NTS LogoSkeptical News for 22 October 2011

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Evolution education update: October 14, 2011

A landmark for NCSE's Facebook page. A deserved honor for long-time NCSE member Mark Terry. And NCSE's Steven Newton discusses creationist participation in scientific conferences in the pages of New Scientist.


A milestone: there are now over 15,000 fans of NCSE's Facebook page. Why not join them, by visiting the page and becoming a fan by clicking on the "Like" box by NCSE's name? You'll receive the latest NCSE news delivered straight to your Facebook Home page, as well as updates on new evolution-related scientific discoveries. Or if you prefer your news in 140-character chunks, follow NCSE on Twitter. And while you're surfing the web, why not visit NCSE's YouTube channel, with over 200 videos for your watching pleasure? It's the best place on the web to view talks by NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott and the rest of the staff!

For NCSE's Facebook page, Twitter feed, and YouTube channel, visit:


NCSE is delighted to congratulate Mark Terry on being named the 2011 recipient of the Evolution in Education Award. The award, sponsored by the American Institute of Biological Sciences and the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, is awarded by the National Association of Biology Teachers to recognize innovative classroom teaching and community education efforts to promote the accurate understanding of biological evolution. The NABT's News and Views blog (September 17, 2011) observed that Terry is "well known within the evolution education community for giving a strong voice to secondary school teachers through keynote presentations, articles, and service on committees and advisory groups, including his role as a Teacher Advisor for the UCMP websites Understanding Evolution and Understanding Science." Moreover, it added, "A keen observer of the activities and strategies used by the anti-evolution movement, Mark has worked to help teachers, scientists, and the public address challenges and counteract efforts to limit the teaching of evolution." (Two examples: his 2005 essay "Intelligent Design, or Not," published by New Horizons for Learning, and his 2007 essay "What's Design Got to Do with It?" published in Independent Schools.) Terry is Science Chair as well as cofounder of the Northwest School in Seattle.

For the NABT blog post, visit:

For the two cited essays by Terry, visit:


NCSE's Steven Newton contributed "Geology will survive creationist undermining" to New Scientist (October 8, 2011), again reporting on creationists participating in meetings of the Geological Society of America. "Nothing in their presentations revealed that they thought the Grand Canyon's upper rocks were deposited in a year and that dinosaurs and humans once lived together," Newton explained. "The point is to be able to claim legitimacy. Creationists have used their participation in conferences to argue that their ideas are taken seriously by real scientists."

Although there are geologists who have reacted by proposing a ban on presentations by creationists, Newton demurred: "if scientific societies impose bans," he argued, "they will be able to make a plausible claim of censorship and discrimination." In the absence of a ban, he predicted, "[s]cientific organisations will continue to experience creationist infiltration." He emphasized, as he also emphasized in his report in the July 2011 issue of Earth magazine, "it is important for scientists not to overreact and to remember that science is far stronger than any creationist attempts to undermine it."

For Newton's essay, visit:

For Newton's report in Earth, 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!

Evolution education update: October 7, 2011

The latest setback for John Freshwater, the Ohio middle school teacher accused of teaching creationism. Plus a deserved honor for Victor H. Hutchison and a preview of How and Why Species Multiply.


John Freshwater's legal challenge to the decision to terminate his employment as a middle school science teacher in Mount Vernon, Ohio, failed on October 5, 2011, when a Knox County Common Pleas Court ruled against him. The Mount Vernon News (October 5, 2011) reported that the judge wrote, "there is clear and convincing evidence to support the Board of Education's termination of Freshwater's contract(s) for good and just cause," denied Freshwater's request for further hearings, and ordered him to pay the cost of the hearings. The Columbus Dispatch (October 5, 2011) added that Freshwater now has thirty days to appeal the decision to the Fifth Court of Appeals.

The decision was the latest development in a long saga which began in 2008, when a local family accused Freshwater of engaging in inappropriate religious activity -- including teaching creationism -- and sued Freshwater and the district. The Mount Vernon City School Board then voted to begin proceedings to terminate his employment. After administrative hearings that proceeded sporadically over two years, the referee presiding over the hearings finally issued his recommendation that the board terminate his employment with the district, and the board voted to do so in January 2011. Freshwater challenged that decision in court on February 8, 2011, as NCSE previously reported.

In a press release issued on October 6, 2011, the Rutherford Institute, a Virginia-based conservative legal group, announced its intention to appeal the decision on behalf of Freshwater to the Fifth District Court of Appeals. The Rutherford Institute aided Freshwater previously, when it appealed the Ohio Department of Education's March 22, 2011, decision to admonish Freshwater for allowing students to "volunteer to touch a live Tesla coil." According to the Columbus Dispatch, "The issue has not been resolved. The department could remove the letter [of admonishment] permanently, return the letter to Freshwater's file or begin a full hearing on the appeal."

For the stories in the Mount Vernon News and the Columbus Dispatch, visit:

For the Rutherford Institute's press release, visit:

For NCSE's collections of documents from the various proceedings involving Freshwater, visit:

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


NCSE is delighted to congratulate Victor H. Hutchison on receiving the Jack Renner Distinguished Service to Oklahoma Science Education Award from the Oklahoma Science Teachers Association.

Announcing the award, OSTA's Bob Melton described Hutchison as "a tireless advocate for quality science education in our public schools, a regular representative on our behalf in the halls of the legislature, and is a frequent speaker to school and civic groups as well as a commentator on radio and television." Especially noteworthy was Hutchison's work in defending the integrity of science education, which includes his helping to found Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education, the leading voice for evolution education in the Sooner State.

Hutchison is George Lynn Cross Research Professor Emeritus at the University of Oklahoma. A long-time member of NCSE, he received NCSE's Friend of Darwin award in 2008.

For the announcement of the award, visit:

For Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education, visit:


NCSE is pleased to offer a free preview of Peter R. Grant and B. Rosemary Grant's How and Why Species Multiply (Princeton University Press, 2007, reissued in paperback in 2011). The preview consists of chapter 10 -- "Reconstructing the Radiation of Darwin's Finches" -- in which Grant and Grant "attempt to interpret the radiation of Darwin's finches by paying attention to the ecological circumstances in which different speciation cycles took place." They summarize, "The radiation unfolded with an increase in number and diversity of species in a changing environment, and it was molded by natural selection, introgressive hybridization, and extinction. An increase in number of islands increased the opportunities for speciation and thereby the number of species. A change in climate and altered vegetation increased the opportunities for new types of species to evolve."

Famous for their sustained work on Darwin's finches (as recounted for a popular audience in Jonathan Weiner's Pulitzer-prize-winning The Beak of the Finch), Peter R. Grant and B. Rosemary Grant are professors emeriti at Princeton University; among their honors are the 2005 Balzan Prize, the Darwin-Wallace Medal of the Linnean Society in 2008, and the 2009 Kyoto Prize. The reviewer for New Scientist described their book as "a must-have primer for any biology student," and David B. Wake praised How and Why Species Multiply as "a book that summarizes decades of research on Darwin's finches and integrates it into a very accessible synthesis. What really distinguishes the book, of course, is the authority of the authors, who have lived with these birds for many years and have unparalleled familiarity with them. Readers will benefit enormously from the scholarship in this book."

For the preview of How and Why Species Multiply, visit:

For information about the book from its publisher, 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!

Denial of evolution, climate change: Linked?


Published: Oct. 13, 2011 Updated: 8:49 a.m.


Poll scientific specialists on evolution and global warming, and the results are overwhelming: a strong consensus that the scientists say is founded on equally strong data.

But among the general public, the response can be quite different. Eugenie Scott, a science education activist best known for fighting creationism in public schools, says denial of evolution has much in common with the popular backlash against climate science.

Both, she contends, have ideological underpinnings, and both represent a threat to education.

Scott, who is accustomed to stirring controversy, gives a free public talk in Anaheim Saturday: "Deja vu all over again: Denial of Climate Change and Evolution." She is the executive director of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland; the talk is part of a biology teachers' conference at the Anaheim Marriott, and begins at 8:30 a.m.

Q. How did this come about?

A. The National Association of Biology Teachers is the largest group of biology teachers in the country. They usually invite me to speak every few years or so. Clearly, teaching evolution is going to be something biology teachers are going to be concerned about.

Q. Is there concern about the teaching of evolution in California schools?

A. There are concerns about the teaching of evolution and there are concerns about the teaching of global warming, in California schools and all over the country.

We actually are going to be, next month, announcing a new initiative for NCSE. We're going to be adding climate change to our portfolio of topics that we will help teachers cope with.

Q. Why are you adding climate change?

A. Because we were finding that, as teachers have come to us for years for advice about how to handle the teaching of evolution as a controversial issue, we are now being approached by teachers who are being pressured to either not teach global warming, or teach it only as tentative, even though the scientific consensus on global warming is very, very strong -- as it is with evolution. So we see it as a parallel issue.

Q. You see similarities between the two?

A. Very much. We've been thinking about this for a number of years. We have found for decades that there are three major arguments that creationists use against evolution. One argument is that evolution is weak science. And two, they argue that evolution is anti-religious. It's an ideological argument, basically.

And then, three, they argue that it's only fair to teach both creation and evolution. We call those the pillars of creationism.

Well, we are finding that there are also three pillars of global-warming denial, and they are directly parallel. Global warming deniers claim that global warming is weak science. The second is also an ideological parallel, but not really a religious parallel. Whereas creationists say evolution is incompatible with faith, with global warming ideology it is that global warming is incompatible with free-market capitalism. Which, as author Naomi Oreskes has described it, is free-market fundamentalism.

The third one is a direct parallel, and that is that you should balance the teaching of global warming with anti-global warming to avoid being dogmatic.

But, of course, when 95-plus percent of climate scientists say, 'Yeah, the planet is getting warmer, and human activity is a major part of that,' it doesn't make sense to teach, 'Yes, the planet is getting warmer,' and, 'No, it isn't,' anymore than it would make sense to to teach that some scientists say the planet is spherical and some say it is flat. At the kindergarten through 12th grade level, you need to teach the scholarly consensus.

Q. Do you think we are now at a point where the science is as strong for global warming as it is for evolution?

A. Again, going by scientific consensus, the percentage of scientists who accept evolution has happened, and is ongoing, is 95 percent or more, and you find the same consensus with global warming. It's a smaller group of professional scientists, because the climate-change community, although it is really quite large, is smaller than the community of scientists who deal with evolution. That includes geologists, biologists and astronomers, and evolution has been around a lot longer. In that sense, the evidence for evolution is much better known.

