who has attracted significant online vitriol for his views, requested his students' last names not be used.)

"He was one of the only teachers that I had aside from my parents," Addison said. "I know a lot of students in regular school say, 'My teachers are a real influence on me.' But he's one of my only teachers, so I guess that effect is magnified. I've learned so many subjects from him that a lot of the things I know are from his class."

Addison's mother, Rosanna, said she chose to home-school because he was a bright but hyperactive child. She sent him to Schlafly for several years, so he'd get some classroom experience. She said she didn't see much difference between Schlafly's teaching and what she learned in Catholic school.

"I never got the impression that the class was tilted conservative," she said.


But like his website, Schlafly's teaching methods are far from mainstream. He believes in giving boys and girls separate tests, to prevent competition between the sexes and promote chivalry.

"Boys generally will not ask out a girl who does better than a boy on a test," he says. "I explain this to parents. We may think that's wrong, but human nature is what it is. It's not going to change, no matter how much we try to tell the boy it has nothing to do with the social relationship. Girls should be aware of that."

Yes, his girls' tests sometimes had fewer questions, he said. But he was not trying to be discriminatory. He says he's not sure why some girls took offense, and it may be the result of an inferiority complex caused by liberal culture — though on his own website he writes, "Think girls can excel in math as well as boys can? Liberals teach they can, which is teaching a falsehood."

After a "huge uproar" in class over the separate tests, Schlafly eventually relegated his gender-specific questions to the extra-credit section.

"As recently as the midterm, there was at least one girl who insisted on answering both extra-credit questions on the test," he said, shaking his head. "But there were no boys who defied me."

Schlafly also has firm views on homosexuality. In a lengthy entry on Conservapedia, he writes that gay murders are "relatively or quite common," and gays are more likely to abuse drugs. He says that's merely a "candid explanation of where the homosexual lifestyle leads."

The fact that his own brother, also a conservative activist, publicly came out as gay two decades ago changes none of this, Schlafly said: "He's seen it and he's had no objections."

And his students have never broached the topic in class. "I've never heard of a gay home schooler," he says.


State Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, says she finds Schlafly's teaching "infuriating."

"It almost seems like you're reading from a script of a fantasy book," she said.

But there's nothing the state can do. Home schooling remains a "wildly unregulated area," said Christopher Cerf, the state's acting commissioner of education.

"The state has literally no enforcement mechanism at its disposal," he said. "It would need to be conferred by the Legislature."

So far, it hasn't been. Home schooling cases aren't contested unless someone calls in a complaint to child welfare services or the district's truancy officer. And then the burden falls on the state to prove the education is not equivalent.

The 85,000-member Home School Legal Defense Association keeps close tabs on legislation around the country and has a network of lawyers who respond immediately in any disputed case.

It's a group run by conservative Christians, which will quickly bombard any legislator who raises the issue of regulation with letters and rallies. It seeks to groom home schoolers as conservative foot soldiers. The group uses its extensive e-mail list to mobilize for right-wing causes such as banning gay marriage, and formed a groundswell of support for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in the 2008 presidential campaign.

No opposing group has ever pushed so fervently for home schooling regulation. And state officials say it would be tricky to draw a line of appropriate oversight.

"The teaching of creationism — or that dinosaurs still roam the Earth — is certainly impossible to justify under state standards," Cerf said. "But I'm not sure that if a well-constituted, appropriately licensed private school taught creationism, we'd say that's a basis for it not to exist."

As far as Schlafly is concerned, any attempt by the state to oversee home schooling is nothing but a "craven power grab."

"Home schoolers already do better than public school students," he said, breaking into a smile. "Have public school students take one of my tests."

These homework questions and answers, verbatim, are from different students, ages 13-18, as posted on Conservapedia, followed by comments from Andrew Schlafly the website's founder and teacher:

How is Islam different from Christianity?

The biggest difference between Islam and Christianity is that Christianity preaches to love your enemy as yourself were as Islam preaches to kill your enemy if they do not convert to Islam.

Concise and correct. — Andy Schlafly

Debate: Should government be able to establish different working conditions for women as compared to men? How about in the case of working conditions that may be harmful to pregnancy or potential pregnancy?

I think that we could cut women that are pregnant or women have something like that some slack, but if they are in perfect medical condition i say no because it would be their choice on what working conditions they would be in. If a women chose to work in a garbage building, that would be her choice.

OK, but it's also a matter of what makes for the best military. By analogy, it's not an individual's choice whether he will play on the New York Giants football team; it's more a question of what the team needs to defeat the competition. — Andy Schlafly

Please explain your view on the Scopes Trial.

I think good results came about as a result of the Scopes Trial. Teaching the theory of evolution was most definitely wrong because of these reasons:

a) It was racist. It taught that whites were more highly developed then blacks.

b) It has never been proven, in fact nothing about the theory of evolution has ever been proven.

c) It was in complete opposition to what was written in Genesis (the story of Creation, not the story of evolution).

d) It was also illegal in Tennessee in 1925.

However, evolution is a matter of personal belief, therefore the government can not interfere with the decision of an individual in whether to believe it or not.

Excellent explanation of your view of the Scopes Trial. You argue well, including several good reasons why imposing the unproven theory of human evolution in government schools was (and still is) misguided and wrong. — Andy Schlafly

Your view of the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment), please.

I believe that the ERA was a terrible idea because not only did it have bad motives, it purposely had a misguiding name, and amendments aren't even supposed to have names. ERA is evil to me for the reason that it gives people the right to kill babies, and quite frankly, that's not fair to them. They have the God given right to live.

Good substitution of questions in following instructions! Superb analysis. — Andy Schlafly


The best description of the ERA that I can think of can be summed up in one word — Evil. The ERA as it is called would have women drafted and same sex bathrooms and the list goes on.

Superb, could have used as a model. — Andy Schlafly


I think that the ERA is a good basic idea, but the ERA itself is too dangerous. Women and men are different, no one can deny that. Trying to unify the two sexes isn't what God intended for us. We are all different and special in our own ways. We don't want to be judged based on our sex, but we do want respect for our differences.

Excellent, though personally I don't think "equality" is even a good idea when it goes against more important values, like God's purpose. — Andy Schlafly

Who do you think was the most important person between 1945 and 1980 in American history, and why?

