NTS LogoSkeptical News for 25 November 2011

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Friday, November 25, 2011

Atheism, Creationism, or …


By Brad Fregger

As we move into high gear in our efforts to elect the next president, the question of whether the candidate believes in science or religion will inevitably be brought up. If for no other reason than to align those that believe in a God (I prefer Universal Consciousness), with those that believe that the universe and all that it encompasses was created approximately 8,000 years ago … thereby, eliminating them as viable candidates for the office of president of the United States of America.

Since Progressives (Liberals/Democrats) cannot run on their true agenda or their accomplishments, they are forced to malign their opponents through the use of misrepresentations, even lies, in order to defeat them at the poles. As we know, there are many who either embrace the lies as a necessity to getting done what they believe must get done, or accept the lies as truth, blindly following those who they believe have their, or society's best interests at heart. This was graphically demonstrated by the attack on Herman Cain's integrity in his dealings with women. Even the most ardent Democrats must realize that those accusations were completely without merit and that the two major accusers most likely had agendas of their own that aligned with the needs of the Progressive agenda and had nothing to do with sexual harassment.

The belief in God, or a Universal Consciousness is another area that the Progressives will do all in their power to misrepresent and, sadly, many who also believe in a something beyond humankind's understanding exists, will be sucked into the lie and, thereby, make the wrong decision; vote for the wrong person. Get Free Shipping at Calendars.com with code CJFS11. Shop now!

The problem is exacerbated because the MSM (main stream media) will support the lies perpetrated by the liberal agenda. This is a great sadness because they have a responsibility to do the necessary research to present to the voting public, the truth. Well, in this case, at least, they have failed miserably.

First, let's define terms that we must have agreement on:

Creationism: The belief that the world was created by a living God between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago. And, that God is still very active in the Universe and in our individual lives.

This definition is different from Webster's, which is:

a doctrine or theory holding that matter, the various forms of life, and the world were created by God out of nothing and usually in the way described in Genesis — compare evolution.

However, Webster's definition causes a major problem:

How do we differentiate between those that believe there was an intelligent force involved in creation and those that believe the Bible literally, actually counting the generations since Adam?

To make matters worse, Webster goes to on to add that "creationism" is the counter to "evolution," as if these are our only two choices.

This is quite a leap since the Theory of Evolution, as developed by Darwin, says nothing about the creation of the universe, the creation of life, nor the creation of new species.

Darwin's major achievement was the discovery of how species adapt to changing environments. This mechanism is now well proven and seems to operate at an even more rapid pace than Darwin anticipated. Regarding the creation of new species, Darwin's thoughts on this were entirely speculation: "Analogy would lead me one step further, namely, to the belief that all animals and plants are descended from some one prototype. But analogy may be a deceitful guide."

The idea that the Theory of Evolution explains the creation of life is the most ridiculous assumption of all, since the identified processes by which the evolution of species operates depend on the existence of life. This is not a "chicken or the egg" dilemma, life must exist before evolution can take place.

Regardless, most scientists and, of course the MSM, see the biological evolution of species, and the creation of life itself, as a gradual process taking tens of thousands of generations—millions of years—to achieve.

Many scientists want so badly to take "God" out of the equation, that they insist that evolution explains everything about creation, and then try their best to ram this weak hypothesis down our throats; even to the extent as attacking the intelligence of those that disagree. While it is their contention that evolution explains everything that is very weak; there are all kinds of issues that haven't been solved. This hypothesis is not ready for prime time. But, fanatics of all stripes will do everything they can to prove their point, including lying and exaggerating.

To clarify things, a few more definitions:

There are many varieties of Theists; the spectrum includes three major beliefs: first, those that believe God started things going, but may no longer be around; second, those that believe that the universe, its infinite possibilities, its majesty and beauty, its miracles and surprises, all that life encompasses can only be explained by the existence of a Universal Consciousness; and, finally, those that believe that God is still very much involved, passing judgment on how we are living life, on the decisions we are making, and on whether we will spend the rest of eternity in heaven or hell.

Creationists are the most conservative of the theists; while the agnostic, someone who isn't quite sure what's going on but isn't ready to toss God under the bus, is the most liberal. The beliefs of the vast majority of us fall somewhere on this spectrum.

Again, Webster confuses the issue by suggesting that those of us who believe that there is a Universal Consciousness involved in creation are aligned with the believers in creationism.

This allows the media and atheists to categorize an entire believing community as conservative religious fanatics, while nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the percentage of us who believe what the true creationists believe is actually fairly small, probably less than ten percent of the people who believe that there is a Universal Consciousness.

Yet, the ignorant media sees only two choices: you are either a Darwinist/atheist or a creationist. In other words, you either believe that God doesn't exist now and has never existed, or you believe that the world was created between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago by a living God that judges our day-to-day activities, deciding our ultimate fate.

This leaves no place for those of us who believe that something is going on that can only be explained by a Universal Consciousness. We may not be able to define that consciousness, but we have faith that it exists; faith based on personal experiences that can be explained in no other way.

The media's attitude is extremely narrow-minded and has led to a great amount of confusion, confusion that has led to some wrong-thinking decisions, where people who have a faith find themselves more in alignment with the atheists because they cannot align themselves with creationists.

Most agree it is naïve to believe that God created the Universe 6,000 to 10,000 years ago. To believe that, you have to believe that the entire Universe, everything from fossils to the distant galaxies, is a fraud, designed to test the strength of our faith. This is just another way of thinking that humanity (the Earth) is in the center of the Universe and we all know how ignorant that belief turned out to be.

I don't know what this conscious force in the Universe is, but I do know that it's not a fraud, and wouldn't play these types of games. For this reason, I cannot align myself with the creationists.

But, neither can I accept the premise that everything I have seen, everything I know, everything that I have experienced is the result of some cosmic accident or series of accidents. Some of my personal experiences cannot be explained by a cosmic accident or an unusual coincidence.

The result: Me, and millions like me, are left out of the discussion.

However, I refuse to be left out of the discussion. How about you?

(This post was take from Brad Fregger's essay, "Why Does Anybody Believe in God?")

Brad Fregger is President and CEO of Groundbreaking Press and a lecturer (professor) at Texas State University-San Marcos. He founded three corporate-training departments (Mervyns Department Stores, Atari, and Activision), and was featured in Tom Peters' book Liberation Management. He is the author of seven books, including: Lucky That Way – Stories of Seizing the Moment While Creating the Games Millions Play, Get Out of The Way! – You'll Never Manage Your Way to Great Leadership, My Thinking Cap – Solutions for Global Crisis, One Shovel Full – Telling Stories to Change Beliefs, Attitudes, and Perceptions, Why Publish (book publishing) and, his latest, Why Does Anybody Believe in God? – An Essay on Creation. In addition, he has also written and published articles at four influential, conservative websites: The Moral Liberal, Breitbart's Big Peace, American Thinker, and America's Right.

Brad is a Contributing Editor for The Moral Liberal.

In addition, Brad has produced more than 50 videos, 60 books, 12 audio books, over 100 consumer and business enterprise software products, including the most successful computer game in the world (Shanghai) and the most played computer game in the world (the first commercial version of computer card solitaire).

Fregger holds a Master's Degree in Societal Futures from San Jose State University. Read Brad's full bio here.

Email Brad at: bradfregger@gmail.com

Copyright © 2011 Brad Fregger.

Islamic embryology: overblown balderdash


Category: Bad science • Development • Religion • Stupidity
Posted on: November 23, 2011 3:01 PM, by PZ Myers

I have read the entirety of Hamza Andreas Tzortzis' paper, Embryology in the Qur'an: A scientific-linguistic analysis of chapter 23: With responses to historical, scientific & popular contentions, all 58 pages of it (although, admittedly, it does use very large print). It is quite possibly the most overwrought, absurdly contrived, pretentious expansion of feeble post hoc rationalizations I've ever read. As an exercise in agonizing data fitting, it's a masterpiece.

Here, let me give you the short version…and I do mean short. This is a paper that focuses with obsessive detail on all of two verses from the Quran. You heard me right: the entirety of the embryology in that book, the subject of this lengthy paper, is two goddamned sentences, once translated into English.