Q. When teachers say they are being pressured, where is that pressure coming from?

A. Generally from parents and the community, and school board members. We've also noticed state legislation being submitted around the country that bundles together anti-evolution and anti-global-warming, as in a Louisiana bill and some other bills.

Teachers will be directed in these bills to give a balanced presentation of the evolutionary origin of life, global warming, stem cells, cloning -- the issues in science that are hot-button issues for the religious right. That is the only underlying, organizing theme. Nobody is saying you should teach a balanced view of optics, or thermodynamics. There's an ideological component to anti-evolution and an ideological component to anti-global-warming.

Q. Do you see pressures on teachers in California as well?

A. Oh yeah. I remember in Los Alamitos there was a little flare-up last spring. It did have a good resolution, I'm happy to say. It started back in May. A local newspaper reported that the school board there had a somewhat heavy-handed attitude toward an AP (advanced placement) environmental class. They wanted to review materials and make sure it wasn't biased. The board did revise that policy.

Clearly, teachers pushed back, citizens pushed back. Cirriculum materials should be left to people who know something about the subject.

Q. Do you see both of those denial efforts as threats to education?

A. Absolutely. When teachers are unable to teach good science because of political pressure, that's worth opposing.

Q. What do you tell people who say, 'Why not teach it all, and let the chips fall where they may?'

A. In science class, we teach science. We don't teach typing in high school science class. We don't teach art history. Alternatives to evolution are not science; they are religion. And they've got no business being suggested as scientific alternatives.

It's perfectly reasonable to teach creationisms -- note the plural there -- in social studies or history. But consider the huge number of origin stories that different cultures have come up with. You're not going to have time for much else. What we cannot do in public schools is advocate a religious view over another. There are many different origin stories, just among native Californians. How many of those are you going to teach? Actually, the Indians of the Southwest have another bunch of origin stories, the Indians of the Northwest coast, another bunch. And we're not even out of North America yet, much less other world religions, other tribal religions around the world.

It's more important in science classes to teach science. That is not rocket science. It's just common sense.

New Evolution Documentary Aims to Keep Science In, and Religion Out, of Classrooms


The Christian Post International N.America|Wed, Oct. 12 2011 10:08 PM EDT
By Luiza Oleszczuk | Christian Post Contributor

The Creation and Earth History Museum in San Diego County celebrated National Museum Day by opening its Dinosaur Garden and Human Anatomy Exhibit on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2011.

The tone of the movie, which is directed by Greta Schiller and produced by Jezebel Productions, is averse to the "anti-evolution activities" that allegedly threaten free scientific development in American schools. According to the website for "No Dinosaurs in Heaven," the documentary takes a stand that is very critical of those with creationist beliefs. The goal of the movie, according to the press release, is to "keep science in, religion out of our public school science classrooms."

"As a filmmaker, I felt it was imperative that I weave together, in a comprehensive, thought provoking visual essay, ideas about what science is, how it is taught, why it can be celebrated as a creative human endeavor and why it is crucial that evolution is put front and center of science education," Schiller said in a statement.

"Our film addresses the urgent need for us to make science education a priority or risk continuing to make wrong decisions concerning the survival of the planet," the statement on the documentary's Facebook page reads. "We aim to raise awareness of the euphemisms and strategies used by the anti-evolution activities, and to empower parents, teachers, administrators, students and policy makers in their struggles to ensure public schools teach real science."

The film follows the executive director of the National Center for Science Education, Eugenie Scott, down the Colorado River. Throughout the trip, the scientist attempts to disprove creationist theories about the Grand Canyon being only a few thousand years old and holding evidence of the biblical flood, according to the Religion News Service.

Teaching evolution remains a controversial issue. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., writing as a columnist for The Christian Post, called naturalistic evolution "the great intellectual rival to Christianity in the Western world."

"It is the creation myth of the secular elites and their intellectual weapon of choice in public debate," he wrote.

A 2010 Gallup poll revealed that 40 percent of Americans believe in creationism – that is, that God created humans in their present form about 10,000 years ago.

Did Alternative Medicine Kill Steve Jobs?


By: Michele R. Berman, MD | October 12, 2011

When they first discovered the tumor in his pancreas in October 2003, his doctors told him an immediate operation was necessary, and could lead to a cure.

As first reported by Peter Elkind in 2008, Seve Jobs decided to think different, declined surgery, and explored alternative medicine treatments for his disease.

Nine months later, in July 2004, the tumor had grown. Only then would he allow his doctors to operate.

Would Steve Jobs still be alive today had he consented to surgery when his tumor was first discovered?

Without knowing more details about his case, such as the grade and stage of the tumor, it is hard to say. However, Dr. Roderich Schwartz, an experienced cancer surgeon, has said waiting more than a few weeks to take action on such a rare diagnosis "makes no sense because you don't know what the potential for growth or spread is."

Steve Jobs is not the first public figure to seek answers outside conventional medical science.

Steve Jobs, also a Buddhist, was reportedly skeptical about mainstream medicine.

While his uncompromising personality and dedication to unconventional-ism undoubtedly changed the way interact with technology forever, that same stubbornness may have also lead to his demise.

Arthur D. Levinson, Apple's Director who also holds a Ph.D. in Biochemistry, along with other board members pleaded with Jobs to have the surgery. "There was genuine concern on the part of several board members that he may not have been doing the best thing for his health," says an Apple insider. "But Steve is Steve. He can be pretty stubborn."

"Surgery is the only treatment modality that can result in cure," Dr. Jeffrey Norton, chief of surgical oncology at Stanford, wrote in a 2006 medical journal article about this kind of pancreatic cancer."

Although Norton, one of the foremost experts in the field, ultimately removed the tumor, Jobs' decision to seek alternate forms of treatment, such as a special diet among other alternative treatments, could have been what cost him his life.

Dr. Roderich Schwarz (quoted earlier) says he is unaware of any evidence that a special diet can be helpful. "But the patient decides. If they believe an herbal diet can do miracles, they have to make the decision. Every once in a while you have somebody who decides something you wish they wouldn't."

Furthermore, to date, there is no evidence that indicates successful "alternative treatments" for Jobs' form of tumor.

According to Dr. Edzard Ernst, an international authority on alternative medicine and author of the book Trick or Treatment: The Undeniable Facts about Alternative Medicine,

"There are far too many charlatans who manage to convince desperate patients to abandon effective treatments in favour of ineffective alternative treatments. This often hastens or even causes death. In my view, this behavior is outright criminal."

Could it be that Steve Jobs was so dedicated to the concept of "think different" that he was unable to "think clearly" until it was too late?

Is it possible that his need to defy convention left him vulnerable to alternative medicine practitioners in need of a major endorsement to validate their "alternative" treatment? Was their success more important than Job's health at the most critical moment of his treatment?

Buddhist theories of medicine say the reason people get sick is through one of "three poisons:" greed, anger and ignorance.

That's like saying the iPad is made from earth, wind, fire and water.

Why would someone as technologically sophisticated as Jobs base life-and-death decisions about his health on ancient philosophy, especially when there have been more breakthroughs in cancer research than at any other point in history?

Perhaps Watler Isaacson's new biography will shed more light on the medical history of Jobs' tumor, including details of the alternative medicine treatments he pursued.

Until then, we are left with the conclusion that Steve Jobs died just as he lived -- thinking differently.

Geology will survive creationist undermining


11 October 2011 by Steven Newton
Magazine issue 2833. Subscribe and save
For similar stories, visit the Comment and Analysis Topic Guide

Creationist infiltration of scientific conferences seems outrageous, but banning them would do more harm than good

WHAT should a scientific society do when creationists want to participate in its conferences? This question faces many scientific organisations in the US. At meetings of the Geological Society of America (GSA) in 2009 and 2010, young-Earth creationists, who think Noah's flood was a historical event and the Earth is less than 10,000 years old, presented posters, gave talks and led field trips.

I attended a number of these events, and I can attest that the creationists were careful to give mainstream presentations using standard geologic methods. They referred to the geologic timeline of millions and billions of years. Nowhere did the words "Noah's flood" appear. Nothing in their presentations revealed that they thought the Grand Canyon's upper rocks were deposited in a year and that dinosaurs and humans once lived together.

It's not surprising that they were able to do so: the presenters had received decent geology educations from legitimate institutions. Geologically, they could talk the talk and walk the walk. But why? What is the point of giving a talk on marine strata in the late Cretaceous, as Marcus Ross of Liberty University, a Christian college in Lynchburg, Virginia, did, when you actually think the Earth is only a few thousand years old?

The point is to be able to claim legitimacy. Creationists have used their participation in conferences to argue that their ideas are taken seriously by real scientists. After the 2009 GSA meeting, for example, Steve Austin of the Institute for Creation Research in Dallas, Texas, proclaimed that creationists had been influential at the meeting. "There are many within the GSA that take seriously the creation and flood narrative text of the Bible," he claimed. After the 2010 meeting, a press release from the fundamentalist Cedarville University in Ohio crowed: "Cedarville leaders talked about alternative views for how the rocks formed, emphasizing short time spans and catastrophic formation... rather than slow formation over millions of years."

Geologists are understandably fuming. After I wrote about attending a creationist-led field trip at the 2010 GSA meeting for the American Geological Institute's magazine Earth, a number of GSA members expressed their outrage. Many proposed that presentations by creationists be banned outright. Scientific conferences, they said, have no obligation to include non-scientific ideas; astronomy conferences do not welcome astrology talks, so why does the GSA tolerate young-Earth creationists who reject the foundational principles of geology? Some cited the GSA's position statement: "Creationism is not science because it invokes supernatural phenomena that cannot be tested."

My view, though, is that a blanket ban on presentations by creationists would be a mistake as it would hand them a PR coup.

Science is a process. The methods of science are much more important than any particular result. Indeed, the self-correcting process of science has on rare occasions resulted in big shifts in thinking. Within living memory, geologists dismissed the idea that the crust of the planet could move as crazy. Now we know that plate tectonics has radically reshaped our planet.

Most outlandish ideas turn out to be wrong, of course, but conferences can be a place for them to be scrutinised by the gimlet eyes of science. As long as research conforms to the standards of the discipline, and involves real data collected by standard methods, then it merits more than summary rejection.

I am not suggesting that the ideas of young-Earth creationism will ever be accepted by mainstream geology. But if scientific societies impose bans, then the creationists win an important victory: they will be able to make a plausible claim of censorship and discrimination.

Creationists have already shown themselves to be ready and willing to take advantage of such claims. In the US they are especially litigious. The California Science Center in Los Angeles recently paid out $110,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by the creationist-sympathising American Freedom Alliance after the centre cancelled a private AFA screening of the intelligent design film Darwin's Dilemma. AFA claimed that the decision violated its right to free speech.