I think that Betty Friedan, leader of the feminist movement of the 1960s, was the most important person between 1945 and 1980. Her notions and actions had such a great impact on the American culture that her ideas still influence us today.

Interesting! I think her son obtained a Ph.D. in math, just as one of my brothers did. — Andy Schlafly

Contrast President Ronald Reagan with President Bill Clinton.

Whereas Reagan did what was best for the country, Clinton did what fit the Democratic Agenda such as the Brady Bill or the ADA bill. Whereas Reagan for the most part was virtuous, Clinton had many affairs and lied about them, too. Finally, when the students at Columbine were massacred, instead of mourning, Clinton seized on this to push another gun control bill. Reagan would never have done that.

Terrific, also model answer material! — Andy Schlafly

They have secret meetings?


Category: Creationism
Posted on: July 10, 2011 9:34 AM, by PZ Myers

Creationists are so far from being scientists that I'm frequently astounded at just how unaware they are — surely, if you're being that crazy, you've got to realize that what you're doing is nothing like what scientists do, right? I guess when you're that nuts you don't even know it.

The Intelligent Design creationists have been having a secret meeting in Italy, where they claim to be challenging Darwinian orthodoxies. Well, semi-secret: they brought in David Berlinski's daughter to pretend to be a "journalist" and throw gentle little softballs in youtube interviews, but many of the attendees are anonymous, the meeting program is not available, and the place is stocked with devotees of religious orthodoxy who are singularly clueless about science. What it really is is a great big creationist circle jerk where everyone is free to say stupid things and not have one of those annoying evidence-based scientists in the audience asking difficult questions, and also avoid real journalists who might publicly expose their inanity.

Jeff Shallit has gleaned a little information about what's going on at this 'conference' by looking at who is willing to be interviewed: it's the usual Discovery Institute suspects. For example, this video of Paul Nelson is so revealing: everyone else in camera range fled lest they be exposed, and he's got his excuse. They're afraid of reprisals from the Darwinist mullahs! This is such an unhealthy situation! Dissenters are intimidated and their careers threatened!

Yes, their careers are in danger, because disciplines that value rigor and evidence and science are not going to be impressed at all by deluded cowards who hide in closets and whisper oft-debunked stupidities at one another. If you've got the goods, stand and deliver; show us your evidence, explain your reasoning, persuade people who disagree with you with the strength of your argument. They can't, so they scurry off to picturesque villas in Tuscany, shoo away those difficult criticisms, and sit and reassure each other that they are very clever indeed while mangling information theory and biology.

My favorite quote from Darwin's Origin is so appropriate here.

It is so easy to hide our ignorance under such expressions as the "plan of creation" or "unity of design," &c., and to think that we give an explanation when we only restate a fact. Any one whose disposition leads him to attach more weight to unexplained difficulties than to the explanation of a certain number of facts will certainly reject the theory. A few naturalists, endowed with much flexibility of mind, and who have already begun to doubt the immutability of species, may be influenced by this volume; but I look with confidence to the future, to young and rising naturalists, who will be able to view both sides of the question with impartiality. Whoever is led to believe that species are mutable will do good service by conscientiously expressing his conviction; for thus only can the load of prejudice by which this subject is overwhelmed be removed.

There was an orthodoxy in Darwin's time, too, and it was the dogma of creationism. Darwin's advice to young scientists was to conscientiously express their convictions, and to get out and publish, publish, publish their observations. That's how science progresses, by wrestling with disagreement and confronting it with evidence and experiment.

Creationists do the opposite. They must, because their ideas have already been met and dismissed as wrong.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Creation is more scientific than the theory of evolution


A group that supported a failed attempt this legislative session to repeal the Louisiana Science Education Act of 2008 undoubtedly thinks creation is too religious to be taught in public schools.

However, creationists believe evolution is as religious as creation. They cite the miracles expected of evolution from the big bang to creation of the first one-celled organism to creating complicated creatures, finally leading to man.

Creationists say evolutionists do believe in a god but not the God of the Bible, who a majority of people in the United States do believe created all things and is sustaining them.

If evolution has no god and is only atheistic, then the odds of chance still cannot cause it to produce anything. Creation explains processes of life. It is more scientific than evolution, and it functions for a purpose.

Surely it is scientific to allow the major theories of living things to be considered in public school science classes.

- Gloria Frantom

It's Casey Luskin, so what else is new?


Category: Creationism
Posted on: July 6, 2011 10:15 AM, by PZ Myers

Oh, man, Casey Luskin is such an embarrassing spokesperson for the intelligent design creationists — I hope they keep him employed forever. His latest tirade against me is a cacophany of inanity. His primary point is that creationists like Jonathan MacLatchie have forced me to make concessions to creationism when I say that there are differences between vertebrate embryos. It is no concession to anything other than reality: the differences have been known for a long time. My first laboratory experiences as a graduate student were doing work on frog embryos with Phil Grant at the University of Oregon; my second were working with zebrafish embryos with Chuck Kimmel. Guess what: I could tell them apart, easily, as a first year grad student. I can also tell the difference between a zebrafish and medaka embryo! So this is a stupid claim on his part.

Here's his second major absurdity:

If PZ is correct that evolutionary biology predicts both similarities and differences among embryos, then evolutionary biology makes no predictions and is unfalsifiable regarding the similarities and differences in vertebrate development. According to PZ, evolutionary theory predicts whatever it predicts, conserves whatever it conserves, and modifies whatever it modifies. Some theory.

Look at a cat and a dog. They are different animals; they have different forms and behaviors. However, they also have deep similarities: they are mammalian carnivores, they have the same basic bone structure, they have very similar physiologies. Any theory that purports to explain the existence of these two organisms must account for both the similarities and differences. Evolution would be falsified if it predicted that every organism was exactly the same, or if it predicted that every organism was completely different, because that isn't what the real world looks like.

Go back to third grade, Casey. You are a very silly, ignorant fellow.

"Creationism Crusade" in Church & State


July 6th, 2011

Rob Boston's "Creationism Crusade," published in the July/August 2011 issue of Church & State, reviews the latest battles, in state legislatures and elsewhere, over the teaching of evolution. The antievolution bills in Tennessee — House Bill 368, which passed the Tennessee House of Representatives in April 2011, and its counterpart Senate Bill 893, which is on hold in the Senate until the legislature reconvenes in 2012 — were described as "showing an increasing sophistication on the part of activists who are determined to revise biology instruction to conform to religious dogma."