We created man from an essence of clay, then We placed him as a drop of fluid in a safe place. Then We made that drop of fluid into a clinging form, and then We made that form into a lump of flesh, and We made that lump into bones, and We clothed those bones with flesh, and later We made him into other forms. Glory be to God the best of creators.

Seriously, that's it. You have just mastered all of developmental biology, as taught by Mohammed.

Tzortzis bloats this scrap into a long, tedious potboiler by doing a phrase by phrase analysis, and by comparing it to the work of Aristotle and Galen, who got lots of things wrong. How, he wonders many times, could Mohammed have written down only the correct parts of the Greek and Roman embryological tradition, and avoided their errors, if he weren't divinely inspired? My answer is easy: because Mohammed only made a vague and fleeting reference to the science of the time, boiling down Aristotle's key concept of an epigenetic transformation into a few non-specific lines of poetry. Aristotle and Galen got a lot wrong because they tried to be specific and wrote whole books on the subject; you can read the entirety of Aristotle's On the Generation of Animals. Galen was prolific and left us about 20,000 pages on physiology and medicine.

So, yes, you can find lots of examples in their work where they got the biology completely wrong, and it's harder to do that in the Quran…because the Quran contains negligible embryological content, and what there is is so sketchy and hazy that it allows his defenders to make spectacular leaps of interpretation. Mohammed avoided the trap of being caught in an overt error here by blathering generalized bullshit, and saying next to nothing. This is neither an accomplishment nor a miracle.

I'll go through his argument piece by piece, but at nowhere near the length. It's hard to believe anyone is using this feeble fragment to claim proof of divinity, but then, Christians do exactly the same thing.

  1. "essence of clay". Tzortzis happily announces that clay contains "Oxygen, Carbon, Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Calcium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Sulfur, Chlorine, Sodium, Magnesium and Silicon; all of which are required for human functioning and development". These are irrelevant factlets. Clay is a fine-grained hydrous aluminum phyllosilicate; carbon, which is the element to consider in organic chemistry, is present as a contaminant, but the primary elements are aluminum and silicon. It's nothing like the composition of the human body. This part of Tzortzis case is simply a lie.

  2. "drop of fluid". Tzortzis tells us that the Arabic word here is "nutfah", which has a number of meanings, but he likes the interpretation that it implies mingled fluids. Then he babbles on about oocytes and spermatazoa and secretions of the oviduct, none of which are mentioned in the Quran and are completely irrelevant. Bottom line: Arabs noticed long ago that sex involves a mingling of fluids. Brilliant. I think most of us could figure that out without divine inspiration.

    He spends a fair amount of time pointing out that both Aristotle and Galen had a male-centric view of procreation, where the man's contribution was the dynamic agent and the woman was a passive vessel. They were wrong. In order to rescue the Quran, though, Tzortzis has to bring in Ibn Qayyim, a 13th century Islamic scholar, who pointed out that women have to provide a significant contribution to inheritance, since their traits are also present in the children. This, again, is an obvious and observable property, and the Greeks also argued over the relative contributions of male and female. There is nothing in the Quran that is beyond casual observation or non-existent in the scholarly works of the time.

  3. "in a safe place". Tzortzis quotes modern embryologists and throws around the terms endometrium, syntrophoblast, implantation, uterine mucosa, proteolytic enzymes, etc., etc., etc. I ask you, is any of that in the quoted verse from the Quran? No. Total bullshit from the apologists. That the embryo grows in a "safe place" — the woman's belly — is another obvious property.

  4. "a clinging form". It seems that the word used here means just about anything.

    The Qur'an describes the next stage of the developing human embryo with the word `alaqah. This word carries various meanings including: to hang, to be suspended, to be dangled, to stick, to cling, to cleave and to adhere. It can also mean to catch, to get caught, to be affixed or subjoined. Other connotations of the word `alaqah include a leech-like substance, having the resemblance of a worm; or being of a 'creeping' disposition inclined to the sucking of blood. Finally, its meaning includes clay that clings to the hand and thick, clotted blood - because of its clinging together.

    I could call the embryo a sticky blob, too, and stretch and twist the words to match it in the vaguest possible way to a technical description, too…but it doesn't make it a technical description, and it doesn't make it informative.

    This section concludes by claiming that the "leech" interpretation of 'alaqah is accurate, because later in development it looks, he claims, like a leech. Only to a blind man. And further, he applies this term "like a leech" to every stage in the first month of development; the accuracy of the comparison seems irrelevant.

  5. "a lump of flesh". More of the same. Take the Arabic word ("mudghah"), throw out a bunch of definitions for the word, then force-fit them all into the actual science.

    The next stage of human development defined in the Qur'an is mudghah. This term means to chew, mastication, chewing, to be chewed, and a small piece of meat. It also describes the embryo after it passes to another stage and becomes flesh. Other meanings include something that teeth have chewed and left visible marks on; and marks that change in the process of chewing due to the repetitive act.

    No. I refuse. I'm sorry, but this is patently ridiculous. You do not get to quote the Quran talking about a chawed on scrap o' meat, and then go on with four pages of windy exegesis claiming that corresponds to the 4th week of human development, the pharyngula stage, as if it is an insightful and detailed and specific description of an embryo. It is not. It is the incomprehending grunt of an ignorant philistine.

  6. "into bones". Yeah. There is a mingling of fluids in sex, and at birth you have a baby with bones. Somewhere in between, bones must have formed. You do not get credit for noting the obvious without any specifics. Furthermore, turning the phrase "into bones" ('idhaam) into this:

    There are clear parallels between the qur'anic `idhaam stage and the view modern embryology takes i.e. the development of the axial, limb and appendicular skeleton. is pure hyperbole and bunkum. But then, that's all we get from Tzortzis.

  7. "clothed the bones with flesh". Tzortzis now talks about myoblasts aggretating and migrating distally, formation of dorsal and ventral muscle masses, innervation of the tissue, and specification of muscle groups. Good god, just stop. The Quran says nothing about any of this. And then to complain that This level of detail is not, however, included in Aristotle's description, is absurd and ironic. It's not in Mohammed's description, either.

  8. It must be noted that the migration of the myoblasts surrounding the bones cannot be seen with the naked eye. This fact creates an impression of the Divine nature of the Qur'an and reiterates its role as a signpost to the transcendent.

    Crap. The Quran doesn't describe myoblast migration. There isn't even a hint that Mohammed saw something you need a microscope to see.

  9. "made him into other forms". Then Allah did all the other stuff that he needed to do to turn a chunk of chewed meat made of bone and flesh into a person. Presto, alakazam, abracadabra. Oooh, I am dazzled with the scrupulous particularity of that scientific description.

There's absolutely nothing novel or unexplainable in the Quran's account of development. It is a vague and poetic pair of verses about progressive development, expressed in the most general terms, so nebulous that there is very little opportunity for disproof, and they can be made to fit just about any reasonable observation. They can be entirely derived from Aristotle's well-known statement about epigenesis, "Why not admit straight away that the semen...is such that out of it blood and flesh can be formed, instead of maintaining that semen is both blood and flesh?", which is also a very broad statement about the gradual emergence of differentiated tissues from an amorphous fluid.

Only a blinkered fanatic could turn that mush into an overwrought, overextended, overblown, strained comparison with legitimate modern science. Tzortzis's paper is risible crackpottery.

Author Brings Light About Religion and Science in New Book


Michael Ebifegha examines these two worldviews within the framework of science

TORONTO, Nov. 25, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- Scientists cannot rule out the relevance of a Creator in establishing a mathematical and scientific world just as they cannot rule out the relevance of Albert Einstein in establishing the relation E = mc2. This is the basic theme that drives author Michael Ebifegha's Creation or Evolution?

Creation is a primary process and is the reason for the basic kinds of living things, such as, people, cats and dogs. Evolution, on the other hand, is a secondary process and is one of the reasons that there are variations within each basic kind of living things, such as the different breeds of cats and dogs. Creation or Evolution? argues that creation and evolution are simply natural processes and as such a correct scientific worldview must embrace the fact that evolution as a secondary mechanism cannot displace creation as the primary mechanism.