While the exclusion of creationists can pose problems, their inclusion at conferences does little harm. The reputations of scientific organisations are largely unaffected, as few people even notice. Creationists will use their participation to claim acceptance, but most scientists understand that a 15-minute talk or a poster presentation does not carry the same weight as a paper in Nature or Science. A few posters hardly challenge an entire scientific discipline.

The GSA is not the only organisation facing this issue: the Society for Developmental Biology, the Entomological Society of America and the American Society for Cell Biology have all encountered similar problems. And it's not just at these relatively informal meetings that creationists have surfaced. Peer-reviewed scientific journals, such as the Journal of Paleontology and Geology, have published - almost certainly without being aware of the authors' true views and motivations - papers by creationists arguing minor details of what they imagine occurred during Noah's flood.

Scientific organisations will continue to experience creationist infiltration; this week's GSA meeting will include several presentations by creationists. But it is important for scientists not to overreact and to remember that science is far stronger than any creationist attempts to undermine it.

Steven Newton is programs and policy director at the US National Center for Science Education, a non-profit organisation based in Oakland, California, devoted to defending the teaching of evolution in public schools.

What Physics Teaches Us About Creationism


Michael Zimmerman, Ph.D.

Founder, The Clergy Letter Project

Posted: 10/11/11 04:33 PM ET

A couple of weeks ago the scientific world was shaken by a report out of the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN) claiming that, after years of study, neutrinos were found to be traveling faster than the speed of light. The results were so shocking because, if accurate, they contradict Einstein's theory of special relativity which asserts that nothing in the universe can travel faster than the speed of light.

The importance of this news can easily be gauged by the excitement that the results generated in the non-technical media. News reports abounded with headlines like "Scientists Report Breaking the Speed of Light, But Can it Be True? " from NPR and "'Faster than Light' Particles Make Time Travel Possible, Scientist Says" from Fox News.

Scientists from around the globe made it clear that if these results hold up to additional scrutiny, they might herald a revolution in physics; that some of our most cherished and important concepts, concepts at the very core of physics, might have to be reworked.

Independent of whether or not the CERN results are correct, they have an enormous amount to teach us about the very nature of science and how dramatically it differs from the ways in which creationists characterize science. It also highlights the differences in methodology between those practicing science and those promoting the pseudoscience of creationism.

Creationists regularly assert that science is a closed operation, that those offering opinions differing from the norm cannot get a fair hearing within the scientific community. They argue that it is impossible to publish papers in the technical literature that call the dominant paradigm into question. It is this narrow-mindedness, they continue, that keeps their "important" ideas from being shared broadly. I can't begin to count the number of notes I've received from creationists who rail against the biologists who refuse to consider what they have to say. The charge is always the same: scientists are biased and unwilling to consider any ideas that contradict their opinions.

The work arising from CERN demonstrates just how absurd this argument is. The scientists responsible for the work calling special relativity into question had absolutely no trouble getting their results in front of their peers. No one closed ranks and black-listed those who challenged the prevailing paradigm. Quite the opposite occurred. The physics community is abuzz with the results, and healthy discussion, meaningful skepticism, and plans for replication abound.

Speaking as a scientist, I can say categorically that the second most exciting time to be active in the field is when earth-shaking results appear in your discipline. The only time that is more exciting is when you personally produce such results. (To be fair, I need to say that, like more than 99 percent of all scientists, I actually have not published a paper that has fully transformed my discipline - but I can certainly dream of how it might feel to do so!)

How does one go about attempting to overthrow a scientific paradigm? Very, very carefully and as transparently as possible. Consider what Antonio Ereditato, the spokesperson for the CERN group, said about their work, "We have high confidence in our results. We have checked and rechecked for anything that could have distorted our measurements but we found nothing. We now want colleagues to check them independently." These scientists worked for three years, found a result that might shake physics to its very core, presented their full methodology and have now asked their fellow scientists to check and replicate their work. They understand that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

Creationists, on the other hand, simply make assertions. They offer no data and perform no experiments. As was pointed out by creationists themselves under oath in the Dover, PA intelligent design trial in 2005, no one is performing any scientific investigations of intelligent design. No one is publishing any empirical data on the subject. No one is doing anything at all other than saying, "wow, it seems really unlikely and counter-intuitive for evolution to work." What the creationists want is for an alternative theory of evolution to be accepted - and taught to our children - simply because they don't like the one that currently is supported by the data and by virtually every scientist in the field.

It turns out that a great deal of science is, in fact, counter-intuitive. If that weren't the case, we'd likely not need scientists to help us understand the workings of the natural world. Irrespective of the complexity of the world around us, creationists know what they believe and they need neither data nor experiments to support their beliefs. Belief is enough for them.

For scientists, however, data are absolutely essential. The physicists at CERN demonstrated how science works, how important ideas enter the scientific community and are dealt with on their merits, regardless of their potential impact.

The difference between scientists and creationists is so stark that it can be summarized simply enough to be placed on two bumper stickers.

Don't believe everything you can think!

Don't think about anything you believe!

I bet even creationists can figure out which one is theirs.

Film explores shifting debate over evolution


By Kimberly Winston, Religion News Service
Updated 10/11/2011 6:35 PM

A new documentary examines the evolving battle over teaching evolution in American classrooms as tactics have shifted from a hard-nosed debate to a more subtle fight in the name of "academic freedom."

Religion News Service

The film, No Dinosaurs in Heaven, follows Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, down the Colorado River as she refutes creationist theories that the Grand Canyon is only a few thousand years old and shows evidence of the biblical flood.

It also charts the story of its director, Greta Schiller, as she studies to become a science teacher and is assigned a biology professor who refuses to teach evolution because of his religious beliefs.

"I made the film to convey three major ideas," Schiller said. The most important, she said, is "that science is a way to understand the natural world and is not inherently in conflict with a belief in God."

Americans have grappled with science standards since the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925, which put a Tennessee teacher on trial for teaching evolution. The debate was revived in the 1990s with the rise of "intelligent design," or ID, the idea that the universe shows evidence of a master designer.

Many thought ID was discredited in a 2005 court case, Kitzmiller v. Dover, the first challenge to teaching ID in public schools, when a Pennsylvania judge ruled ID is a form of religious creationism and therefore cannot be taught in public schools.

But evolution proponents say creationists have returned to the trenches to refine their attack. Where they once asked teachers to "teach the controversy" — one that most scientists insist does not exist — they now promote their ideas in the interest of "academic freedom."

"Now they are not talking about balancing evolution with a religious idea, but about balancing evolution with evidence against evolution," Scott said. "Of course, scientists are unaware of any evidence against evolution. It seems only the creationists who can come up with a list."

Scott points to several "battleground states" where evolution is not the classroom standard:

•Kentucky law now requires educators teach "the theory of creation as presented in the Bible" and "read such passages in the Bible as are deemed necessary for instruction on the theory of creation."

•The Tennessee House passed a bill earlier this year that describes evolution and global warming as "controversial"; the state Senate will consider the issue in 2012.

•In 2008, Louisiana enacted the Louisiana Science Education Act, which described evolution and global warming as "controversial" and permitted the use of supplemental materials to teach alternative theories. It was the subject of an unsuccessful repeal effort earlier this year.

•Texas, which has a long history of turmoil over its curriculum standards, is debating whether to include supplementary materials on theories other than evolution.

•In New Hampshire, some legislators have said they will introduce bills requiring the teaching of evolution "as a theory" and the teaching of ID in 2012.

Such laws seem to reflect Americans' thinking on the subject. A recent poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute and Religion News Service found that 38 percent of Americans believe "humans and other living things have existed in their present form since creation." In a recent CNN poll, more than 40% of respondents said evolution was probably or definitely false.

"Yup, we have a lot of work to do," Scott said.

In Britain, too, the battle over science education standards is heating up. A group of scientists, including the prominent biologist and atheist Richard Dawkins, has called for a law prohibiting the teaching of creationism in public schools.

"No Dinosaurs in Heaven" premieres in New York on Oct. 25 at the New York Academy of Sciences, where Scott will also speak. The film is part of a "Celebrate Science" campaign initiated by the film's producers, Jezebel Films, which plans to screen it on college campuses and community centers across the country.

Darwinian Dogmatism Permeates Recent Biology Textbooks


Casey Luskin October 11, 2011 6:00 AM | Permalink

Part of our updated 2011 textbook review, "An Evaluation of 22 Recent Biology Textbooks and Their Use of Selected Icons of Evolution," looked at interesting comments in textbooks that didn't fit under classical "icons" categories. Here I'd like to review some of these comments as they further illustrate the inaccurate and biased treatment of evolution in many textbooks.

Faux Critical Thinking Exercises

Many textbooks surveyed contained what I would call "faux-critical thinking exercises," where students are asked to investigate the evidence, but only in a one-sided fashion.

For example, Campbell and Reece's 2009 edition of Biology: Concepts and Connections asks students: "Write a paragraph briefly describing the kinds of evidence for evolution." (p. 275) No questions ask students to identify evidence that counters evolutionary theory, because no such evidence is presented in the text.

Likewise, Prentice Hall's 2009 Science Explorer: Life Science states:

"Identifying Supporting Evidence. Evidence consists of facts that can be confirmed by testing or observation. As you read, identify the evidence that supports the theory of evolution." (p. 182)

It of course does not ask students to consider any evidence that would not support evolution, because such evidence is excluded from the textbook.

The 2006 edition of Glencoe's Biology: The Dynamics of Life is rare in that it asks students to look at the "strengths and weaknesses" (p. 402) of the evidence regarding evolution. However, the textbook only presents a pro-Darwin viewpoint, even stating "The modern theory of evolution is the fundamental concept in biology." How can students evaluate the theory's "weaknesses" when none of the many dissenting scientific voices on the subject are mentioned?

Not all textbooks completely hide from students the fact that there are scientists who disagree with Darwinism. Belk and Maier's Biology: Science for Life devotes half a page to attacking Discovery Institute's "Dissent from Darwin" list. The critique attempts to flatter the student as a "Savvy Reader" by praising the "savvy" student when they "critique the argument" against Darwinism, all-the-while seeking to direct the student to dismiss the existence of scientific dissent from Darwinism. (p. 251) Apparently the "Savvy Reader" section wants students to accept arguments from authority rather than form their own opinions after examining the evidence. At the least students will come away feeling good, thinking that by simply agreeing with the consensus, they are being "savvy."

Pushing Evolution From the Start

Most textbooks follow a logical order. First you learn about the nature of science, then you move into cells and DNA. Only after you've learned a bit about macrobiology do the authors introduce more complex topics like evolution, usually somewhere in the middle to end of the book. After all, if students haven't even learned about cells, chromosomes, DNA, and the basis of inheritance, how can they understand topics like Darwinian evolution?