Also discussed was the attempt to repeal Louisiana's antievolution law. Zach Kopplin, the Baton Rouge high school student who spearheaded the repeal effort, told Church & State, "I've always wanted to take this law on, since it was passed three years ago ... When it first passed, friends and family from around the country read about it in The New York Times, and it was really embarrassing. This law doesn't just affect my reputation with friends and family though. Louisiana has an anti-science reputation that will make it harder for Louisiana students to get the cutting-edge jobs in science that they want."

Boston also cited Michael B. Berkman and Eric Plutzer's National Survey of High School Biology Teachers, which found that only 28% taught evolution forthrightly, while a whopping 60% were "cautious" about teaching evolution, often due to pressure from their communities. NCSE's deputy director Glenn Branch commented, "Teachers need to know that they have support for teaching evolution forthrightly ... in a scientifically accurate and pedagogically appropriate way, without any compromises to mollify the objections of those who reject evolution on religious grounds."

After noting that not all people of faith are opposed to evolution (and citing NCSE's Voices for Evolution, which includes a number of denominational statements on evolution), Boston concluded by quoting Barry W. Lynn, the executive director of Americans United for Separation for Church and State (which publishes Church & State), himself an ordained minister. "The Religious Right aims to replace science instruction in public classrooms with fundamentalist Sunday School lessons," Lynn commented. "Religious liberty and good science education are at stake. That's why we must speak out."

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

The Bergman live!


Category: Creationism
Posted on: July 5, 2011 4:37 PM, by PZ Myers

If you're really interested, that Cretinist Jerry Bergman is going to be on some weird "Ask the Expert" show at Creation Conversations, a site I'm going to have to browse more often because it is one of the lamest creationist web sites I've seen yet — it's all young earth creationism presented with the goofiest arguments, like that vestigial snake limbs disprove evolution.

One warning: in order to access everything on the site, they insist that you fill out a little questionnaire with your date of birth, home town, etc., and one of the questions is "Who created the world?" You don't get to leave it blank; Allah, Jehovah, and No One are not acceptable answers, and it only let me through when I typed "Jesus". Way to stack your audience with clown clones, guys! Since I was honest with all the other answers, unfortunately, I doubt that they'll approve my application.

By the way, here's how they describe Bergman:

Ask the Expert is all new with Jerry Bergman, PhD. He has taught biology, genetics, chemistry, biochemistry, anthropology, geology, and microbiology on the college level for over thirty years.

I genuinely pity the students who've had him as an instructor. Thirty years of an incompetent dilettante miseducating students…it's tragic

Look for truth over insults


Tooele Transcript Bulletin

Jul 05, 2011

The Transcript Bulletin recently published an op-ed column "Science is losing ground to ignorance" (June 28) written by Daniel Kline. In it, Kline attempts to insult believers in creationism by calling them ignorant. He speaks of evolution being science's answer. And yet, in reading Kline's bio from his own website, it is apparent that he has little or no scientific background or education. In fact, his bio says that he is a writer and publisher who has had articles published in periodicals like Stuff and Playboy. I would say that he is hardly qualified to be making judgment calls on anyone's beliefs or intelligence. Kline also goes on to say that the Bible has been shown to have an "impossible timeline." In such a statement it is further apparent that Kline is unaware of much of the "science" he cites as fact. He is apparently unaware that evolution remains a theory due to lack of evidence regarding evolution between species, despite the immense amount of archaeological data. An in-depth DNA study, conducted by geneticist Neil Howell on a long Australian family line, produced similar data. But because this data didn't back up their theory, evolutionists dismissed it — some saying that they therefore think DNA evidence isn't accurate for dating long periods, only shorter terms. Is that very scientific? Is it good science to throw out data just because it doesn't fit your theory? Kline would be better served to look for truth from all sources, be they religious or secular, instead of opting for insults.

Kevin Miller


Neorenaissance: Don't Let Satan Fool You


By Shawn Lawrence Otto | Wednesday, July 06, 2011

GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann has made a career out of waging the values battle in the culture wars. A major part of that battle early on in Bachmann's career was the battle over teaching creationism in public school science classes. In fact, Bachmann got her start in politics on the board of a charter school that got in trouble for teaching biblical principles in class. Angry over that, Bachmann then ran for the Stillwater school board as part of a group of religious conservatives that sought to take it over. She failed, but it was the last election she has lost. Today, the debate over "teching the controversy" has gone mainstream.

To understand where Bachmann is coming from, consider a cautionary cartoon from a conservative Christian book. It shows two castles, each on a tiny island. The castle on the left is on the island of "Evolution (Satan)" and flies the flag of Humanism, while the one on the right rests atop the island of "Creation (Christ)" and flies the flag of Christianity.

In balloons above the Evolution castle are listed social ills caused by the theory of evolution: "euthanasia," "homosexuality," and "abortion," "racism," etc. The bumbling priests on the island of Christ are stupidly firing their many cannons at these mere "symptoms" of Evolution, while the lone grim scientist, depicted as a pirate, is hammering away at their foundation.

With this type of emotional portrayal, cast in the context of the education of children, one can begin to understand why some on the religious right oppose evolution and think of creationism as godly.

Classroom teachers often choose to simply skip the subject altogether rather than fight with creationist parents. Similarly, more than one science museum director has told me about overhearing groups of homeschooled children about to enter paleontology exhibits being pulled aside by their parents and told, "Now, remember, those bones were put there by Satan to fool you."

The problem is that modern medicine and biology are based on evolution—biology is essentially applied chemistry and physics in the context of evolution. It is the most fundamental principle in biology, the one that unified biology into an organized science. It connects and provides a framework for understanding all the various disciplines within the life sciences, from genetics to virology to oncology to organic chemistry. It is, at its most basic, simply the understanding of how life changes over time in relationship to its environment.

Like other creationists Bachmann says that many people confuse evolution with natural selection,

and natural selection is not the same thing as evolution. No one that I know disagrees with natural selection, that you can take various breeds of dogs…breed them, you get different kinds of dogs…. It's just a fact of life. … Where there's controversy is, Where do we say that a cell became a blade of grass, which became a starfish, which became a cat, which became a donkey, which became a human being? There's a real lack of evidence from change from actual species to a different type of species. That's where it's difficult to prove.