"There is much to debate, but the bottom line is this: if you are already a believer in creationism, this book is for you. If you're a staunch evolutionist, you will find fault with every sentence. Whichever belief system you subscribe to, this book is unlikely to change your mind." - BlueInk Review

The fact that creation and evolution must be viewed respectively as primary and secondary processes allows scientists to be viewed as scientists and not as creationists or evolutionists which are religious designations or beliefs. A belief is a belief whether it has theistic or atheistic sentiments. Creation or Evolution? demonstrates how a purely evolutionary worldview is a myth. A world that is created and one that evolved will be characteristically different and Creation or Evolution? provides the reader a glimpse of the scenarios.

Creation or Evolution? is available online and can be purchased at http://www.Amazon.com and http://www.BarnesandNoble.com.

About the Author

Michael Ebifegha is married with three daughters and they live in Toronto. He graduated from the University of Toronto with a PhD in physics and a Bachelor of Education degree in science and mathematics. He earned a certificate in Religious studies from the Toronto Catholic School Board. He is the author of The Death of Evolution, The Darwinian Delusion, and Creation or Evolution?

Creation or Evolution? by Michael Ebifegha
Publication Date: March 29, 2011
Paperback: $16.95; 178 pages; ISBN 978-1450289023

To request a complimentary paperback review copy, you may contact Mary Clark at BookWhirl.com by phone at (877) 207-1679 or by email at Info@BookWhirl.com.

This press release was issued through eReleases(R). For more information, visit eReleases Press Release Distribution at http://www.ereleases.com.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Ontario Physicians Duty Bound to Keep Quiet About CAM


Posted on 11/23/11 at 6:10pm by Benzinga Staff

TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - Nov. 23, 2011) - This month, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO) posted a revision of their draft policy on "Non-Allopathic (Non-Conventional) Therapies in Medical Practice," a policy meant to guide doctors on their use or promotion of alternative medicine. The Centre for Inquiry (CFI [FREE Stock Trend Analysis]) Canada is pleased with the changes to the document but warns that it still fails to protect the freedom of Ontario physicians to communicate the dangers of untested or unproven alternative medical therapies and protect Ontarians from potential harm.

The lobbying efforts of the Committee for the Advancement of Scientific Skepticism (CASS) at CFI Canada has resulted in a change from the contentious label of "Non-allopathic Medicine" to "Complementary and Alternative Medicine" (CAM), as well as a greater emphasis in the policy on scientific evidence as a basis for the use of a specific medical treatment. Unfortunately, the document still advises Ontario physicians to refrain from "...expressing personal non-clinical judgements" about CAM, especially about a therapy they are unfamiliar with, even if it is medically absurd like homeopathy.

"While we are happy with the changes," said Iain Martel, co-chair of CASS and a co-author of CFI Canada's response, "we feel the muzzling of physicians in this way devalues the years of scientific education they have, and puts Ontarians at risk of missing an important opportunity to discuss potentially harmful CAM therapies with their doctor."

The council of the CPSO meets on November 29th 2011 to approve the new draft policy and CFI Canada hopes that this criticism of the document will spur the council to make the changes to the policy in order to protect Ontarians from dubious medicine.

Agenda for the CPSO council meeting: http://www.cpso.on.ca/aboutus/council/default.aspx?id=1414

About the Committee for the Advancement of Scientific Skepticism (CASS) and the Centre for Inquiry Canada (CFI): CASS is a national team that critically engages with scientific, technological and medical claims made in public discourse. We address factual inaccuracies and misinformation in public debates by promoting evidence-based science. CASS is a subset of CFI. CFI is the leading freethought organization in Canada promoting reason, science, secularism and freedom of inquiry.

Dr. Andrew Weil, Alternative Medicine Guru, Will Ask County to Cover Costs of Workers Who Visit Pseudo-Scientific Health Center


Quackademic Medicine
By Ray Stern Wed., Nov. 23 2011 at 5:24 PM
Categories: Quackademic Medicine

Dr. Andrew Weil, alternative medicine guru, will ask the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors to cover employees who choose to visit his pseudo-scientific health center.

Weil is the founder of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, and has helped establish medical residency programs in some U.S. hospitals. He's been at the center of several controversies due to his promotion of pseudo-scientific medical ideas and drugs like Ecstasy. He's also the guy who supposedly once snitched on LSD-using legend Timothy Leary.

On Monday, Weil is scheduled to pitch the Supervisors on the "opportunity to enter into an agreement to establish a health center in Phoenix that offers world class integrative health care treatments," according to a news release.

Integrative medicine is a fancy term for health care that incorporates non-traditional, scientifically unproven (or even debunked) treatments like herbal remedies and acupuncture.

County spokeswoman Terri Mulholland tells us that Weil won't be asking the county for any money. She sent us an excerpt for the Board's agenda, which shows that the plan does indeed involve money -- though the costs are hidden.

Weil wants the county to add his center to the list of approved providers for the county's employee health-benefits plan. That way, county employees and their dependents could more easily take advantage of the center's treatments. The county would benefit by access to health data (minus the patient identifiers) for a three-year study of integrative medicine.

The best part about this deal for Weil and his center, as far as we can tell, is that he risks nothing. The county benefits plan, meanwhile, is betting that the integrative medicine treatments are worth the money and will have to pay either way.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Disco. 'tute: Evolution is a "terrifying cripple," "bang[ing] its crutches through…Hell"


Category: Creationism • Culture Wars • Policy and Politics
Posted on: November 21, 2011 10:46 PM, by Josh Rosenau

The Discovery Institute is celebrating the 20th anniversary of Darwin on Trial, the mediocre book that inspired their movement. As part of the celebration, David Berlinski pounded out one of his typical droning missives from his recliner in Paris. As happens so often with the Disco. 'tute, there's little novelty to the argument, but along the way he managed to stick a thumb in the eye of anyone living with a disability:

In Darwin on Trial, …[i]t was the great case of Darwin et al v. the Western Religious Tradition that occupied his attention. The issue had been joined long before Johnson wrote. But the case had not been decided. It had not been decisively decided and like some terrifying cripple, it had continued to bang its crutches through all the lower courts of Hell and Dover, Pennsylvania.

First, "cripple" is not the preferred term and hasn't been for a long time. Second, people who use crutches are not "terrifying." Third, I'm not sure why Berlinski is consigning anyone who uses crutches to "the lower courts of Hell." I do know where he and whoever let him put this on the Disco. 'tute website and in the DI Twitter stream can go.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Judge Sends NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab to Jury Trial for Firing Employee Who Discussed Intelligent Design


Evolution News & Views November 21, 2011 4:00 PM | Permalink

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ruled Friday that a jury will decide whether NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) unlawfully discriminated against a former employee for discussing the scientific theory of intelligent design (ID) at work.

David Coppedge, a 14-year JPL veteran and team lead computer administrator on the Cassini Mission to Saturn, was demoted for lending ID-related DVDs to coworkers, behavior that one JPL complainant called "harassment," and another branded "pushing religion." After he filed suit to vindicate his free expression rights, JPL terminated Coppedge.

Evidence shows that JPL demoted and terminated Coppedge because he expressed a pro-ID scientific viewpoint disliked at JPL and labeled "religion" by JPL decision-makers.

"The court's ruling allows a jury to vindicate David Coppedge's rights," said Joshua Youngkin, a legal affairs policy analyst with Discovery Institute. "California law forbids employers who view an employee's expression as religion to punish or diminish the employee on that basis."

"Although ID is not religion, it can't be singled out by JPL or other employers in this way," added Youngkin.

In its ruling, the court found there "are triable issues of fact as to whether Plaintiff's demotion, written warning, negative performance evaluations, and ultimate termination were adverse employment actions" that involved discrimination.

Coppedge is represented by William J. Becker Jr. of the Becker Law Firm, who was supported in the case by Alliance Defense Fund. The case number is BC435600.

In the past year, the California Science Center, University of Kentucky, and the journal Applied Mathematics Letters each paid thousands of dollars to avoid trial for suppressing Darwin-doubting viewpoints.

According to Youngkin, "The upcoming JPL trial will remind employers that it is costly to discriminate against ID in the workplace."

For more information see here.