However, some textbooks are so eager to push evolution that they have reordered the material in a pedagogically illogical manner. For example, George B. Johnson's Essentials of the Living World goes out of its way to promote Darwinian evolution, devoting Chapter 2 to covering "Evolution and Ecology" -- even though students have not yet reached the book's chapter on the chemistry of life, which should have come first.

Likewise, the 2006 textbook BSCS Biology: A Human Approach is structured in a way that is highly unusual: The very first lecture in the first chapter of the first section of the book promotes human evolution from apes. Students are expected to learn and accept that humans evolved from other primates -- when they have not yet even learned what a cell is.

This textbook is so illogical that an anonymous public school biology instructor, who has been forced to teach from it, related the following to me:

While I would recommend other BSCS textbooks I've used, this one raised pedagogical and academic concerns. In particular, both my colleagues (who support evolution) and I thought it was inappropriate that the textbook started, from the get-go, by promoting human evolution from primates. This is unusual for two reasons.

It's an unusual starting point in that it seems premature to introduce evolutionary biology when students had not yet encountered the underlying basic biological topics like the cell or DNA. If the vehicle for evolution is DNA mutations, then students must at the very least encounter that concept before studying evolution.

Additionally, starting the year with the most controversial topic in the entire course generated controversy and division among my students at a critical time when I needed to have them on board for the remainder of the year. Whether or not one agrees with evolution, it seems like an unnecessary and unwise decision to start the book with the most controversial chapter and topic -- the idea that humans descended from primates. Again, this concern was shared not just by me but also my colleagues who are evolutionists. Any good teacher would know that you don't start with the most controversial topic at hand when the beginning of the year should be used to build bridges, excitement, and enthusiasm.

The textbook did not use good teaching practice. The authors seemed to have an evolutionary agenda that overrode not just logical pedagogy but any sensitivity towards the multiple viewpoints that students walk in with at the start of the school year.

I want to make one point clear: this Darwin-doubting biology teacher did not object to teaching evolution and fully taught it to the students. However, by cramming 'humans evolved from lower primates' down the throats of students from the very first lesson, this textbook hindered the learning experience.

Forcing Students to Assent to Darwin

At least one textbook demanded not just that students learn about evolution, but that they assent to it. Sylvia Mader's Essentials of Biology asks, "Explain why evolution is no longer considered a hypothesis?" and the text provides the answer: "Evolution is supported by many diverse and independent lines of evidence." (p. 225) Four pages later, it offers a multiple-choice question where students are forced to answer that evolution is supported by multiple lines of evidence:

10. Evolution is considered a
a. hypothesis because it is supported by data from the fossil record.
b. hypothesis because it is supported by multiple types of data.
c. theory because it is supported by data from the fossil record.
d. theory because it is supported by multiple types of data.

Of course from the question on page 225 we know the correct answer here is intended to be "d," which forces students to claim that evolution is "supported by multiple types of data." Yet each answer choice forces students to give assent to the view that evolution is "supported." The student is not allowed to express scientific dissent from neo-Darwinian evolution.

Attention Students: Please Think Inside the Darwinian Box

The 2010 edition of Ken Miller and Joseph Levine's Biology quotes coauthor Joseph Levine singing praises of Darwin's theory:

Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection is often called "the most important scientific idea that anyone has ever had." Evolutionary theory provides the best scientific explanation for the unity and diversity of life. It unites all living things in a single tree of life and reminds us that humans are a part of nature. As researchers explore evolutionary mysteries, they continue to marvel at Darwin's genius and his grand vision of the natural world. (p. 447)

This makes it all the more ironic that in the earlier pages of the book, the authors state: "Good scientists are skeptics, which means that they question existing ideas and hypotheses," and "Scientists must remain open-minded, meaning that they are willing to accept different ideas that may not agree with their hypothesis." Does it sound like they are applying such a scientific approach to evolution?

Likewise, Futuyma's 2005 textbook Evolution emphatically states that "descent with modification of all organisms from common ancestors ... is as much a scientific fact as the atomic constitution of matter or the revolution of the Earth around the Sun." (p. 523) Ironically, the textbook later states, "Science is tentative." (p. 542) If only they taught evolution as if that were true.

The full report, "An Evaluation of 22 Recent Biology Textbooks and Their Use of Selected Icons of Evolution," can be found here.

Textbooks Cited (listed in order mentioned in this article):

Neil A. Campbell, Jane B. Reece, Martha R. Taylor, Eric J. Simon, Jean L. Dickey, Biology: Concepts and Connections (6th Ed., Pearson, 2009).
Michael J. Padilla, Ioannis Miaoulis, Martha Cyr, Science Explorer: Life Science (Prentice Hall, 2009).
Alton Biggs, Whitney Crispen Hagins, Chris Kapicka, Linda Lundgren, Peter Rillero, Kathleen G. Tallman, Dinah Zike, Biology: The Dynamics of Life (Glencoe, 2006) (Florida Edition).
Colleen Belk and Virginia Borden Maier, Biology: Science for Life (Benjamin Cummings, 3rd ed., 2010).
George B. Johnson, Essentials of the Living World (McGraw Hill, 2006).
BSCS Biology: A Human Approach (Kendall Hunt Publishing Company, 2006).
Sylvia S. Mader, Essentials of Biology (McGraw Hill, 2007).
Kenneth R. Miller and Joseph Levine, Biology (Pearson, 2010).
Douglas J. Futuyma, Evolution (Sinauer, 2005).

Dante on the "Angelic Butterfly"


David Klinghoffer October 10, 2011 1:57 PM | Permalink

We open the new e-book from Discovery Institute Press, Metamorphosis: The Case for Intelligent Design in a Chrysalis, with a citation from a 1923 poem by Vladimir Nabokov: "We are the caterpillars of angels." Nabokov himself was a fierce Darwin doubter, as I discuss in Chapter 8 of the book. (Download it, a FREE companion to the Illustra documentary Metamorphosis, here.)

As an epigraph that little verse is a winner for the additional reason that, apart from the suggestion of design that a butterfly conveys, it points to metaphysical meanings people have attached to this dancing, elaborate and whimsical creature. Now a perceptive reader, a physician in Argentina, writes us here at ENV in appreciation of the book but also to point out that in the matter of this particular image, seeing humans caught in a transformative process like the one enacted by caterpillars and butterflies, Nabokov was scooped by Dante in the Divine Comedy.

I looked up the passage and can report here that, on consideration, the meaning actually comes out a little more clearly in Dante. It's in an apostrophe directed at the backsliding faithful (Purgatorio, Canto X, 121-126, Mandelbaum translation):

Oh Christians, arrogant, exhausted, wretched,
whose intellects are sick and cannot see,
who place your confidence in backward steps,
do you not know that we are worms and born
to form the angelic butterfly that soars
without defenses, to confront His judgment?
Why does your mind presume to flight when you
are still like the imperfect grub, the worm
before it has attained its final form?

What Dante alludes to is a unique quality of human beings. We are born to freely transform ourselves -- not physically, which happens without our choosing it, but morally and spiritually, something that, DNA similarities aside, is untrue of our animal "cousins." Some have said that's why the Biblical narrative has Adam, the first man, being formed from the ground, the adamah, as a token of our power to bring forth such potentials from ourselves in the manner of a plant that springs from the soil. An animal, by contrast, has no potentials to realize. Even a chimp is what it's born to be, and no more.

In the challenge of personal transformation or metamorphosis, we are free to fail or succeed. And that -- the question of moral freedom and moral responsibility, whether in fact we are free or instead the purely, fully determined product of faceless impersonal physical forces -- may be the profoundest divide separating traditional theists from Darwinian and other materialists.

Science and religion: A false divide



On most issues, there is very little conflict between religion and science.

October 10, 2011|By John H. Evans

Rick Perry has generated a lot of ink lately — for trumpeting his religious faith and for his attacks on evolution and global warming. I have no magic insight into the mind of the candidate jockeying for the GOP nomination, and I'm not a member of the religious right. But, as a sociologist studying religion in the United States, I do know that the fundamentalists and evangelicals who are disproportionately represented in the ranks of Republican primary voters don't all sound like Perry, or Michele Bachmann or Sarah Palin.

While many conservative Protestants disagree with the scientific consensus about evolution, you cannot infer their perspectives on other scientific issues such as climate change from this one view alone. Fundamentalists' and evangelicals' relationship with science is much more complicated than the idea that they "oppose science."

I recently conducted survey research comparing the most conservative of Protestants — those who identify with a conservative Protestant denomination, attend church regularly and take the Bible literally, or about 11% of the population in my analysis — with those who do not participate in any religion. The conservative Protestants are equally likely to understand scientific methods, to know scientific facts and to claim knowledge of science. They are as likely as the nonreligious to have majored in science or to have a scientific occupation. While other studies have shown that the elite scientists who work at the 20 top research universities are less religious than the public, it appears that the vast majority of people with workaday scientific occupations are like their neighbors, religiously speaking.

On most issues, there is actually very little conflict between religion and science. Religion makes no claims about the speed of hummingbird wings, and there are no university departments of anti-resurrection studies — scientists generally are unconcerned with the vast majority of religious claims and vice versa.

There are, of course, a few fact claims in which conservative Protestant theology and science differ, such as the origins of humans and the universe. Here we find that typical conservative Protestants are likely to believe the teaching of their religion on the issue and not the scientific claim.

We could complain that they are being inconsistent in believing the scientific method some of the time but not always. Yet social science research has long shown that people typically are not very consistent. The people who are more consistent are those who are punished for inconsistency: philosophers, media pundits, political activists and politicians.

Besides, conservative Protestants don't think of their own views as inconsistent, and they have a long-standing way, going back to at least the mid-19th century, of dividing the scientific findings they believe and don't believe. They tend to accept scientists' claims that are based on direct observation and common sense and to reject those based on what might be called unobservable abstractions. Since nobody was around for the Big Bang and for human evolution from lower primates, these unobservable claims are treated with more skepticism than measurements of the effect of airborne carbon on planetary temperature. (Despite biblical passages suggesting the contrary, conservative Protestants believe the Earth orbits the sun, which is observable by scientists in the present.)

The greatest conflict between fundamentalists, evangelicals and science is not over facts but over values. While scientists like to say that their work is value-free, that is not how the public views it, and conservative Protestants especially have homed in on the moral message of science. William Jennings Bryan, famed defender of the creationist perspective at the Scopes "monkey trial," was not just opposed to evolution for contradicting the Bible but also concerned that the underlying philosophy of Darwinism had ruined the morals of German youth and had caused World War I.