This is another classic misconception of creationists. Darwin coined the term "naturalselection" in order to distinguish it from the artificial selection done by breeders. The theory of evolution is not about selective breeding at all, which is the opposite of natural selection, and no evidence has ever suggested that human beings are descended from donkeys or blades of grass.

Creationists, including Bachmann, often refer to the writings of Michael Behe, a biochemistry professor and creationist and the author of Darwin's Black Box, a book arguing that some structures, such as the human eye, are just too complex to be the result of evolution and thus must be evidence of "intelligent design," a more recent version of creationism. Behe has made the mistake of clinging to an a priori first principle rather than building his understanding with observational evidence, and so his conclusions are not science; they're what Francis Bacon called "science as one would," full of examples of "the vulgar Induction," in which Behe cherry picks examples that seem to prove his point while ignoring the ones that seem to contradict it. In other words, rhetoric.

One of Behe's favorite arguments, and those of other creationists like Bachmann, is the "irreducible complexity" of the eye. How, they ask, could something is amazingly complex as the eye have simply evolved? When one looks at the greatness of creation, the eye seems to suggest that there must be a designer. Here is a delightful, short video featuring evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins that shows exactly how the eye did, in fact, evolve:

Why is this important? Consider the advice of Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, which fights creationist attempts to dumb down science class with ideology. Scott told me that while she herself is "nontheistic," others in her office, such as her colleague Peter Hess, are "theistic" but nevertheless hold strong convictions that creationism must not be taught in science class. "If we're teaching creationism, we're not teaching science," Scott says. "The assumption of creationism is that natural phenomena require supernatural explanations. I'm not saying science is atheistic about ultimate reality. It isn't. To say that you can explain something using natural causes is not the same thing as saying there are no supernatural causes. Science is atheistic in the sense that plumbing is atheistic. It limits itself to the study of natural causes."

This is critically important. The United States has gotten as far as it has in terms of technology and dominance because of science. Because of our understanding that even if you haven't figured something out, you can just keep plugging away, looking for those natural causes and sooner or later you'll find them. Teaching creationism in school is teaching a habit of mind that is toxic to that problem-solving method. It teaches you to just throw up your hands and declare that the problem is unsolvable, particularly if that problem is tough or might have consequences for a particular religious belief. It teaches you to value not diversity of ideas, but conformity. If you do that, you're basically giving up on science, and on the probability of finding those answers. That is not going to take America where we need to go.

Shawn Lawrence Otto is an internationally recognized science advocate, filmaker, and humanitarian who works for smarter politics on a global scale. His newest book, Fool Me Twice, will be available October, 2011. @ShawnOtto

Less Mutations Means More Time


Evolution News & Views July 6, 2011 6:00 AM

Evolutionary theory incorporates several ideas: Adaptation to the environment, speciation, random mutations coupled with natural selection, and common ancestry. ID addresses the part of evolutionary theory that assumes mutations coupled with natural selection results in novel traits, and through this mechanism life, once it emerged, then formed the diverse biological structures that we see today. ID assumes that biological structures are designed with the end in mind and therefore cannot be the result of a random process. As a point, common ancestry, the idea that all life is related by a common ancestor, can be compatible with intelligent design and need not to have occurred via this bottom up approach of randomly adding pieces to simple structures. With this context in mind, we will be looking at a recent Nature Genetics paper that studied germline mutations and their implications for human-chimp divergence from their common ancestor.

The authors investigated de novo or germline mutations. These mutations come from either the mother or of the father and are due to a mutation in a germ cell, the egg or sperm. These types of mutations are the bread-and-butter of the evolutionary theory of the origin of novel biological structures. The authors identified candidates for germline mutations within the genomes of two parent-child trios of differing nationalities. They selected several genetic mutations that could have come from a germline mutation. They subjected their candidates for germline mutations to a developed experimental procedure that puts the candidates through a more rigorous test to see whether they are truly germline (as opposed to somatic mutations) and whether the mutations where from the material line or the paternal line. Using their more precise methods, they found that there are more false-positives than what has been shown in previous studies: They found 49 and 35 de novo germline mutations and 952 and 643 non-germline mutations in each of the trios. They report that this 20:1 ratio of non-germline to germline is larger than the 1:1 ratio that had been previously published.

The authors made the following conclusions:

From an interview with one of the researchers, Phillip Awadalla:

This makes us think about what are the underlying mechanisms of these mutations, other than just a random process...Why are there differences in the rate or accumulation of mutations in individuals? (emphasis added).

The mechanisms that Awadalla is talking about are presumably environmental pressures; however, the authors are not sure what causes some families to have more mutations than others. This study seems to show that these are not necessarily random mutations, but mutations that occur for some reason.

The authors of this study emphasized in their research paper their findings of the widely variable sex-specific mutations as well as the variable number of mutations per family. They were interested in how this may help our understanding of the factors that cause mutations as well as assist in diagnosis of genetic disease. But there is another implication to their studies that the popular press focused on in their interview, and the authors briefly mentioned in their paper: The study implies that humans must have evolved slower than was thought because there are fewer (at least half) de novo germline mutations passed from parents to offspring. For this rate of mutation to be consistent with the prevailing theories of human-chimpanzee divergence from a common ancestor, the authors contend that the human-chimp divergence must have occurred 7 million years ago:

Averaging across these four studies gave a more precise sex-averaged mutation rate of 1.18x10-8 (+_ 0.15 x 10-8(s.d)) which is less than half of the frequently cited sex-averaged mutation rate derived from the human-chimpanzee sequence divergence of 2.5 x 10-8. These apparently discordant estimates can be largely reconciled if the age of the human-chimpanzee divergence is pushed back to 7 million years, as suggested by some interpretations of recent fossil finds, and by considering more recent (and slightly lower) robust genome-wide estimates of sequence divergence (references removed).