"Ayurgenomics": The return of woo-omics


Respectful Insolence

"A statement of fact cannot be insolent." The miscellaneous ramblings of a surgeon/scientist on medicine, quackery, science, pseudoscience, history, and pseudohistory (and anything else that interests him)

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

Category: Alternative medicine • Clinical trials • Medicine • Quackery

Posted on: November 21, 2011 3:00 AM, by Orac

Every so often, I come across something in the world of woo that leaves my jaw dangling from its joint in utter astonishment that anyone could think such a thing was a good idea. Sometimes these things are investigations into various paranormal phenomena. Sometimes, it's the latest anti-science denialist screed from a creationist. Other times, it's a contortion of science so egregious that I can't believe anyone would actually do it--or that anyone would actually mistake that woo for good science.

This time around, it's genomics that's being abused.

This is a topic that, although I don't write about it very often, irritates the crap out of me, and that's the abuse of new genomics technologies. I first started noticing it when Dean Ornish reported the results of a rather poorly designed cDNA microarray experiment as evidence that his dietary manipulation changed expression levels of genes related to carcinogenesis. Around the same time, I noticed that the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) was soliciting applications for applying genomics and other "omics" technologies to existing clinical samples from previous clinical trials of "complementary and alternative medicine" (CAM) therapies. I was so impressed by this Request for Applications (RFA) that I referred to it as "woo-omics." After that, there wasn't much about woo-omics; so I didn't write about it, although I did write a fair amount about the application of genomics technologies to science-based medicine and putting the results of the Human Genome Project and Cancer Genome Atlas into perspective. I found all of this very interesting, but it had nothing to do with alternative medicine or CAM. And it was good.

At least, it was good until this weekend, when I came across a misapplication that led the term "woo-omics" to come back into my brain.

I don't remember how this came to my attention, but it did. It's an article that appeared in ACS Chemical Biology entitled Ayurgenomics: A New Way of Threading Molecular Variability for Stratified Medicine. I kid you not. It's courtesy of Mitali Mukerji at the Institute of Genomics & Integrative Biology (IGIB) in New Delhi, India. Her webpage on the IGIB website even lists her interests as the pplication of polymorphisms in mapping mutations and disease origins in SCAs; Ayur-genomics: exploring the principles of predictive medicine in Ayurveda; and Alu elements in genome organization and function. It all sounds so science-y, and--who knows?--interest numbers one and three sound reasonable enough. But interest number two? Not so much. In fact, it sounds about as far from science as you can get. Think of it this way: It sounds like science; it acts like science; it tries to use the language of science; but it's not science. Get a load of the rationale for the article. After discussing the difficulties in genome-wide association studies in "pinning down human physiology to a few loci," Mukerji writes:

We found this challenge very stimulating, and our understanding of population-wide variability across Indian populations (IGV Consortium)(6) provided a major thrust to further our quest for understanding the variability in healthy individuals. The head start came from the fact that there exists an exquisitely elaborate system of predictive and personalized medicine in India, i.e., Ayurveda, which has been practiced for over 3500 years. The system already has a built-in framework for stratifying healthy individuals who differ in susceptibility to disease and response to drug and environment. In contrast to the empirical approach of contemporary medicine, the Ayurveda therapeutic regimen is tailored to an individual's physiology. Though this system has fueled many drug discovery approaches and some attempts into its integration in pharmacogenetics have been made,(7, 8) a systematic analysis of underlying principles has been lacking. In order to undertake integration of this most ancient system of medicine, which is scripted in Sanskrit, with the language of modern genomics and medicine, we undertook this endeavor with a trans-disciplinary team of researchers. For the first time we could demonstrate molecular evidence for these concepts and build a framework for "Ayurgenomics", which can provide impetus to personalized medicine.(9, 10) We provide a perspective of the concepts and also the further prospects in this field (Figure 1). The original Sanskrit verses with their meanings are available as supplementary online material in our prior publications.

Now, it was news to me that Ayurveda had "fueled many drug discovery approaches"; so I looked up the two articles referenced. Like Mukerji's article, these references looked at the three major constitutions postulated in Ayurveda under the Prakriti classification. One article was in a woo journal of highly dubious value and postulated a "reasonable" correlation between Prakriti classification and certain Prakriti types, while the other article was a commentary suggesting using Prakriti and asserts that the "concept of Prakriti or human constitution plays a central role in understanding health and disease in Ayurveda, which is similar to modern pharmacogenomics." Basically, the whole article argues that, because a few useful compounds from Ayurveda, that Ayurveda could be useful as a basis for drug discovery and the development of "personalized medicine."

Not knowing what the heck Prakriti is, I decided to look it up. Thanks to Wikipedia and other sources, I now know that in Hinduism Prakriti is the "basic nature of intelligence by which the universe exists and functions" and the "primal motive force." In Ayurveda, it's used to refer to a body type in Ayurveda. Here is a test to determine one's Prakriti. Based on the results, one is classified according to three Doshas: Vata, Pitta and Kapha. These three Doshas can be combined into ten ways to produce ten body types. Now, certainly some of these characteristics likely have something to do with health ("overweight, difficult to lose weight," for instance, or "fair skin, sun burns easily," the latter of which could indicate susceptibility to skin cancer). However, just because body types based on a system of classification that is more or less based on an Indian form of vitalism ("primal motive force" or "basic nature of instelligence") might coincidentally have something to do with discoveries found later does not mean that the basis of the system upon which these body types are based has any external scientific validity. One might as well perform omics analyses on people to predict responses to homeopathy. Yet somehow Mukerji thinks that somehow using integrating knowledge of these Doshas into genomics will lead to better control groups and the discovery of biomarkers of disease whose utility will be accentuated by using them in concert with information about Doshas:

An individual's basic constitution, Prakriti, is described to be a consequence of the relative proportion of Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. These proportions of Tridoshas are not only genetically determined (Shukra Shonita) but also influenced by the environment during development, especially maternal diet and lifestyle. Prakriti is fixed at the time of birth and remains invariant throughout the individual's lifespan. Ethnicity (Jatiprasakta), familial characteristics (Kulanupatini), and geo-climatic regions (Deshanupatini) are also implicated in influencing phenotypic variability through their effect on Tridoshas and Prakriti. Thus, most of the factors such as ethnicity, geography, and environment that contribute to interindividual variability at the genetic or epigenetic levels are embedded in Ayurveda's concept of Prakriti. In an individual, the Tridoshas work in conjunction and maintain homeostasis throughout the lifetime of the individual.

Why it is necessary to use a religion-based system in order to ascertain information about a patient's body habitus, familial characteristics, ethnicity, and other traits relevant to disease, I don't know, but apparently Mukerji thinks that we do. None of this prevents Mukerji from proposing this system for "weaving the threads of molecular variability through Ayurgenomics":

This is proposed even though Mukerji basically points out that Prakriti is basically very much like the four humors in "Western" medicine and the five elements in traditional Chinese medicine:

Ayurvedic practitioners deconvolute the "mixture impression" thus obtained to identify proportions of Vata, Pitta, and Kapha in an individual's Prakriti. This "subjective" assessment (which was objectivized to a scoring system through a questionnaire) considers different phenotypic attributes of an individual and links these multiple windows to create intraindividual phenotype-to-phenotype links. A disease according to Ayurveda is a perturbation of Vata, Pitta, and Kapha in an individual from his or her homeostatic state. Ayurvedic treatment aims to bring it back to its native state by appropriate dietary and therapeutic regime.

"Bring it back to its native state"? That sounds a lot to me like "bringing the humors back into balance" or, if you're an aficionado of traditional Chinese medicine, bringing the five elements back into balance. I do like the science-y sounding referencs to "different phenotypic attributes" and somehow creating "intraindividual phenotype-to-phenotype links." It's the sort of meaningless gobbledygook that impresses those who don't know anything about the subject but leads those who do to collapse in fits of hysterical giggling.

Mukerji continues:

Ayurveda describes not only the functional attributes of Vata, Pitta, and Kapha but also their contribution on different scales in seven different constitutions. Therefore, Ayurveda already has a stratified approach as its basic tenet for personalizing therapy. Thus we felt that integration of this stratified approach could complement approaches to development of personalized medicine while gaining insights into systems biology. We realized that before making any attempt toward this endeavor we would have to address an ontological challenge in connecting together the literature from Ayurveda, modern medicine, and molecular biology.