The dulling of Occham's Razor


October 9, 2011

The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Editor, The Transcript:

I write in response to Charlie Taylor's clear exposition on Creationism last Sunday, oddly agreeing with his central point, which can be extracted from wording: "For those [of us] who believe that ... God created everything ... there is no need to play by the rules of science to form an explanation thereof." If religious faith trumps science, why follow those rules?

Unfortunately, this totally missed the point of the film, "Metamorphosis," that was under discussion. The Discovery Institute produces films specifically to help promote religion-based Creationism for public school Science classrooms. They want to look "scientific" and carefully conceal the religious assumption. Why? Because science has achieved a stellar record of success and reliability, earning considerable public trust. The Institute covets that credibility for "Intelligent Design," without meeting basic scientific standards.

Real science is all about doubt. Every component of a scientific explanation can be questioned, so nothing stands on the grounds of being sacred. If a prevailing argument seems goofy, you expose its flaws, propose a better alternative, and toss it onto the pile. Of course, your new suggestion then gets the same scrutiny as the one you aim to dislodge.

Nobody gets a free pass, Darwinism least of all. No Discovery Institute rouses itself to dispute Newton's ideas about gravity. Mr. Taylor expresses no qualms about plate tectonics and continental drift. But evolution occupies the political hot seat because it offers a remarkably lucid alternative to supernaturalism. For many who insist that their eternal salvation hinges on Genesis being a literal account of history, an explanation of an unguided process is terrifying.

Of course, in the middle of the 17th century, organized religion was not thrilled about Galileo's heliocentrism, either. But he was effectively muzzled and no formal admission of clerical error was forthcoming for 350 years. Prudently, Darwin suppressed his own insights for 20 years, but when his 1859 book hit the streets, that genie was out of the lamp for good. By now we've had a century-and-a-half in which conflicting evidence might have knocked evolution off its perch, but spectacular data continue to accumulate supporting Darwin's general theory.

Scientific idea-testing proceeds on many fronts, especially common-sense logic. It is utterly routine for plural candidate explanations to face the grilling side-by-side. Eventually, the weaker ones get buried under the weight of dissonant findings and are discarded. (Incidentally, this nicely parallels how natural selection non-randomly trims away less successful genes.)

By default, our confidence in explanations not falsified tends to increase. Five centuries ago, William of Occham proposed slicing away competing explanations on the basis of which ones require more/greater untestable assumptions. This logic tool, dubbed "Occham's razor" (i.e., principle of parsimony) notes that, all else being equal, the simplest explanation is the wisest bet. Mr. Taylor's letter argued that evolution is an unnecessarily "complicated explanation," as if preferring the ultimate parsimony of God-did-it as a universal explanation for everything.

But God-did-it is not a scientific hypothesis, thus has no place in the science classroom. Being unfalsifiable, it rests on faith, not evidence. To illustrate the difference, one can cite numerous phenomena for which rational thinking has produced satisfying natural explanations that supplanted earlier supernatural ones.

In 1667, Johan Becher proposed that flammable things burn because they contain a colorless and odorless substance he called "phlogiston": wood has phlogiston, iron does not. Once burned, all that remains is the dephlogistated calx (equals ash). That explanation has since been supplanted by oxidation, which seems far more "complicated" to those of us who have forgotten our high school chemistry.

Similarly, the mysteries of lightning and thunder inspired the invention of various deities (e.g., the Norse god Thor), but Ben Franklin's kite led to our understanding that air masses of unequal temperatures generate great excesses of static electricity. Boom! Yowza! The Thor hypothesis was impressively parsimonious, but got set aside for good reason: Science moved lightning from the supernatural to the natural.

This is why Intelligent Design Creationism is not science. In principle, it could become science by proposing truly testable (equals falsifiable) predictions, but its proponents won't go there, opting instead to play a PR game that counts on Americans not understanding how science works. They find a couple PhDs willing to play pretend and declare that a "scientific controversy" exists. I could do the same for phlogiston and Thor. And, they have made two pretty films with severely misleading narrations. Propaganda is not science.

As explanatory traditions go, Science is a newcomer, only four centuries old. Even so, it has greatly reduced our collective ignorance. Fire and lightning aside, we see technologies all around us that came from basic science. We've come a long way from Flat Earthism, geocentrism, and demons in the forest. We can deal with germs now that we acknowledge them. Ditto genes. Life's possibilities continue to expand rapidly in ways both good (e.g., world travel, molecular forensics, internet, medicine) and bad (e.g., computer viruses, antibiotic resistance, climate change) that inspire us to keep learning how things work.

Science is here to stay. Denial gets us nowhere and absence of evidence (e.g., for exactly which molecules started replicating in the origins of life) is not evidence of absence. Plenty of important things are not well explained yet by science (and some may never be). "Search" is the root of research and for that enterprise we must educate our citizens to think critically and question everything constructively.



Creationism Attack Under UK Muslim Fire


Sunday, 09 October 2011 10:26

LONDON – Muslim groups in Britain have sharply criticized an atheist professor who attacked Muslim faith schools for teaching creationsim for their students.

"Faith schools are by and large established to enforce the religious teachings of our lives, and the theory of creation is one of the cornerstones of our faith," Sheikh Ibrahim Mogra, from the Muslim Council of Britain, told the BBC.

"To expect faith schools not to teach this kind of religious teaching is unreasonable, but I also think it is important for faith schools to teach science to children as well so they are aware of modern day findings and can use the information to ask further questions and strengthen their faith.

"I don't believe any religious teaching prevents people from being creative and independent in their thinking."

The uproar erupted after atheist professor Richard Dawkins attacked Muslim faith schools for filling children's head with "alien rubbish" of creationism.

In the Times Educational Supplement (TES), the Oxford author said they had a "pernicious influence" that is "utterly deplorable" on the minds of young people.

"Occasionally, my colleagues lecturing in universities lament having undergraduate students walk out of their classes when they talk about evolution - this is almost entirely Muslims," Dawkins said.

"So I think there's a very, very pernicious influence that is lasting up to the university years. That must be coming from certain schools," the author of The God Delusion, emeritus fellow of New College and evolutionary biologist, added.

But Naomi Phillips, from the British Humanist Association, hit back at the atheist professor, saying that creationism is taught not only in Muslim but Christian schools too.

"There are a number of problems that go throughout faith schools but I wouldn't say it's just Muslim schools, it's also Christian schools too," Phillips said.

Over the past few years, the numbers of non-believers have been noticeably increasing in Europe and US.

A 2005 survey published in Encyclopedia Britannica put non-believers at about 11.9 percent of the world's population.

An official European Union survey recently said that 18 percent of the bloc's population do not believe in God.

The Washington Post reported in September that atheist movements were growing across Europe, lobbying hard for political clout and airtime.

Impressive Results

Criticizing Dawkins' theories about Muslim faith schools, British Muslims said those schools have managed to achieve impressive results in both math and science.

"The results of Muslim faith schools in England in maths and science show a strong compatibility between the Muslim faith and scientific learning," an MCB spokesman told the BBC.

The chairman of Muslims4UK, Inayat Bunglawala, said it was "important faith groups came to terms with evolution" and taught it in a fair manner.

"I don't think students growing up today are served well by being taught this way by religious leaders.

"It's symbolic and it makes no sense to take it so literally - it will only serve to undermine the faith of students when the two schools of thought could be understood side by side."

Britain has a sizable Muslim minority of nearly 2.0 million Muslims, mainly of Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Indian origin.

About 7,000 state schools in the UK are faith schools – roughly one in three of the total – educating 1.7 million pupils.

Of the 590 faith-based secondary schools five are Jewish, two Muslim and one Sikh - the rest are Church of England, Roman Catholic and other Christian faiths.

Last April 2011, Darul Uloom Islamic College boys' school drew praise for its excellence in combining religious and secular studies while helping develop its students' basic knowledge, skills and attitudes from the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted).

Earlier in November 2010, Tauheedul Islam Girls' School was ranked as "outstanding" by the Ofsted, which oversees state and independent schools and colleges.

Muslim faith schools teach 'alien rubbish' says Dawkins


8 October 2011 Last updated at 10:55 ET

Richard Dawkins says for many students the Koran always wins in any disagreement with science

Muslim faith schools fill children's heads with "alien rubbish" as they continue to teach them creationism is true, atheist Richard Dawkins has said.

In the Times Educational Supplement (TES), the Oxford author said they had a "pernicious influence".

The Muslim Council of Britain said it was unreasonable to expect schools not to teach fundamental theories of faith.

The Department for Education said creationism "should not be taught as scientific fact".

Professor Dawkins told the TES he had concerns with all faith schools, but Muslim ones worried him the most.

The author of The God Delusion, emeritus fellow of New College and evolutionary biologist, said young people were being taught that the world was only 6,000 years old.

The effect of this was "utterly deplorable" and could affect the way young people thought right up until their university years, he said.

"Occasionally, my colleagues lecturing in universities lament having undergraduate students walk out of their classes when they talk about evolution - this is almost entirely Muslims," he said.

But Sheikh Ibrahim Mogra, from the Muslim Council of Britain, said: "Faith schools are by and large established to enforce the religious teachings of our lives, and the theory of creation is one of the cornerstones of our faith.

"To expect faith schools not to teach this kind of religious teaching is unreasonable, but I also think it is important for faith schools to teach science to children as well so they are aware of modern day findings and can use the information to ask further questions and strengthen their faith.

"I don't believe any religious teaching prevents people from being creative and independent in their thinking."

A MCB spokesman added: "The results of Muslim faith schools in England in maths and science show a strong compatibility between the Muslim faith and scientific learning."

The chairman of Muslims4UK, Inayat Bunglawala, said it was "important faith groups came to terms with evolution" and taught it in a fair manner.

"I don't think students growing up today are served well by being taught this way by religious leaders.

Richard Dawkins's new book is intended to teach children to replace myth with science

"It's symbolic and it makes no sense to take it so literally - it will only serve to undermine the faith of students when the two schools of thought could be understood side by side."

Naomi Phillips, from the British Humanist Association, said: "There are a number of problems that go throughout faith schools but I wouldn't say it's just Muslim schools, it's also Christian schools too."

A Department for Education spokesperson said: "All schools must teach a broad and balanced curriculum, and creationism should not be taught as scientific fact.

"Evolution first appears as a concept in the National Curriculum at Key Stage 3."

Naomi Phillips said however more needed to be done to ensure this.

"We've been encouraged certainly by the government saying very strongly that they don't think creationism should be taught in schools, but what we need to see now is real statutory measures, make guidance against teaching creationism."