Evolutionary theory states that humans and chimps, because of similarities in their DNA, have a common ancestor that diverged several million years ago. However, genetic studies have proved inconclusive as to how long ago this happened. There are several factors to consider in predicting human-chimp divergence. The fossil record, genetic similarities in the genomes, and differences in the Y chromosome can all point to different theories at to the time line of human-chimp divergence. What the fossil evidence seems to show is that the homo line appeared suddenly and distinctly in the fossil record and that there is a lack of transitional evidence connecting the homo line to the chimpanzee (see here for a description of the various fossil findings including ambiguities in the human fossil record).

This study, based on mutations in the genome, assumes that humans evolved slower than was once thought, but time lines based on other fossil data show a rapid evolutionary transition in skull size and body structure. To say that human-chimp divergence needs to be pushed back to seven million years implies re-thinking some of the other criteria used to determine human origins and its time line.

There's another issue that has not been fully addressed. These 60 mutations per generation are very few mutations for natural selection to work with. But humans have a very long generational time. And finally the authors reported that most of these mutations, particularly in the family with the higher mutation rate, occur in the non-coding part of the DNA. Finally, from what we know about mutations that do occur and have a noticeable effect on the person, they are often deleterious or serve to remove some type of function. Rarely are they beneficial and rarely do they add function. The question is, is this really enough mutations and enough time for natural selection to produce novel body plans? Is this even enough time to see the changes that have occurred in an evolutionary model of the Homo lineage?

Human ancestry is a highly contentious subject. The fossil record interpretations seem to be full of presuppositions, while the genetic studies seem to go back-and-forth between a fast human-chimp divergence and a slow one. With only 60 mutations per generation, even given that some families may mutate more and others less, it does not seem feasible that mutations coupled with natural selection has enough time to create the divergence that we see today.

Monday, July 04, 2011

A Scientific Consensus: Darwinism is Dead


Although they can rally against Creationism in one voice and riot against colleagues who advocate Intelligent Design with an outrage worthy of religionists, the weird little secret is that science knows Darwinism is dead.

by Paul Benedict
Saturday, July 2, 2011

Stephen C. Meyer, expounding Intelligent Design in his book Signature in the Cell, makes a point he does not seem to appreciate: for decades microbiologists have been abandoning Darwinism. Breakthrough technologies have shown that life at the cellular level is complex beyond anything Darwin or any 19th century biologist could have predicted. From the variety of cellular functions to the complex information transmitted in the gene, many outstanding scientists recognize that the math just doesn't work. Intelligent Design represents only one concession to the statistical impossibility that chance caused the life of simple cells. Interrupting the following parade of microbiologists who, like Meyers, recognize that random chance alone cannot have produced the simplest cellular life, are conclusions flowing from this scientific consensus.

1.Christian de Duve, for example, a Nobel Prize winner, and in no way an advocate of Intelligent Design, has abandoned random chance as the agent of upwards evolution or the ascent of man. He envisions primordial planet earth as a chemical reaction waiting to happen. Recognizing that the odds of random chance being impossibly against the formation of a single cell, let alone man, he has ceaselessly been searching for the string of chemical reactions that, once started, must have inevitably and, without chance, led to mankind. So far... no luck.
2.Ilya Prigogine, won his 1977 Nobel Prize for his theory that biological life self-assembled from inorganic non-life through the non-equilibrium thermodynamic processes. Again, random chance was abandoned, this time for the notion of an outside force arising in a thermodynamic process that, somehow, energized evolution. Such a force has never been identified.
3.Manfred Eigen, won the Nobel Prize in 1967 for his work measuring extremely fast chemical reactions brought about by energy pulses. Though proud to use the term evolution, his models of the origin of life are not based on chance but on self-organizing chemical reactions that cycle to higher and higher levels. He is also the author of Eigens Paradox that explains a critical problem in positing cycles of RNA that lead to DNA.
4.Lynn Margulis believes parasites aided random chance in the evolution of the cell.
5.Freeman Dyson, feeling random chance and self-organizing molecular scenarios are insufficient seems to believe in a combination of Eigens self-organizing RNA cycles andLynn Margulis sense that cellular evolution was the result of parasites.
6.Michael Polanyi, whose interest in science often impacted his philosophic notions, rejected chance as the origin of life in Lifes Irreducible Structure.
7.Bernd-Olaf Kppers, like Michael Polanyi, supports his notions that the whole (the living cell) is greater than the sum of its parts (chemical reactions) with evidence that random chance cannot result in the irreducible complexity of a living organism (60) nor explain the information it transmits.
8.Bernd-Olaf Kppers, using methodology like that of noted Darwinian apologist Richard Dawkins, also modeled mathematical algorithms that guide randomly generated computer simulations of origin of life scenarios. Kuppers calls his theory of self-organization the molecular-Darwinistic approach. It is hard to tell what Kuppers means by statements like, inanimate matter organized itself of its own accord into animate systems (82).

Chance and randomness as the source of life is dead, as dead as Darwinism. Modern culture may have been convinced by the Copernican Revolution that science can be both counter-intuitive and true. Hence, the counter-intuitive notion of chance as the author of life may have become as widely accepted as the faith in the invisible electron. However, since the 1960s humanitys knowledge of the living cell, just the living cell alone, magnifies what we have known intuitively about the order, beauty and majesty of existence: it could not have happened accidentally.

1.Fred Hoyle, superb mathematician and astronomer who, according to some reports, deserved a Nobel Prize for his role in showing that we are all stardust, also abandoned Darwin. He was well-known for comparing the possibility of the random rise of a single cell to the chance that a tornado hitting a junkyard would produce a 747. He is not an Intelligent Design theorist in the traditional sense. Instead, he believed life came from outer space by way of Panspermia. What will they think of next?
2.Robert Shapiro likewise abandoned random chance as the source of life as is plain from the first lines of A Simpler Origin of Life.
3.Stuart Kauffmans work has steadily evolved. His first book The Origins of Order: Self-Organization and Selection in Evolution involves a great deal of Darwinian affirmation while it systematically demolishes any chance for a single cell to have arisen by way of random processes. However, his second book, At Home in the Universe, is much more forthright. In his more recent publication, Reinventing the Sacred,he expresses an admiration for the innate creativity of our universe. Of course his work is not religious; its all very scientific.