Again, why combining Ayurvedic literature with modern medicine and molecular biology would be a good thing is not explained. To me, that would be a lot like taking the writings of Hippocrates and combining them with the latest cutting edge molecular and systems biology techniques. It would be highly unlikely to be informative or helpful. One might as well take the Edwin Smith papyrus, which described ancient Egyptian medicine, and combine it with the latest omics techniques. The priest-physicians of ancient Egypt would probably have as much or more to say to modern scientists than the writers of the ancient texts of Ayurveda. One wonders why somewhere, somehow, someone doesn't try to resurrect ancient Egyptian medicine.

Not surprisingly, Mukerji cites a lot of her own work in this review article, including an article from 2008 entitled Whole genome expression and biochemical correlates of extreme constitutional types defined in Ayurveda, which Steve Salzberg, a systems biologist and skeptic, looked at in 2008. He was not impressed, and neither was I when I read the paper. Basically, Mukerji and her co-investigators partitioned subjects into the three Doshas based on Ayurvedic principles, but in reality the vast majority of the classification is simply based on body type and body habitus. That's why, when the authors found that genes associated with an elevated risk of cardiovascular disease are more highly expressed in Kapha males, it's not particularly surprising, given that Deepak Chopra and others characterizes Kapha as prone to obesity. In other words, so what if Mukerji found differences in gene expression based on Ayurvedic body types. They're different body types, and we already know that people with different body habitus can be prone to different kinds of diseases. Ayurveda adds nothing new to this knowledge, much less suggests a rationale upon which to base a new "omics" discipline. Taking studies like this and proposing something as ridiculous as "Ayurgenomics" does nothing more than show how far believers in pseudoscience will go to try to conjure up a seemingly scientific justification for their woo. Remember, Doshas resemble, more than anything else, the Indian version of the Four Humors. Do we try to fit humoral theory into a new "omics" discipline? No, we don't, although I fear that some day someone might try.

Unfortunately, as Steve Salzberg points out, NCCAM is funding grants like R21AT001969, which funds the "Ayurvedic Center for Collaborative Research." A quick search for NCCAM grants funding Ayurveda on NIH Reporter reveals several grants in Ayurvedic medicine funded by NCCAM, including Ayurvedic alternatives in autoimmunity and A whole systems approach to the study of Ayurveda for cancer survivorship. One wonders how long it will be before NCCAM starts funding "Ayurgenomics" projects.

I fear it won't be long.

More importantly, I want to know how crap like this finds its way into decent journals like ACS Chemical Biology and PNAS (which one of Mukerji's articles also found its way into). If you want to point to a failure of peer review, there's the place to start.

Galileo And the Woes of Quantum Physicists


Victoria Pynchon, Subscriber

It was 1633 when Galileo was found "suspect of heresy" for asserting that the sun is at the center of the universe and that the earth moves around it. Galileo was convicted, briefly jailed, released and spent the remainder of his life under house arrest. Three hundred and fifty-nine years later, Pope Paul the II would declare Galileo right, asserting that faith cannot contradict reason.

Recently, a conservative Catholic group has begged to disagree, asserting once again that Galileo Was Wrong. "Heliocentrism," says the group's leader, is "dangerous" because

"it is being propped up as the true system when, in fact, it is a false system . . . False information leads to false ideas, and false ideas lead to illicit and immoral actions—thus the state of the world today."

Religious actors who blame science for our current moral woes are nothing new, of course. Evolution-doubters in America are so prevalent that our most recent creationism carnival was not 1925's Scope's Trial (see Inherit the Wind) but 2005's Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District lawsuit. Kitzmiller asked an American Court to prohibit the teaching of intelligent design in public schools because it is a form of creationism that violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. After listening to weeks of testimony, the Court agreed, prohibiting the teaching of any theory of life's origin on earth not based on science.

In a representative government such as ours, understanding politicians who believe that Galileo was wrong – or Darwin, or 99% of all scientists who have concluded we are in the midst of a potentially catastrophic climate change is as important a civics lesson as any other topic. And that's why physicist David Deutsch's new book, The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations that Transform the World, is such important reading.

Why People Don't Like New Knowledge

Deutsch's central thesis is that what makes us human is our desire and ability to explain the world to ourselves and others while at the same time making it as hospitable for our species as possible. He suggests, for instance, that our rise to the top of the heap of earth's animals was not opposable thumbs – but our ability to make gloves with opposable thumbs if we needed them.

We are not, he insists Sustainable and haven't been for eons. We survive because we innovate, not because we conserve.

Deutsch believes in the existence of objective, verifiable scientific truth for everything – including morality – an area of human life almost no one agrees is subject to proof. Except for Deutsch. It is an article of faith (or science) for Deutsch that we progress from moral wrong to moral right. As examples he cites the current consensus "that slavery is an abomination, that women should be free to go out to work, that autopsies should be legal, [and] that promotion in the armed forces should not depend on skin colour." These truisms, Deutsch notes, were "highly controversial only a matter of decades ago, and originally the opposite positions were taken for granted."

How did we reach near consensus in such a short period of time? By applying the scientific method to social, cultural and political problems. Deutsch explains that any truth-seeking system works toward consensus because everyone working in the system is gradually eliminating errors and converging on objective truths. But not any truth will do. To achieve consensus, truth must seem useful to a large number of people. If it is not useful, it will not be adopted.

Why Newton?

Newton's laws, for instance, became the objective truth for the manner in which physical objects behave because the people who learned them also learned to build better bridges and design better artillery. Other laws, however, such as how a boy or girl "should" behave in a given society do not achieve consensus based upon truth because the maintenance of those beliefs protect their believers from having to grapple with change.

According to Deutsch, these laws are maintained "by means that suppress the[ir] recipients' critical faculties and ignore their preferences."

"When girls strive to be ladylike and to meet culturally defined standards of shape and appearance, and when boys do their utmost to look strong and not cry when distressed, they are struggling to replicate ancient gender stereotyping that [is] still part of our culture – despite the fact that explicitly endorsing them has become a stigmatized behaviour.

These ideas, says Deutsch, "prevent[] vast ranges of ideas about what sort of life one should lead from ever crossing the holders' minds. If their thoughts ever wander in the forbidden directions, they feel uneasiness and embarrassment, and the same sort of fear and loss of centeredness as religious people have felt since time immemorial at the though of betraying their gods."

Gender Bias

Yesterday, I posted a piece on the science of gender bias, nearly deliriously happy to have one of my favorite blogs, TechCrunch say let's not talk about it without scientific support and when that appears, let's do something to make the system meritocratic or stop writing about it.

This was very Deutschian and I predictably rejoiced.

Denying that which is demonstrably so makes me crazy, probably because the conflict resolutution style of my family of origin was suppression and denial. Yes, mediator's are, like therapists, wounded healers and lawyers rabid fairness and evidence addicts.

But I digress.

Table Topics

We live in weird times where our science has gotten so far ahead of our ancient belief systems (read:religion) that science is nearly as forbidden a Thanksgiving conversational subject as religion. And if you subscribe to Harpers you'll know that the quantum physicists are shrugging their shoulders because their newish multiverse theory requires them to believe in something that's impossible to prove which sounds, you got it, a lot like religion.

So why do I write about the new anti-heliocentric crowd in a negotiation blog? Because if we don't share a few first principles we can't bargain our way out of a paper bag, as Congress has so helpfully demonstrated for us.

We're coming up on a new year in which the party of faith in things that cannot be seem will be fighting to establish its view of America against the party of "prove it." I'm going to do some serious thinking of my own about what we can and can't know, take a stab a putting a little humility back into my own game and listen for the cry for help lurking so close to the surface of any political discussion that we can almost see its periscope. I'm hoping you'll join me.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Evolution education update: November 18, 2011

A new way to support NCSE. A preview of Shawn Lawrence Otto's Fool Me Twice. And the latest batch of videos on NCSE's YouTube channel.