The Magic of Reality, By Richard Dawkins (Illustrated by Dave McKean)


A world so odd, you couldn't make it up

Reviewed by Brandon Robshaw

Richard Dawkins's latest book covers some familiar ground, but for an unfamiliar audience.

It is his first book for children, or at least, for a family readership. His aim is to prove that scientific explanations are not only truer than myths, but more magical. He succeeds triumphantly.

Each chapter begins with examples of myths, followed by a lucid, impassioned explanation of the latest scientific knowledge in that area. Thus, the chapter "Who was the first man?" kicks off with a Tasmanian creation myth involving people with kangaroo tails and no knees, as well as the Genesis myth of Adam and Eve. The account that follows of the evolution by natural selection of homo sapiens is more detailed, more colourful, and much more fun. And, what's more, it's true. Dawkins dramatises the mind-boggling fact of evolution with the image of a three-mile-high pile of photographs; the top photo represents you, and each photo below it the previous generation. There would be no discernible difference between any two adjacent photos; but by the time you reached the bottom of the pile you'd be looking at a picture of a fish.

Dave MacKean's funky, graphic-novel style illustrations perfectly convey the weirdness of the myths, and the far more compelling weirdness of the scientific theories.

Dawkins does not confine himself to his own specialism, biology. The chapter entitled "What really changes night to day, winter to summer?" includes the best explanation of the difference between weight and mass I have ever come across (imagine heading a ping-pong ball and a cannonball in zero gravity). The chapter on the life of a star is sublime.

Dawkins is not without his detractors, to put it mildly. Recently, in this newspaper he was accused of "fundamental intolerance". But intolerance does not mean questioning people's beliefs. It means denying their right to hold them, and Dawkins has never done that. Far from attempting to stifle debate, he goes out of his way to invite it.

Some will be affronted by the subtitle, "How we know what's really true". But if "true" is taken in the scientific sense – the theory with the most explanatory and predictive power to date – I can't see the problem. Nor do I see why people so resent Dawkins's confidence that scientific knowledge will continue to grow. This is a splendid book from a public intellectual of whom we ought to be proud.

Fired Christian Teacher: 'I Teach All Aspects of Evolution'


By Alex Murashko | Christian Post Reporter

An Ohio school board's decision to fire a middle school teacher under the allegations of teaching creationism and religious doctrine in his classroom was upheld by a local judge Wednesday. The science teacher, who was dismissed in January, plans to file an appeal.

John Freshwater sought to overturn the Mount Vernon City School District Board firing in order to get his job back. The decision to uphold the school board's action was handed down by Knox County Common Pleas Court Judge Otho Eyster.

Freshwater was suspended under allegations that he failed to remove religious materials from his classroom and burned crosses on students' arms with a Tesla coil during science experiments. The suspension from Mount Vernon Middle School occurred in 2008 and he was terminated in January 2011.

The case against him began as a request by the school administration to remove his Bible from his classroom desk and was compounded with other accusations after his refusal to do so, Freshwater told The Christian Post. Having an exemplary teaching record for 24 years, he said the allegations began when there were several changes in the school district's personnel, including three new school board members.

"It came down to that they wanted me to remove the Bible from my desk and I refused to remove my Bible from my desk," Freshwater said. "The Bible has been resting on my desk for all 24 years of teaching. So, what has changed? What has changed is the administration."

School officials also did not like the way he taught the evolution curriculum, Freshwater said.

Bill O'Reilly, Richard Dawkins Debate Creationism Heatedly (VIDEO)


First Posted: 10/6/11 09:06 AM ET Updated: 10/6/11 02:55 PM ET

Bill O'Reilly debated creationism on Wednesday's "O'Reilly Factor" with biologist and famous atheist Richard Dawkins. Not surprisingly, things got a little heated.

Dawkins was pushing a new book, aimed to teach adolescents and adults that science can explain ancient myths. O'Reilly told Dawkins that his book "mocks God," which propelled the two into a heated discussion about the beginning of time.

"How can it possibly help to postulate a divine intelligence to explain something complicated like [the origin of existence]?" Dawkins asked O'Reilly.

"Here's how it can help," O'Reilly answered. "If you believe in the teachings of Jesus, or Buddha, or someone like that who wants people to be peaceful and to love each other, that is a good thing," O'Reilly said.

"Yeah but what's that got to do with the origin of the moon?" Dawkins argued.

"Because I don't believe a meteor crashed into the earth and made everything happen. I think intelligent design made everything happen," O'Reilly quickly answered. He also told Dawkins that "the Judeo-Christian myth is not a myth, it's reality. And this country was founded on it."

O'Reilly, a staunch believer in creationism, has debated the topic with Dawkins before. He has also become famous for telling atheists and scientists that things such as the tides and the moon cannot be explained by science.

The Good Word: It's not what they don't know — it's what they do know that's wrong


Published: Thursday, October 06, 2011

By Morris Goodman

Lisa Randall, a physics professor at Harvard, writes in the Oct. 3 issue of Time magazine:

"When Rick Perry, who defends the teaching of creationism in schools, says evolution is merely 'a theory out there, it's got some gaps in it,' he's demonstrating a fundamental misunderstanding of scientific theory. …

"What we are seeing in the current presidential race is not so much a clash between religion and science as a fundamental disregard for rational and scientific thinking. … We know CO2 warms the planet through the greenhouse effect and we know humans have created a huge increase in CO2 in atmosphere by burning coal and oil. That man-made climate change is not proven 100 percent certainly does not justify its dismissal (which all but two of the Republican frontrunners do)."

James Reston, Pulitzer Prize-winning editor of the New York Times, said of President Ronald Reagan, the icon of all the conservative Republican presidential candidates: "I am not concerned about what President Reagan doesn't know. Rather I am concerned about what President Reagan does know that is just plain wrong."

As I said in my last column, my two sons, ages 32 and 30, both consider me a Luddite because I am disturbed by the constant intrusion of electronic devices and media into everyday life. That is quite different than refusing to acknowledge at all that there are scientific, electronic and natural forces that not only impact how we live our lives, but, to a large extent, our very existence on this increasingly small planet. We do not want in the White House someone who is simply not open to listening to scientific truth.

Objective thinking seems to be at a premium the world over. With the turmoil in the Pakistani and Iranian governments, it is truly frightening to realize that radical fundamentalist Muslims, whose education primarily consists of studying the Quran and who find suicide terrorist bombing as a pathway to heaven, might have access to nuclear weapons.

Of course, the same is true of extreme religious Israeli West Bank settlers, extremely nationalistic nihilist communists in Beijing and evangelical Christians being in command of the Air Force Academy in Colorado. Crazy seems to be the ideology de jour of many seeking world power today and who could get it.

Enter Rick Perry and those who are smitten with him.

While President Barack Obama's poll numbers are down, and some Democrats fret about his re-election chances, he is blessed by the lack of quality Republican candidates. All of them said at the end of July that they would have refused a deficit-reduction formula of one dollar in new revenues for $10 cuts in entitlement and discretionary spending. All of them zealously contend that it is anathema to think about raising the taxes of the top 1 percent of American who control 40 percent of American wealth. These are losing positions among the majority of American voters.

The former editor-in-chief of the Harvard Law Review and a Nobel Prize winner will make the Republican nominee, whoever he is, look like an ignorant pygmy when they debate in the fall of 2012. Yes, there has always been a huge strain of disdain for our country's "best and brightest," as is well chronicled in Richard Hofstater's 1961 book "Anti-Intellectualism in American Life." But when the Republican debate audiences applaud Perry's not having any qualms about the over 200 executions he has approved, of mostly blacks and Hispanics, or that it is Washington's fault that more than 25 percent of Texans do not have health insurance, the stupid line has been crossed for most Americans.

It is a sad commentary that Wall Street and moderate Republicans who are imploring New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to run for president cite, according to the New York Times, as one of his attributes his acceptance of global warming as a real problem. He is apparently living in their world and not the world of the true Tea Party believers who also applaud Michele Bachman for her attacks on Perry about his support of an HPV vaccine "that could lead to mental retardation."

Obama assuredly has major flaws — waiting too long to accept the total intransigence of congressional Republicans — but his flaws are miniscule compared to those of his possible opponents.

Next spring when the Republican nominee has been chosen, whether it be Perry, Romney, or even Christie, if you want to invest wisely in what will continue to be a time of volatile markets, go to Vegas and bet on Obama to win.

Dearborn attorney and resident Morris Goodman is a longtime political activist and community observer.

More than 1 in 10 parents reject vaccine schedule


Tuesday, October 04, 2011
By Lindsey Tanner, The Associated Press

CHICAGO -- By age 6, children should have vaccinations against 14 diseases, in at least two dozen separate doses, the U.S. government advises. More than 1 in 10 parents reject that, refusing some shots or delaying others mainly because of safety concerns, a national survey found.

Worries about vaccine safety were common even among parents whose kids were fully vaccinated: 1 in 5 among that group said they think delaying shots is safer than the recommended schedule. The results suggest that more than 2 million infants and young children may not be fully protected against preventable diseases, including some that can be deadly or disabling.

The nationally representative online survey of roughly 750 parents of kids age 6 and younger was done last year, and results were released online Monday in the journal Pediatrics. They are in line with a larger federal survey released last month, showing that at least 1 in 10 toddlers and preschoolers lagged on vaccines that included chickenpox and the measles-mumps-rubella combination shots. That survey, also for 2010, included more than 17,000 households.

The Pediatrics survey follows other recent news raising concerns among infectious disease specialists, including a study showing that the whooping cough vaccine seems to lose much of its effectiveness after just three years -- faster than doctors have thought -- perhaps contributing to recent major outbreaks, most notably in California.

Also, data reported in September show that a record number of kindergartners' parents in California last year used a personal belief exemption to avoid vaccination requirements.

Kandace O'Neill is a Lakeville, Minn., mom whose views are shared by many parents who don't follow federal vaccine advice. Her 5-year-old son has had no vaccinations since he turned 1, and her 7-month-old daughter has received none of the recommended shots.

"I have to make sure that my child is healthy, and I do not want to put medications in my child that I think are going to harm them," said Ms. O'Neill, who was not involved in the survey appearing in Pediatrics.

Ms. O'Neill said she's not an extreme anti-vaccine zealot. She just thinks that parents -- not doctors or schools -- should make medical decisions for their children.

Study author Amanda Dempsey, a pediatrician and University of Michigan researcher, said vaccine skepticism is fueled by erroneous information online and media reports that sensationalize misconceptions. These include the persistent belief among some parents about an autism-vaccine link, despite scientific evidence to the contrary and the debunking of one of the most publicized studies that first fueled vaccine fears years ago.