In the late 1950s there was a legitimate consensus of most scientists that chance gave rise to life even as Darwins theory predicted. This reinvigorated neo-Darwinism was well represented by scientists such as Jacques Monod, Stanley Miller, and Alexander Oparin. However, in the late 1960s this changed. As 1967 was a social crack in time for America, 1968 cracked the facade of Darwinism. The breakthrough mathematics can be found in the work of Von Neumann, Wigner, and Morowitz. Many others, like Kuppers and Polanyi, corroborated these results. Whats sad is that this was an age ago. Almost two more generations of young people have been indoctrinated into what is, today, plainly junk science about the origin of life.

1.John D. Barrow and Frank J. Tipler, in Anthropic Cosmological Principle point out 10 steps in the course of human evolution, such as the development of the DNA base genetic code, so improbable that before it could have occurred the sun would have ceased to be a main sequence star, and would have incinerated the earth.
2.Eugene Wigner, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1963, calculated the odds of chance giving rise to the first cell at zero! (Paragraph 3). According to Kuppers, Wigner associated himself with a teleological model (p. 80 ), or a belief in an unknown biological principle that differs from the mechanical laws of inanimate matter.
3.Robert Sauer of MIT reported the odds of a functional series of amino acids arising in several of the 100 known proteins were 1 in 1063. Try the odds of getting a series of these proteins together in self-replicating chains.
4.Harold Morowitz has also abandoned chance as the reason for the origin of life. He believes that thermo-dynamic energy is stored in chemical bonds of higher and higher complexity. His theory is unproven. Morowitz testified against the Creationists in 1982.
5.Alexander Cairns-Smiths alternative to Darwinian randomness as the source of life is called the clay theory. It became an allegory for a type of self-organizing process that might have occurred in pre-biotic earth. Though his theory is not widely accepted, since the odds are zero that random chance alone generated a single cell, the search for such a pre-biotic missing link continues.
6.Hubert P. Yockey in Self organization origin of life scenarios and information theory takes on the self-organizing theories of Shapiro, Kauffman, de Duve, and Prigogine. Although he claims not to be an I.D advocate, his denials (far down this page) are surprisingly supportive.
7.Leslie Orgel, a classical Darwinist to the end, nevertheless took on a variety of his contemporaries origin of life scenarios such as self-organizing molecules arising through catalytic cycles, the contributions of meteor activity, and that life started on volcanic ocean vents. Orgel also challenged the likelihood of the pre-biotic RNA world suggested by Joyce, Szostak, and Holliger. His conclusion is that the odds against these theories are insurmountable at this time.

All of the above speculative notions arose because the scientific complexity of the cell was nothing Darwinism predicted or could explain. The scientific consensus is that there is no way chance could produce something so complex. There had to be, therefore, additional naturalistic answers. There just had to be. Theyve looked for forty years; so far, nothing. No promised land... nothing. Have we heard about the wandering reductionists plight in our lowly high schools and state colleges? No... mores the pity.

Like Richard Dawkins, though, Orgel would say that based on what we know now there is no chance that a single cell arose by random processes. These scientists have faith in Darwinism. This is why, at its core, the Darwin Theory is a philosophy of science. Will some breakthrough someday show that random chance caused life? That premise is not falsifiable; it is not testable. It is not scientific and cannot be disproved. However, right now the odds that random processes generated even a single living cell are zero. That is the provable, consensus science today.

If random processes cannot produce even a single cell, how much more impossible is it that they produced a daffodil, a dolphin, or a man? Darwinism is dead.

Although a number of microbiologists such as Gerald Joyce, 2009 Nobel Prize winner Jack Szostak, and Philipp Holliger profess to be inspired by Darwins notion of incremental evolution through random chance, their methodology is one of conscious synthesis. On the one hand, they have begun designing RNA molecules in an attempt to construct a series of incremental steps consistent with classical Darwinism. In 2009 Joyces group produced a self-replicating RNA strand, and recently Hollingers group made RNAzymes of 93 bases that self-replicate even more reliably than Joyces. These molecules are enzymatically active. On the other hand, Hollinger confesses the sheer joy of scientific accomplishment in finding their needle in the haystack (paragraph 6) even if by way of synthetic biology (paragraph 7)

Neither lab seems to have shown any interest in developing a statistical analysis of the odds of RNAzyme arising by chance, but, even more instructively, the choice of methodology dismisses any genuine belief in chance as an agent of molecular design. Using highly sophisticated laboratory techniques to develop previously unknown forms of RNA instead of working with billions of unaltered generations of a virus, shows recognition of the odds against chance giving rise to a cell. What is designed by man and what is natural are, almost by definition, distinct. In fact, the use of molecular design shows that intelligent design is one way the first cells could have been formed (Meyer p. 26/63).

Intelligent Design Proponents

1.Dean H. Kenyon: Now a proponent of Intelligent Design, Kenyon began as a Self-Organization theorist who fell into heretical Creation Science in 1980. However, Kenyons form of Creation Science did not include a young earth or having dinosaurs on Noahs arc.
2.David Berlinski, philosopher, mathematician and agnostic.
3.Robert J. Marks, II, set his career at Baylor at Risk for his convictions about Intelligent Design.
4.Charles Thaxton, like Kenyon, Thaxton felt the need to change the vocabulary of his views to separate himself from some Creationist positions.
5.William Demski, like Robert Marks, set his career at risk for his convictions about Intelligent Design.
6.Douglas Axe, followed up Sauers work in greater detail. He estimated 1064 for the possibility of low functioning sequences of amino acids to arise by chance and 1077 as the possibility for a specifically functioning protein to arise. Try the odds of putting together a series of these proteins so as to be self-replicating.
7.Paul Nelson is a critic of common descent. His critiques involve recent advances in embryology and genetic homology.
8.Jonathan Wells has demolished another key piece of the Darwin theory in his work with advances in the understanding of genetics and homology.
9.Michael Behes first book, Darwins Black Box popularized the failure of the Darwin theory to explain the origin of even a single cell. His second book, The Edge of Evolution, represents advances in theIntelligent Design philosophy of science. He delineates what mutation and chance can and cant do along a series of frontiers while expanding what Intelligent Design can and has predicted about natural science.

Here is a list of scientists sympathetic to Intelligent Design from Discovery Institute. It looks like about a thousand names.