There's a new way to help NCSE to defend the integrity of science education in the public schools. Organizations -- including professional societies of scientists and educators, business associations, charitable foundations, and law firms -- are now eligible to become Supporting Organizations of NCSE. "Joining NCSE is a potent way to support evolution education and defend the integrity of science," explained NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott in a November 16, 2011, press release announcing the debut of NCSE's Supporting Organizations program. "Annual contributions from Supporting Organizations provide a much-needed stable income stream to support NCSE's important work," she added.

Response was enthusiastic, with the A. Robert Kaufman Foundation, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Association of Physical Anthropologists, the American Institute of Biological Sciences, the Paleontological Society, and the Society for the Study of Evolution all enrolling as Supporting Organizations. Alan I. Leshner, the CEO of AAAS and executive publisher of its journal Science, commented, "Every child needs a clear understanding of core scientific principles in order to thrive in the 21st century. AAAS is pleased to join with the NCSE in promoting the integrity of science and science education." Details of the Supporting Organization program are available on NCSE's website.

For the press release, visit:

For details of the Supporting Organization program, visit:


NCSE is pleased to offer a free preview of Shawn Lawrence Otto's Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America (Rodale, 2011). The preview consists of part of chapter 9, "Teaching Evolution: The Values Battle," in which Otto starts to lay the foundation for his discussion of the controversies over the place of evolution in the public schools. "Teaching creationism in school science classes," he writes elsewhere in the chapter, "is teaching a habit of mind that is toxic ... That is not going to take America where we need to go."

The reviewer for Science wrote, "what distinguishes the book is his determination to simultaneously educate and move to action both lay readers and scientists," concluding, "The solutions Otto suggests require a great deal of dedication and optimism. Nonetheless, the problems he identifies are quite real. Fool Me Twice offers a compelling consideration of the United States' political estrangement from science. One would very much like to attend to Otto's equally compelling hopes." Otto is the cofounder and CEO of Science Debate 2008, the largest political initiative in the history of science.

For the preview (PDF), visit:

For information on the book from its publisher, visit:


NCSE is pleased to announce the addition of a further batch of videos featuring Eugenie C. Scott to NCSE's YouTube channel. The highlights are "Evolution and global warming denialism: How the public is misled," a talk for the Glasgow Skeptics in 2011, and "Crusader against creationism," in which Scott was interviewed by the editor-in-chief of the Scientific American Book Club in 2011. And from the archives come "What Americans think of evolution," delivered at the University of Montana in 2000; a talk for a convocation at Southern Utah University in 1995; and "Just when you thought it was safe to teach evolution," delivered at the University of Louisville in 1991. Plus there's a clip featuring Scott from Randall Balmer's 1995 documentary In the Beginning: The Creationist Controversy. Tune in and enjoy!

For NCSE's YouTube channel, 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!

Prince of Wales 'ideologically fixated' about alternative medicine, says Simon Singh


The Prince of Wales refuses to accept the failings of alternative medicine despite compelling evidence that it provides little benefit to patients because he is 'ideologically fixated', one of Britain's leading science writers warned yesterday.

By Matthew Bayley, Kerala

6:00AM GMT 19 Nov 2011

The Prince of Wales refuses to accept the failings of alternative medicine despite compelling evidence that it provides little benefit to patients because he is 'ideologically fixated', one of Britain's leading science writers warned yesterday.

The heir to the throne will not accept that treatments such as homeopathy, acupuncture and chiropractic therapy do not work in the vast majority of cases, according to Simon Singh.

Speaking at the Hay Festival in Kerala, India, Singh said that hundreds of scientific studies had concluded that alternative medicine is ineffective.

Yet despite this, the Prince of Wales continues to believe the therapies can help patients because of his ideological commitment to the natural world, Singh said.

'He only wants scientific evidence if it backs up his view of the natural treatment of health conditions,' he said.

In 2008 Singh co-authored a book entitled 'Trick or Treatment' that set out to look at more than 30 forms of alternative medicine and examine the scientific evidence of their effectiveness.

It was dedicated to the Prince of Wales after the Prince publicly demanded more research to judge whether they worked.

The book – which Singh sent to Clarence House - concluded that in most cases the performance of alternative treatments when compared to conventional medicines are 'dismal'.

Yet the Prince persists with his beliefs, Singh said.

'We presented evidence that disputes the value of alternative medicine and despite this he hasn't changed his mind,' he told the festival, which is sponsore by The Daily Telegraph.

This is because he is 'ideologically fixated' about the benefits of nature, he claimed. 'It's a shame, because he's so influential.'

Such is the Prince's belief in the natural world that he believes in climate change despite not comprehending it, Singh said.

'Whatever the evidence he would be in favour of combating climate change,'he said. 'But if there wasn't evidence he wouldn't change his mind, I believe.

'I'm sure he doesn't understand the science behind it.'

The Prince is well known for his support of alternative medicine and his campaign to try to combat climate change. He has also spoken out against the development of genetically modified crops.

Singh blames the growing alternative medicine industry partially on celebrity endorsements, including the Prince.

During his talk he was particularly scathing about the benefits of homeopathy - where active ingredients believed to fight illness are diluted so much that they are not present in the final medicine.

He demonstrated his scepticism by taking a handful of homeopathic insomnia pills on stage.

'You'll fall asleep before I do,' he joked to the audience, before railing against alternative medicine practitioners for effectively hoodwinking their patients by giving them 'sugar pills'.

He also attacked the BBC for screening a documentary in 2006 which showed footage of a woman in China undergoing a major operation using acupuncture instead of a general anaesthetic.

It later emerged that the patient had been treated with three major sedatives plus a large amount of local anaesthetic as well as undergoing acupuncture.

Singh is campaigning for alternative medicines to be more fully labelled so that patients can be properly informed about their limited benefits.

Patients have the right to seek natural alternatives to drugs, he said, provided they had been shown the evidence.

He cited the example of Steve Jobs, the Apple founder, who when he was first diagnosed with cancer had ignored medical advice to have surgery and chose to combat it through his diet.

'Jobs had been proved right through his career and had spent his life being told he was wrong and that his devices wouldn't work,' he said.

His conviction he was right probably led him to ignore conventional medicine, he said. Jobs died earlier this year, eight years after he was first diagnosed.

Last year Singh won a court battle with the British Chiropractic Association, who sued him after he accused them of misleading patients over the range of conditions they could treat.

He is now campaigning for a reform of the libel laws and warned yesterday that free debate on scientific issues is being stifled by the fear of legal action.

What I Saw at the Counter-Reformation: A Personal Reminiscence of Phil Johnson


Tom Bethell November 17, 2011 5:45 PM | Permalink

I first heard about Phillip Johnson from a retired lawyer named Norman Macbeth. Two decades earlier Norman had written a marvelous book called Darwin Retried and it made a big impression on me. We became friends. He lived in Spring Valley, north of New York City and I stayed with him several times.

More than once we went to see a friend of his, Ron Brady, who taught philosophy at Ramapo College. He too was a Darwin doubter. Macbeth would take me along to meetings at the American Museum of Natural History, where he introduced me to curators at meetings of the Systematics Study Group. Some were amazingly critical of Darwinism.

One day, in the fall of 1990, Norman told me that he had recently heard from a lawyer at UC Berkeley's law school -- "Boalt Hall," but I hadn't heard of that. The lawyer's name was Phillip Johnson. He had just written a book critical of Darwin, and had sent it along so that Macbeth could render a verdict. He didn't show it to me, but he told me it was excellent.

We were both delighted to know that another lawyer would be entering the lists and helping to make the case against Darwinism. Macbeth died about a year later. It was as though he knew that he had passed on the baton.

It wasn't until the following summer that I met Phil Johnson at his house near Berkeley. By then I had read Darwin on Trial, now celebrating its 20th anniversary. Curiously, the concept of "intelligent design" wasn't explicitly invoked in the book, and ID certainly didn't exist as a movement. An odd parallel is that the word "evolution" doesn't appear in Darwin's Origin of Species. (The word "evolved does occur, once, and it is the last word in the book.)

I was familiar with some of the arguments in Darwin on Trial but I now realize that the key to the book's influence was that religious objections to Darwinism were replaced by scientific and philosophical ones. Macbeth's book had done the same but it never achieved the resonance of Phil's book.