Some parents also dismiss the severity of vaccine-preventable diseases because they have never seen a child seriously ill with those illnesses.

But vaccine-preventable diseases including flu and whooping cough can be deadly, especially in infants, said Buddy Creech, associate director of Vanderbilt University's Vaccine Research Program. Dr. Creech has two school-aged children who are fully vaccinated and a newborn he said will be given all the recommended vaccinations.

"From being someone in the trenches seeing children die every year from influenza and its complications, ... I would not do a single thing to risk the health of my kids," he said. Dr. Creech has served on advisory boards for vaccine makers and has accepted their research money.

Dr. Dempsey, the survey's lead author, has been a paid adviser to Merck on issues regarding a vaccine for older children, but said that company made no contributions to the survey research.

Knowledge Networks conducted the survey, which had an error margin of plus or minus 5 percentage points.

Larry Pickering, an infectious disease specialist at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the new survey is important and well done, and indicates that doctors need to do a better job of communicating vaccine information to patients.

Dr. Pickering said he supports the idea of parents being actively involved in medical care for their children, but cautioned: "If they're going to do that, they need to be fully informed about the risks and benefits of vaccines and need to obtain the information from a valid source."

The CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians are among groups that provide online vaccine information based on medical research.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

"Dazzling, Insightful" Metamorphosis Companion Book Takes Flight


Andrew McDiarmid October 3, 2011 11:05 AM | Permalink

Discovery Institute Press is excited to announce the launch of Metamorphosis: The Case for Intelligent Design in a Chrysalis, a free digital companion book to the gorgeous new film Metamorphosis from Illustra Media.

The book picks up where the film leaves off, with in-depth scientific essays exploring the riddle of butterfly metamorphosis including from contributors Dr. Ann Gauger of the Biologic Institute and Dr. Paul Nelson of Biola University.

"Metamorphosis is dazzling, insightful, and thought-provoking," writes best-selling novelist Dean Koontz, who introduces the companion book. "This film affirms [the] intention, meaning, and intricacy that confounds all theories portraying nature as a consequence of dumb forces."

Other essays explore butterfly mimicry and protective resemblance, the design theories of Darwin contemporary Alfred Russel Wallace, Darwinian evolution's attempts to explain the beauty of butterflies, and doubts about the power of natural selection from novelist and butterfly scholar Vladimir Nabokov. The companion also includes an interview with the film's director and producer, Lad Allen.

Over twenty beautiful full-color images adorn the book, making it visually stunning as well as intellectually stimulating.

The digital book is available as a free download at www.metamorphosisthefilm.com.

The Devil's Delusion with David Berlinski


by Uncommon Knowledge

Why are so many scientific experts atheists? Is it because of their desire for power, their sole acceptance of physical theories, or mere denial?

Contrary to what many people think, science and religion are not always mutually exclusive. Many laws of the universe are actually consistent with Judeo-Christian beliefs.

In his recent book, The Devil's Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions, Dr. David Berlinski challenges everything from Darwin's Theory of Evolution to the Big Bang Theory. Do these theories lack sufficient evidence? Interestingly, Berlinski identifies a conspiracy among members of the academic world as the reason for evolution's popularity.

How can we answer the question of what exists? If there were a God, how could the Holocaust have happened? To hear answers to these difficult questions and more, watch the full interview below.

Evolution education update: September 30, 2011

Three exciting opportunities for teachers, a new poll on evolution and climate change, and the winners of NCSE's bumper sticker contest.


Three exciting opportunities for teachers for the month of October, in the form of two webcast symposia on human evolution and a chance to have a visit from the Darwin Day Roadshow!

First, Bones, Stones, and Genes: The Origin of Modern Humans -- the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Holiday Lectures on Science for 2011 -- will be webcast on October 6 and 7, 2011. The lectures will address such questions as: Where and when did humans arise? What distinguishes us from other species? Did our distant ancestors look and behave like us? Featured are NCSE Supporter Tim White of the University of California, Berkeley, speaking on "Human evolution and the nature of science"; Sarah Tishkoff of the University of Pennsylvania speaking on "Genetics of human origins and adaptation"; John Shea of Stony Brook University speaking on "Stone tools and the evolution of human behavior"; and White again on "Hominid paleobiology." To view the webcast, register on-line with HHMI.

Second, Changing Humans in a Changing Environment -- a symposium on evolution sponsored by the American Institute of Biological Sciences and the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center at the National Association of Biology Teachers professional development conference in Anaheim -- will be webcast on October 14, 2011. Featured are Rick Potts of the Smithsonian Institution speaking on "Evolution in an era of dramatic climate change"; Jill Pruetz of Iowa State University speaking on "What can chimpanzees tell us about human evolution?"; Susan Antσn of New York University speaking on "Becoming human in a changing world: the early evolution of Homo"; and John Hawks of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, speaking on "New discoveries from ancient genomes." To view the webcast, visit NESCent's website.

Third, the Darwin Day Roadshow is returning! The Roadshow is a project of the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, in which NESCent staff shares their enthusiasm for evolutionary science with students, teachers, and the general public on the occasion of Charles Darwin's birthday, February 12. In 2011, the Roadshow visited nineteen schools across the country. As NESCent's Craig McClain wrote at Miller-McCune (May 15, 2011), "for all of us the Darwin Day Road Show was a gratifying adventure that no one will forget. From the landscapes with their silos, combines, center pivot crop circles, high school gymnasiums, to the indelible interactions we had along the way, we absorbed it all." And applications to host the Roadshow in 2012 are now being accepted -- act soon, though; the application deadline is October 31, 2011.

For information on Bones, Stones, and Genes, visit:

For information on Changing Humans in a Changing Environment, visit:

For information on the Darwin Day Roadshow, visit:


A new poll asked respondents about their views on evolution and climate change, what they regard the scientific consensus on those topics to be, and whether it matters to them whether candidates for president share their views. The poll was designed and conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with the Religion News Service.

On the topic of evolution, 57% of respondents said that "Humans and other living things have evolved over time" came closest to their view, while 38% preferred "Humans and other living things have existed in their present form since creation," 1% volunteered different responses, and 4% said that they didn't know or refused to answer the question. (In a 2009 poll from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, 61% of respondents from the general public preferred "Humans and other living things have evolved over time." The discrepancy between the results may be due in part to a difference in the wording of the alternative: where the PRRI/RNS poll refers to "creation," the Pew Research Center poll refers to the less overtly religious "the beginning of time." )

The distribution of opinion among political positions and religious affiliations in the PRRI/RNS poll was broadly consistent with that reported in previous polls and surveys. PRRI noted, "More than 6-in-10 political independents (61%) and Democrats (64%) affirm a belief in evolution, compared to 45% of Republicans and 43% of Americans who identify with the Tea Party," adding, "Nearly two-thirds (66%) of white mainline Protestants, 61% of Catholics, and 77% of the unaffiliated believe humans and other living things evolved over time, compared to only about one-third (32%) of white evangelicals. African American Protestants are evenly divided on the question, with 47% affirming a belief in evolution and 46% affirming a belief in creationism."

Among those who accepted evolution, 53% preferred "Humans and other things have evolved due to natural processes such as natural selection," 38% preferred "A supreme being guided the evolution of living things for the purpose of creating humans and other life in the form it exists today," 3% volunteered different responses, and 6% said that they didn't know or refused to answer the question. Of those who rejected evolution, 50% agreed with "humans and other living things were created within the last 10,000 years," 39% disagreed, and 12% said that they didn't know or refused to answer the question. PRRI noted, "White evangelical Protestants (33%) and Americans who identify with the Tea Party (31%) were significantly more likely" to agree with the 10,000-year option.

On climate change, 69% of respondents said that they believe that "there is solid evidence that the average temperature on earth has been getting warmer over the past few decades," with 26% saying that they did not believe it, 2% volunteering that there is some or mixed evidence, and 3% saying that they didn't know or refusing to answer the question. Among those who believed that there is evidence (whether solid or mixed), 64% said that "[c]limate change is caused mostly by human activity such as burning fossil fuels" came closest to their view, while 32% preferred "[c]limate change is caused mostly by natural patterns in the earth's environment" instead, and 4% said that they didn't know or refused to answer the question.

Asked "do scientists generally agree that humans evolved over time, are scientists divided, or do scientists generally disagree that humans evolved over time," 51% of respondents said that scientists agree, 26% said that scientists were divided, 15% said that scientists disagreed, and 9% said that they didn't know or refused to answer the question. Similarly, asked "do scientists generally agree that the earth is getting warmer because of human activity, are scientists divided, or do scientists generally disagree that the earth is getting warmer because of human activity," 40% of respondents said that scientists agree, 37% said that scientists were divided, 15% said that scientists disagreed, and 8% said that they didn't know or refused to answer the question.

Asked whether, and if so how, a presidential candidate's rejection of evolution would affect the likelihood that they would vote for him or her, 13% of respondents said that they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who "[d]oes not believe in evolution," 32% said that they would be less likely, 53% said that it would not make a difference, and 2% said that they didn't know or refused to answer the question. Similarly, 9% of respondents said that they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who "[d]oes not believe climate change is caused by human activity," 36% said that they would be less likely, 54% said that it would not make a difference, and 2% said that they didn't know or refused to answer the question.

According to PRRI, "Results of the survey were based on bilingual (Spanish and English) random digit dial telephone interviews conducted between September 14, 2011 and September 18, 2011, by professional interviewers … The margin of error for the survey is +/- 3.0 percentage points at the 95% level of confidence."

For the PRRI/RNS poll (PDF), visit:

For the Pew Research Center poll (PDF), visit:

For a press release about the PRRI/RNS poll, visit:


We asked you to submit your ideas for a new NCSE bumper sticker, to speak loud, speak proud, for evolution -- and by golly you did.

NCSE headquarters was flooded with almost 550 entries from almost 150 people, including sixty entries from a single indefatigable sloganeer. After days of statistical analysis and rigorous peer-review, we are pleased to congratulate the winners -- David Cone, Tom Griffiths, Michael Keller, Tania Lombrozo, Jerry Newton, Bill Pogson, S. Michael Smith, Drew Weller, and a few who preferred not to be identified -- who received such fabulous prizes as a Charles Darwin bobblehead from Southern Illinois University Carbondale's Department of Zoology, a DVD of Greta Schiller's documentary No Dinosaurs in Heaven, and NCSE's famous "my ancestors" t-shirt, suitable for all occasions. Thanks to all who participated in the contest.

And where are the slogans? For that, you'll have to wait for the new stickers to be designed and advertised! So keep your eyes on http://ncse.com.