Tradition dies hard in every generation. Ignorance is not a lack of information; it is willfully ignoring knowledge. Centralized bureaucratic power breeds fear even in professionals, but tenured teachers can do better. It's time to tell the kids: it is statistically impossible that Darwin's explanation of the origin of life is correct.

Editor's File: Big ideas take time to catch on

http://www.southcoasttoday.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20110703/OPINION/107030319/-1/NEWS July 03, 2011 12:00 AM

Hannah is 15 with a bladder the size of a shot glass and even less patience.

And so, the first thing I do in the morning is let her out for a squat in the yard. Even then she doesn't always make it through the night, but I don't scold her because she's old; and a wet accident on a hardwood floor is one of the privileges of old age for a snaggle-toothed terrier who weighs less than 10 pounds but who is certain she is the center of my universe.

And on cool summer nights and crisp summer mornings long before dawn as I wait for her to finish sniffing, I can stand in the yard and look for the shooting stars that sometimes slash across the dark sky and believe that I, too, stand at the center of all things.

And I know that 25,000 generations before me believed the same thing because how could they look at the star, sun and moon and not know it? Not know that their world was the center of all worlds?

Except it wasn't and isn't true.

We know that now. We know that our world is a minor planet revolving around a modest sun in a corner of a nothing-special galaxy in a universe so vast we measure it not in miles but in ages.

It took centuries for the notion that the Earth was not the center of the universe to win the hearts and minds of believers and the Catholic church, who judged such a theory to be at odds with Holy Scripture. The great Italian astronomer and mathematician Galileo Galilei would face the condemnation of the Inquisition, live out his life in seclusion and be forced to recant his theory, which was based on careful observation and calculation, that the Earth revolved around the Sun and not the other way around.

Given the choice between faith and fact, people tend to choose to hold onto what they believe to be true rather than what facts tell them to be true.

That has been the case with evolution theory, where more than two out of five Americans believe in a creationist viewpoint similar to that contained in the Old Testament of the Bible, in which God individually created all forms of life. A slight majority believes in some form of natural selection, in which life forms evolve.

What is interesting is not so much that nearly half of Americans believe in creationism but that more than half do not — despite the fact that the vast majority of Americans believe in God. And those who accept a scientific theory over a biblically based one have become a majority in the more than 150 years since Charles Darwin first shocked the world with his theory of natural selection — although U.S. public opinion hasn't changed much in recent decades, probably because of the media-influenced rise of Protestant evangelical Christianity.

Something similar is happening with conflicting viewpoints about climate change.

About 97 percent of U.S. scientists believe that global climate change is under way, and most agree that human activity is at least partly to blame.

Climatologists assemble data and present it as evidence: ocean levels are rising, glaciers are retreating, the Earth's temperature is increasing. And they warn that unless we burn less oil and gas, catastrophe awaits us: We might not be able to farm vast sections of the world's temperate zones that produce much of the world's food, fish stocks will disappear, ocean levels will rise and coastlines will be altered.

The reaction to that growing scientific consensus?

Dick Young, the vice chancellor of the Australian National University, told reporters that climatologists there had been besieged by emails and telephone calls threatening them to stop their research.

(What appears to have prompted the threats is a proposed national tax on carbon emissions, aimed at reducing pollution.)

Here in the United States, a group that calls itself the American Tradition Institute is trying to intimidate a University of Virginia researcher studying the link between human behavior and a warming planet.

But while climate change deniers still represent a significant minority, their influence appears to be waning.

A recent poll by Yale and George Mason University found that two-thirds of Americans now believe that the United States should undertake significant efforts to reduce global warming. Even a majority of Republicans, the group most suspicious of the science surrounding global warming, believe that a switch to green forms of energy would be good for jobs and the economy.

What does it all mean?

Only that it takes time for science to win the hearts and minds of the rest of us, to free us to accept new truths about ourselves and our world.

Hey, Hannah, Happy Independence Day.

Bob Unger is editor and associate publisher of The Standard-Times and SouthCoastToday.com. He can be reached by email at runger@s-t.com or by phone at 508-979-4430.

Lawmakers pushing creationism in schools is a bad idea


Sunday, July 3, 2011
David Brooks

EDITOR'S NOTE: Because the Telegraph is not publishing on Monday, the weekly Granite Geek column is being published today.

Two lawmakers are trying to pry open New Hampshire science classrooms to allow, or even require, the teaching of creationism.

In case you're wondering (since this column is called Granite Geek, you shouldn't), I think it's a terrible idea.

Science classes should teach science, imparting knowledge discovered through scientific methods. No scientific evidence exists to support any variant of the idea that life was deliberately created by an intelligent being, so the idea doesn't belong in science class.

Religion or philosophy class? Of course. History class? You bet. Literature, too. But not science class.

This is the first time in years the issue of intelligent design or creationism has cropped up in New Hampshire, so far as I know. You may recall much debate in 1994 when the Merrimack School Board tried to place it in that town's curriculum, but since then, the topic has largely left the academic radar.

However, polls consistently show at least one-third of the public, and probably much more, believe in the basic tenets of creationism, often within the context of the Old Testament. (The Koran includes a similar scenario). Several states are flirting with various laws to dilute the teaching of evolution, so it's not surprising the matter could come up here.

The two proposals are still in a legislative draft form known as a Legislative Services Request, a notification that something is likely to become a bill when the Legislature returns to Concord in the fall. LSRs may never get to bill status or go through big changes – I wouldn't be surprised if these two get combined in some form. Even as bills, they can easily fail to become law.

Further, LSRs don't include any text beyond the title, so much is still in the air. Here are the details at the moment:

n Rep. Jerry Bergevin, R-Manchester, has sponsored an LSR "requiring the teaching of evolution in public schools as a theory."

That sort of wording is often used to imply that evolutionary theory, the product of a century of evidence and study by tens of thousands of researchers, is nothing more than a complex guess. It confuses, I think, the word "theory" in everyday use (what science calls a hypothesis) with a scientific theory, which is as solid as most of the material we call fact.

The argument goes that since evolution is "just a theory," it shouldn't be taught as if it were, say, the Pythagorean theorem (which is also "just a theory," come to think of it).

"My LSR is not anti-evolution, I am anti-indoctrination," Bergevin wrote in an e-mail response to my query.

Bergevin also wrote: "This LSR would include a study of the proponents' ideology and position on atheism."