Johnson also began to gather allies around him who became influential in their own right; notably Stephen Meyer, Bill Dembski and Paul Nelson. Michael Behe's book Darwin's Black Box was published in 1996, with encouragement from these new allies.

The Internet still barely existed at the time, but as far as the supporters of Intelligent Design were concerned the new technology was crucial. Making use of it effectively was Johnson's greatest technical achievement. It created the community that we know today. We became aware that many others of like mind were out there. They shared our doubts that intelligence could be achieved mindlessly, by random mutation and selection. The blanket hostility of the press toward any criticism of evolution had until then made it difficult for us to reach each other.

Furthermore, Phil Johnson was a highly skilled and tactful electronic correspondent -- an important gift where email, then a novelty, could give rise to immediate, overheated responses and prompt regrets.

In 2001-2002, the New York Times published a surprisingly straightforward series of articles on Intelligent Design; as though realizing that the troops must be warned about this new enemy. A front-page article by James Glanz in the Times [April 8, 2001] discussed Bill Dembski's "mathematical explanatory filter," among other matters, and noted that Johnson's Darwin on Trial was the "manifesto" of the movement.

Creationism could be ignored or ridiculed, but Intelligent Design obliged Darwinians to defend evolution in the scientific terms that they had insisted were essential. That turned out to be a much more difficult task than anyone (perhaps including Darwin's defenders) had imagined.

Dr. Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland warned that ''the most striking thing about the intelligent design folks is their potential to really make anti-evolutionism intellectually respectable.''

That was the great worry. Condescension and name-calling soon followed. Darwinists' repeated use of the phrase "intelligent design creationism" showed how much they missed their old foe.

Jerry Coyne said that ID was "devilishly clever," while Leonard Krishtalka of the University of Kansas Natural History Museum said that it was "nothing more than creationism dressed in a cheap tuxedo."

A letter writer responding to Glanz's article said that intelligent design was "intellectually barren." He would have expected that Phil Johnson and Michael Behe's books in the 1990s would have been "followed by others exploring the boundaries of this 'new' theory."

But no. "As a scientific enterprise it is stillborn."

Of course, there have been lots more books since 2001. And there will be many more. Those published by Behe, Meyer, Dembski and Jonathan Wells, not to mention others by Phil Johnson, have gone largely unanswered. Moreover, as the complexity of molecular and cellular life becomes ever more daunting, the Victorian-era mechanisms of faith in progress and "laissez-faire economics applied to the animal and vegetable world," as Bertrand Russell described natural selection, will come to seem ever more threadbare and unequal to the task.

Darwin's great promoter Thomas Henry Huxley, anticipating the dawn of evolutionism in the 1850s, knew that he was living through a New Reformation. Today we are witnessing a new Counter-Reformation, I believe, and Phil Johnson will be seen to have been its leading light.

Friday, November 18, 2011

A Secular Case for Intentional Creation


By Clay Farris Naff | November 18, 2011

"Does aught befall you? It is good. It is part of the destiny of the Universe ordained for you from the beginning."

– Marcus Aurelius, Stoic Philosopher and Emperor of Rome, in Meditations, circa 170 CE

"'He said that, did he? … Well, you can tell him from me, he's an ass!"

– Bertie Wooster, fictional P.G. Wodehouse character, in The Mating Season, 1949

People have been arguing about the fundamental nature of existence since, well, since people existed. Having lost exclusive claim to tools, culture, and self, one of the few remaining distinctions of our species is that we can argue about the fundamental nature of existence.

There are, however, two sets of people who want to shut the argument down. One is the drearily familiar set of religious fundamentalists. The other is the shiny new set of atheists who claim that science demonstrates beyond reasonable doubt that our existence is accidental, purposeless, and doomed. My intent is to show that both are wrong.

I do not mean to imply a false equivalence here. Concerning the fundamentalist position, my work is done. Claims of a six-day Creation, a 6,000-year-old Earth, a global flood, and so forth have been demolished by science. It has not only amassed evidence against particular claims but has discovered laws of nature that exclude whole classes of claims. To the extent we can be certain about anything, we can rest assured that all supernatural claims are false.

The "New Atheist" position, by contrast, demands serious consideration. It has every advantage that science can provide, yet it overreaches for its conclusion. The trouble with the "New Atheist" position, as defined above, is this: it commits the fallacy of the excluded middle. I will explain.

But first, if you'll pardon a brief diversion, I feel the need to hoist my flag. You may have inferred that I am a liberal religionist, attempting to unite the scientific narrative with some metaphorical interpretation of my creed. That is not so.

I am a secular humanist who is agnostic about many things — string theory, Many Worlds, the Theo-logical chances of a World Series win for the Cubs – but the existence of a supernatural deity is not among them. What's more, I am one of the lucky ones: I never struggled to let go of God. My parents put religion behind them before I was born.

I tell you this not to boast but in hopes that you'll take in my argument through fresh eyes. The science-religion debate has bogged down in trench warfare, and anyone foolhardy enough to leap into the middle risks getting cut down with no questions asked. But here goes.

Science indeed excludes many possibilities. The conservation laws rule out ghosts who deploy photons to be visible, electromagnetic force to hurl objects, and kinetic wave energy to moan. Miracles are bunk. Like LaPlace, we've no need for a Creator to explain how the world works. But we might in searching for our ultimate origins.

The claim I aim to rebut is that science forces us to conclude that life is accidental, purposeless, and doomed. It's a stance with quite a claque.

The A Team

In the vanguard are its Four Horsemen: neuroscientist Sam Harris, philosopher Daniel Dennett, zoologist Richard Dawkins, and lion of letters Christopher Hitchens. Other notables in the New Atheist ranks include physicists Victor Stenger, Lawrence Krauss, and Sean Carroll, and biologist PZ Myers. Plenty of intellectual heft there.

They have been joined by the world's best-known living scientist. After decades of soft-pedaling "the mind of God," Stephen Hawking came out as an atheist last year. The Lucasian Professor of Mathematics, author of A Brief History of Time, and cameo Simpsons star famously wrote: "It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going."

Fine. Let us add that theory seems to imply a multiverse — an infinite card table where the deck of laws is continually shuffled to deal out every conceivable hand. It may be that the Totalitarian Principle — "Everything not forbidden is compulsory" — demands our presence in a biophilic bubble somewhere in the multiverse. But it ain't necessarily so.

Until some evidence arrives, the pursuit of truth through science obliges us to entertain multiple hypotheses. When it comes to cosmic origins, that must surely include consideration of the idea that our Universe was deliberately created with a purpose in mind. Yet little authentically secular effort has gone into it.

Indeed, any talk of teleology seems to infuriate Dawkins: "What is the purpose of a mountain? What is the purpose of a tsunami? What is the purpose of bubonic plague? Surely you can see that these are just silly questions? Same with the universe."

They are indeed silly — if you assume that a supremely powerful and virtuous deity created the Earth. But that hardly exhausts the possibilities.

To name just one, it may be that the fundamental property of the Universe is information, and that life, the Universe and everything amount to a program running for an obscure purpose. That conceit is captured with mordant humor here.

Why are such secular ideas bruited only by cartoonists and humorists? To be sure, physicists have better things to do. But the deeper reason, I suspect, is social. Scientists adopt methodological naturalism — the working assumption that all phenomena can be explained in terms of impersonal laws and materials. To stray from that assumption is to risk ridicule and loss of credibility — as responses to this essay will no doubt show. Yet, it can legitimately be done. The SETI project's search for a signal from ET is proof of that.

When it comes to cosmic origins, however, religion predisposes nearly everyone to commit to impersonal naturalism or theistic creation. Thus, in opposition to the New Atheists, we find a handful of scientists who are Creationists of varying religious stripe: biochemist Michael Behe, physicists Frank Tipler and Gerald Schroeder, and geneticist Francis Collins, to name a few.

Please do not suppose that in raising these names I salute them. It would be unjust to link my argument with religious Creationism of any calibre. If you're looking for a proper pigeonhole, park me with the SETI scientists.