For information on the fabulous prizes, 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:

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

Commentary: No place for science in GOP presidential field


Fred Grimm
The Miami Herald

Not often is Dan Brown, however clever, associated with Charles Darwin.

Florida's lieutenant governor, kicking off Presidency 5, the big Republican shindig and presidential wanna-be debate in Orlando, bundled the two rather disparate writers into the same anti-Christian conspiracy. Along with the media, "They promote The Da Vinci Code," Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll charged.

Admittedly, a media guy like me, back when the pointy-headed liberal elite was running amuck, might have come to the defense of evolution, but that was before the anti-science, anti-biology, anti-paleontology, anti-archeology, anti-astronomy, anti-geology, anti-genetics, anti-physics, anti-carbon-dating crowd included a Florida lieutenant governor and several leading contenders for the Republican presidential nomination.

Lately, I'm beginning to sense the error of my ways, now that Republicans have absolute control in Florida and seem confident of a landslide in 2012. I've seen the Gallup Poll that found a majority of Republican voters believe world history began less than 10,000 years ago, back when man was trying to keep those damn dinosaurs from trampling through the flower garden.

Carroll, in her fire-and-brimstone speech on Thursday, spoke disparagingly of how "some of our political leaders bow down to scientists and let them have the stage to push their evolution." She made it plenty clear that the coming Republican revolution would no longer allow "the minority to poison the minds of the majority."

Both Tea Party favorites Michelle Bachmann and Rick Perry have signaled to their Republican constituents that they just don't cotton to evolution. "It's a theory that's out there, and it's got some gaps in it," said Perry, the purported frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination. In what came as big news to those who subscribe to scientific journals, Perry said, "Science reveals new discoveries all the time, and in so doing makes the evolutionary explanation less plausible."

Such talk has not amused the scientific community, which has become quite comfy with this evolution stuff over the past 150 years. The British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, in a piece written for the Washington Post, wrote that "a politician's attitude to evolution, however peripheral it might seem, is a surprisingly apposite litmus test of more general inadequacy. This is because unlike, say, string theory, where scientific opinion is genuinely divided, there is about the fact of evolution no doubt at all."

Dawkins wrote, "Evolution is a fact, as securely established as any in science, and he who denies it betrays woeful ignorance and lack of education, which likely extends to other fields as well. Evolution is not some recondite backwater of science, ignorance of which would be pardonable. It is the stunningly simple but elegant explanation of our very existence and the existence of every living creature on the planet."

Still, if Perry takes the White House, I suppose Richard Dawkins, the media and the 99 percent of the world's scientists who subscribe to Darwin's thinking will just have to kowtow to the democratic process. Once the Electoral College trumps MIT, religious doctrine trumps scientific inquiry. If the American people vote the right way, it means an end to global warming, no matter what thermometers are registering in Oklahoma City.

And so much for evolution. It was a nice theory while it lasted.

Rather than listening to the likes of Dawkins, we'll embrace the wisdom of State Sen. Stephen Wise of Jacksonville, a Republican, of course, who annually introduces bills that would require a "critical analysis" of evolution in school curriculum. Sen. Wise has posed the great rhetorical question of our age, "Why do we still have apes if we came from them?"

Republicans may have a tougher time cleansing The Da Vinci Code from the national conversation. Despite Carroll's assertion that a media conspiracy was responsible for the 80 million copies sold around the world, I doubt it. Massive sales figures owe more to readers promoting the novel by word-of-mouth than newspaper reporters slyly inserting Da Vinci Code references into their coverage of the Miami City Commission. (If the press had the power to decide international best-sellers, we'd start by making sure our own Dave Barry no longer had to work weekends as an exotic dancer.)

Me, I've never even read The Da Vinci Code. A few plodding minutes into the movie version made me miss the Tom Hanks of Sleepless in Seattle. Hanks, denying an anti-religion conspiracy, described the movie as a story "loaded with all sorts of hooey and fun kind of scavenger-hunt-type nonsense."

As the Republicans jostle for the presidential nomination, it has become clear that other accepted theories may be jettisoned in favor of some far-right hooey and nonsense. The rejection of global warming has become a Tea Party litmus test. Bachmann needed no medical evidence to rail against vaccines. Both Perry and Bachmann embrace peculiar assumptions about homosexuality. Perry likes to compare homosexual behavior to alcoholism. "'Even if an alcoholic is powerless over alcohol once it enters his body, he still makes a choice to drink," he wrote in his 2008 book On My Honor: Why the American Values of the Boy Scouts Are Worth Fighting For (with sales, thanks to the media conspiracy, slightly fewer than The Da Vinci Code.) "And, even if someone is attracted to a person of the same sex, he or she still makes a choice to engage in sexual activity with someone of the same gender."

Not all the Republican candidates are at war with science. Last month, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman tweeted to all the world, "To be clear. I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy."

Such sentiments have left Huntsman with about one percent support among likely Republican voters, far behind the anti-science candidates.

Clearly, Huntsman's problem is that he's not crazy enough.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Alternative medicine 'unscientific,' study warns


Tom Blackwell Sep 30, 2011 – 6:59 AM ET | Last Updated: Sep 29, 2011 9:40 PM ET

A new study of more than 50 Canadian naturopaths concludes the popular alternative-health professionals mostly promote remedies that have no proven scientific validity.

Treatments and tests such as homeopathy, chellation and colon cleanses figure prominently on the naturopaths' websites, yet research suggests they have little value beyond the placebo effect, concludes the review by a prominent University of Alberta health-policy professor.

The findings call into question the practitioners' repeated claims that their work is based on empirical evidence, says the paper spearheaded by Timothy Caulfield, holder of the university's Canada research chair in health law and policy.

"This review of what they advertise as their core services paints a picture of a profession that has embraced practices that are remarkably unscientific," the authors conclude in the journal Allergy, Asthma and Clinical Immunology.

"The profession should not just use the language of science, it must embrace and act on the conclusions of scientific inquiry."

The researchers looked at the websites of 53 naturopaths in Alberta and British Columbia, identifying the most commonly promoted services. They include homeopathy, which uses solutions where active ingredients have been diluted to molecular-scale concentrations.

The preponderance of studies has shown them to be ineffective, the paper says.

A representative for naturopaths in Ontario, however, argues there is ample evidence supporting the effectiveness of homeopathy, and that generally the practitioners base their treatment on good research.

"This is a very common misconception," Leigh Arseneau said about the study's critique.

"When you pile all the levels of evidence that we use — epidemiological evidence, cohort studies, systemic reviews, randomized controlled trials — when you pile all the evidence together, there is a sea of evidence we use in a very patient-centred manner."

National Post tblackwell@nationalpost.com

Creationism, Science And The Purpose Of Higher Education


Michael Zimmerman, Ph.D.

Founder, The Clergy Letter Project
GET UPDATES FROM Michael Zimmerman, Ph.D.

Posted: 9/30/11 12:56 PM ET

Could there be a better time to think about what a college education means than at the start of a new academic year? As a long-time academic administrator, I've given countless talks about the value of a liberal arts education. Indeed, as I write this, I'm preparing to do just that again tomorrow morning at the opening session of The Evergreen State College's Tacoma campus.

As I have in virtually every one of my talks, and as I will in the morning, I'll discuss how a liberal arts education prepares students to become active, engaged citizens by helping them communicate well, think critically, work collaboratively and develop a passion for learning. I'll encourage students to make wise choices, both academically and socially, and to think about ways to play leadership roles in their community. In essence, I'll urge students to use their time in college to make better lives for themselves while helping to make a richer environment for those around them.

Oddly enough, I've just discovered that a very powerful group is promoting a very different message for students heading off to college. It is a disturbing message and one that undercuts the very core of what higher education is supposed to be about.

The group is Focus on the Family and the message to students is that they should be very careful not to be swayed by what they might learn in college. Although the content might seem odd, the presentation, not surprisingly, is slick. Focus on the Family has teamed up with Stephen Meyer, Director of the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute, to produce a DVD series entitled TrueU.

Meyer, the Discovery Institute and Focus on the Family are major players in the anti-science campaign so dominant in the United States today that relentlessly promotes the absurd belief that modern science leads to atheism. TrueU is not subtle in its message. Meyer warns parents that their offspring are in danger of undergoing a "faith-ectomy" while participating in "higher education."

Why, you might ask, did I put higher education in quotation marks in the above sentence? Simple. That's exactly the way that onenewsnow.com described Meyer's comments. And I hasten to add that onenewsnow.com is the news outlet for the American Family Association, a fundamentalist Christian group designated as a "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The article goes on to report Meyer's concerns: "He laments that students entering Christian colleges and universities are not necessarily immune. 'It can be very disorienting if you have biologists who are Christians but Darwinists, or psychologists who are Christians but behaviorists who think that all human behavior is determined by genes and environment,' Dr. Meyer notes."

The TrueU series also embraces another related view that is being widely promoted across the States today: beware of the educated elite and their expertise. The introduction to the series is described by the publisher in no uncertain terms: "This 45-minute DVD introduces the TrueU series and shares stories of students who were tested and stood in opposition to false worldviews." Jay, one of the students portrayed, says, "In college you hear the words 'experts' and 'facts' thrown around all the time."

What's not at all surprising is that this attack on "expertise" is associated with Stephen Meyer and the Discovery Institute. The Discovery Institute, after all, worked closely with the creationists on the Texas State Board of Education when they reworked the state's science curriculum in 2009. During that fiasco, Don McLeroy, then chair of the Board, weighed in on his perception of the importance of evolution. Rather than rebutting the data offered by experts on the topic, he simply ranted. "I disagree with these experts. Somebody's gotta stand up to experts."

So, according to Meyer and Focus on the Family, colleges are filled with "experts" who see their job as coercing youth to accept their godless worldview. And these godless "experts" have apparently even taken over Christian colleges and universities.

Conspiracy theories of this sort seem pretty farfetched and a far more rational explanation of the situation comes immediately to mind: perhaps those godless experts at Christian colleges aren't godless at all. Perhaps accepting the basics of biology need not call anyone's faith into question. Rather than merely offering this alternative hypothesis, I can offer ample evidence to support it. The Clergy Letter Project consists of more than 13,000 religious leaders who are anything but godless and who all accept evolution.

Obviously, my view of the value of a college education differs markedly from that proffered by Meyer. And, obviously, my advice for college students has nothing in common with his. We are so far apart that I struggled to find something productive to offer Meyer and the TrueU series. Finally, though, I decided that I could suggest a theme song that would fully encapsulate their worldview.

With apologies to Ed and Patsy Bruce for the slight rewording of their classic country tune, I recommend that TrueU move immediately to adopt the following as their theme song: "Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Students."