I'm not sure what he means by evolution's "proponents," since that constitutes most of the world's scientific community, but this is the sort of detail that can be worked out as a bill is drafted.

n Rep. Gary Hopper, R- Weare, approaches the matter more directly with an LSR "requiring instruction in intelligent design in the public schools."

In a phone interview, Hopper said his concern with evolution as a science involves the beginning of life.

"Darwin's theory is basically antiquated," he argued.

Hopper said the theory teaches that life "began in some primordial ooze with lightning striking and creating simple forms," but that "we now know that the simplest form of life, like an amoeba, the genetic code for it is millions of characters long," which is so complicated that it must have been created by a being or beings.

I don't think he's got the details right, since evolutionary theory has amoebas evolving after a billion or two years of prokaryote (unicellular yet lacking a nucleus) ocean dwellers, but Hopper is certainly correct that science is flummoxed about how life began.

This is such a big unknown that some scientists would be happy to believe some unspecified Designer created life and then sat back to let evolution take over.

Hopper doesn't agree with this idea, because of what he says are too many problems with evolutionary theory, which he thinks is fueled by scientific group-think, driven by research funding that ignores creationism.

In our phone conversation, Hopper said there was a second driving factor behind his LSR, born of concerns that cropped up when he was 17.

"I had been filled with this theory of evolution, which if you really boil it down, is a theory that we are here by accident, that there is no purpose. The conclusion is that we're a bunch of accidents … you really have no purpose for existence," he said.

"Teaching a child that it's very possible that they were designed would infer that they actually have a purpose. There's some purpose they were created, so that is a reason to live. Right now, we're teaching children that basically they're animals."

I suspect that many people reject evolutionary theory for this very reason: It seems empty and meaningless to them.

If I may talk philosophy for a moment, I think this is exactly backward. Creationism is meaningless, but evolution is a door to infinite wonder.

Saying that I exist because of the same processes and materials that lead to sunsets, rainbows and the moons of Saturn (to choose a few cool things), and that we as humans can study and understand these processes – that is meaningful. It makes me part and parcel of this whole glorious universe in intricate ways.

Saying that we were created out of nothing by an unknown or unknowable being, an explanation that leaves no room for further study or understanding – that strikes me as ultimately empty and meaningless.

But this is irrelevant here, because it has no bearing on what to teach in science class.

My taxpayer dollars pay science teachers to teach science, not philosophy. Let's hope lawmakers don't try to get in the way.

Granite Geek appears Mondays in the Telegraph, and online at www.granitegeek.org. David Brooks can be reached at 594-5831 or dbrooks@nashuatelegraph.com.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Evolution education update: July 1, 2011

The New York State Museum adds its voice for evolution. A survey of the opinions of evangelical leaders around the world revealed a divide over evolution. And the bill that would have repealed Louisiana's antievolution statute is officially dead.


The chorus of support for the teaching of evolution continues, with a statement from the New York State Museum, a research and educational institution that conducts systematic investigations into the geology, biology, anthropology, and history of New York.

Emphasizing that "[t]he theory of evolution is central to the scientific understanding of how life originated on earth and how it continually changes and diversifies," the statement concludes, "the Museum supports and encourages the teaching of evolution in schools as a fundamental component of scientific competency and literacy."

The New York State Museum's statement is now reproduced, by permission, on NCSE's website, and will also be contained in the fourth edition of NCSE's Voices for Evolution.

For the museum's statement, visit:

For Voices for Evolution, visit:


A survey of the opinions of evangelical Protestant leaders across the world, conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, included a question on evolution -- and found that the leaders were divided. According to the executive summary of the Pew Forum's report, "Slightly more reject the idea of evolution (47%) than believe in theistic evolution, the notion that God has used evolution for the purpose of creating humans and other life (41%). Few (3%) believe that human life has evolved solely by natural processes with no involvement from a supreme being."

Respondents were asked which of the following statements was closest to their own views: humans and other living things have evolved over time due to natural processes such as natural selection; a supreme being guided the evolution of living things for the purpose of creating humans and other life in the form it exists today; humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time. As with other polls (such as Gallup's), it is questionable whether the second option is worded specifically enough to express theistic evolution.

Respondents from the Global North -- defined as Europe, North America, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand -- were more likely to favor the second statement than the third (50% compared to 39%, with 3% favoring the first response and 8% not responding to the question), while respondents from the Global South -- defined as sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and North Africa, Latin America and most of Asia -- were more likely to favor the third statement than the second (54% compared to 34%, with 3% favoring the first response and 10% not responding).

The survey was conducted among the participants of the Third Lausanne Congress of World Evangelization, which took place in Cape Town, South Africa, in October 2010. According to the executive summary, "The Pew Forum conducted the survey in nine languages, including English, from August to December 2010. A total of about 4,500 people registered to attend the Third Lausanne Congress, and nearly half completed the survey, using Web and paper questionnaires." The report emphasizes, however, that "the survey results do not necessarily reflect the views of evangelicals as a whole."

For the executive summary of the Pew Forum's report, visit:

And for NCSE's collection of materials on polls and surveys, visit:


When the Louisiana state legislature adjourned on June 23, 2011, Senate Bill 70 -- which would have repealed the antievolution law in effect in the state since 2008 -- died in committee. SB 70 was introduced by Karen Carter Peterson (D-District 5), but the driving force behind the repeal effort was Baton Rouge high school senior Zack Kopplin, working with the Louisiana Coalition for Science. The bill swiftly won the support of scientists and educators throughout the state and across the nation, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Association of Biology Teachers, the Louisiana Association of Biology Educators, the American Institute for Biological Sciences, and no fewer than forty-three Nobel laureates. On May 26, 2011, however, the Louisiana Senate Education Committee voted 5-1 to shelve the bill. "With the law intact," as the Christian Science Monitor (June 2, 2011) commented, "Louisiana is the state that has gone the furthest in approving legislation that opens the door to allowing alternatives to science taught in its schools." But Kopplin, in a statement quoted by the Louisiana Coalition for Science, vowed, "we'll come back with an even stronger repeal next session."

For the text of Louisiana's Senate Bill 70 (PDF), visit:

For the website of the Louisiana Coalition for Science, visit:

For the story in the Christian Science Monitor, 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!