I am precisely as agnostic about the existence of intelligent life beyond the observable Universe as I am about its existence within it. That is to say, I stand in equipoise 'mid skepticism and hope. And so, in the spirit (if you'll pardon the expression) of T.C. Chamberlin, allow me to sketch an alternative hypothesis for our existence.

Life Is Good

Take the mainstream scientific narrative of cosmic evolution, abiogenesis, and biological evolution as given. Assume, for argument's sake, that humanity will navigate the rapids of history through which we are passing and establish a peaceful, sustainable global civilization.

Darwinian evolution compels most of us to act as if the persistence of life into the future is good. In fact, for those of us in advanced nations, life has become really good in just the last few generations. (Consider how few of us starve to death, lose a child to infectious disease, or risk enslavement.) Assuming that civilization persists, it is reasonable to infer that life will be even better in the future, and that our descendants will want to keep it going.

In the long run, that will require moving beyond Earth (Brace yourselves, Trekkies!), and eventually into the kind of galactic colonization whose absence Fermi famously noted. ("Where are they?")

But in the very long run, as John Maynard Kenyes wryly observed, we are all dead. Everything we know about the Universe, with its dark energy and its goshdarn Second Law, tells us so.

Faced with this inevitability, what will our descendants do? If possible, they will follow the Darwinian imperative: Keep life alive! They will attempt to create a Baby Universe capable of giving rise to life like us.

Swell, you may think, but what has this to do with secular creation? Simple: the Principle of Mediocrity. It tells us that when we have only one data point, we should assume that it lies near the middle of the distribution curve. That being so, if we take the above as granted we would be foolhardy to assume that we will be the first proud parents of a Baby Universe. The ability to procreate a Universe would suggest that ours was so created, and for a similar reason: to keep life alive.

The extravagance and imperfections of the Universe are just what you might expect of imperfect creators doing the best they can with the materials on hand. SETI's failure to date suggests they were none too extravagant! Indeed, nothing of which I am aware counts as evidence against this hypothesis.

All the same, it is falsifiable. I can think of at least two ways it might fail. Perhaps demographer Eric Kaufmann is right: the maximal reproduction rates of fundamentalists in an era of contraception may mean that by the end of the century they will swamp all others. In that case, we can expect that one prophecy, at least, will be fulfilled: Armageddon.

It may also be that new knowledge in physics will conclusively demonstrate that it is simply impossible to create a baby Universe. That day has not yet arrived.

Perhaps I'm an ass, but until it does I remain a hopeful agnostic — hopeful not that some ancient religious myth happens to be true but that life is a gift given in trust that we will pass it on.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Science fights fluoridation


This time around, data and knowledge are trumping paranoia and ideology.

By Jonathan Zimmerman

November 16, 2011

I recently heard the tail end of a radio debate about the fluoridation of water, a perennial American controversy that has spiked once again. One speaker said fluoride guarded against cavities; another said it injured our teeth in the guise of protecting them.

Then the calls started coming in. To one outraged listener, the latest attacks on fluoridation reflected a deeply anti-intellectual strain in American public life. "These people just don't believe in science," the caller complained.

Actually, they do. Unlike earlier generations of anti-fluoridation campaigners, "these people" staked their claims squarely on scientific evidence and argument. That doesn't make them correct, of course. But it does represent a huge victory for science itself.

Across the country, science seems mired in disrepute. Most of the Republican candidates for president, for example, either flatly reject or doubt man-made causes of climate change. And at least three of them have publicly doubted or rejected human evolution.

By contrast, present-day critics of fluoridation embrace scientific rules, methods and practices. Consider Fairbanks, Alaska, one of about 200 jurisdictions that have stopped adding fluoride to their water over the last four years. Following an extensive review by doctors, dentists and scientists, Fairbanks officials decided there simply wasn't enough data to support fluoridation.

About three-quarters of Americans still drink water that has been treated with fluoride. But some experts claim that fluoridation is also responsible for an increase in dental fluorosis, which causes yellow or white spots on teeth. They also warn that too much fluoride can weaken bones, leading to increased risk of fracture.

Most of these critics also acknowledge that limited amounts of fluoride can improve long-term dental hygiene. But they say that people already get enough fluoride from toothpaste, mouthwash and other sources. Are they right? I doubt it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Dental Assn. continue to recommend water fluoridation, which they say reduces tooth decay by 25%. And I'm inclined to follow the lead of the leading professional organizations on matters involving their own vocations.

But I'm also glad that the anti-fluoridators are resting their case on science, which provides a shared framework for dialogue and understanding. And that makes them very different from the nation's first critics who were — to put it mildly — paranoid kooks.

Starting in the late 1940s, opponents charged that fluoridation was leading America toward socialism or communism. "Totalitarian government is not confined to forcing everyone to vote for the same dictator, or go to the same church," one wrote. "It involves also the elimination of liberty to choose your food and drink." Others claimed that fluoridation was a Red plot devised by the Soviet Union, which would use spies to introduce lethal levels of fluoride into our water. That would be "better THAN USING THE ATOM BOMB," one critic warned, because bombs must be built and transported to their targets. By contrast, fluoride "has been placed right beside the water supplies by the Americans themselves," he said, "ready to be dumped into the water mains whenever a Communist desires!"

Similar charges of fluoridation as a communist plot would be revived in the early 1960s by the far-right John Birch Society.

But fluoridation attracted its share of left-wing conspiracy theorists too. Some charged that the aluminum industry had promoted the practice to dispose of fluoride, one of its waste products. Others suspected sugar companies, which supposedly supported fluoridation so that people could keep consuming their product without incurring as much tooth decay.

By comparison, today's opponents of fluoridation are beacons of reason, deliberation and coherence. There will always be outliers, such as the tea party activist at a recent Pinellas County, Fla., hearing who charged that fluoridation was "part of an agenda that's being pushed forth by the so-called globalists … to keep the people stupid." But Judson Phillips, one of the founders of Tea Party Nation, quickly distanced his organization from this remark and the anti-fluoridation movement. "It's not a hot-button tea party issue," Phillips said.

Last month, Pinellas County commissioners voted 4 to 3 to stop putting fluoride in their water. They might have made the wrong call. But they did it after collecting extensive data and testimony from scientists. That paves the way for others to introduce their own data, if they want to overturn the decision.

And that's exactly how science — and democracy — are supposed to work. In the long history of this dispute, this is one of the few cases in which knowledge and information are trumping ideology and paranoia. No matter what we believe about fluoridation and its effect on our teeth, that's something all of us have good reason to smile about.

Jonathan Zimmerman, a professor of history and education at New York University, is the author of "Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory."
Copyright © 2011, Los Angeles Times

Scientists need to take the climate gloves off


The Irish Times - Thursday, November 17, 2011


THE BRITISH Nobel Laureate physiologist Sir Peter Medawar (1915-1987), justifiably described science as "incomparably the most successful enterprise human beings have ever engaged upon". And yet, public and political understanding and appreciation of science remains relatively low and, paradoxically, in the developed world, probably lowest of all in the US, the world's most technologically advanced country. A number of books have recently analysed this problem, including Unscientific America by Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum (Basic Books, 2009) and Fool Me Twice by Shawn Lawrence Otto (Rodale Books, 2011).

Here are two such examples of current difficulties faced by science. Firstly, biological evolution is explained by the central theory in biology – the theory of evolution through natural selection. Some 46 per cent of Americans do not accept this theory. Secondly, the great majority of professional climatologists predict that human forcing of global warming will lead to disastrous consequences unless we urgently reverse the forcing. However, a small but effective lobby of dissenting scientific opinion and self-interested corporations has shaken public confidence in the majority expert position, and has weakened political resolve to take the necessary steps to counter global warming.

The poor public acceptance of evolution in the US is generally attributed to the influence of fundamentalist religion, specifically creationism. Creationists literally accept the Bible account that God created all living species several thousand years ago in more or less the same form as we see them today. Science tells us, based on massive evidence, that life arose on earth about four billion years ago as a simple single form and that the myriad species of life on earth today are directly descended from that original form.

Creationism undoubtedly contributes to the high fraction of the population that does not believe in evolution. However, the situation is also exacerbated by the extremely aggressive campaign against religion being waged by the New Atheists, led by Richard Dawkins. This movement is the flip-side of the fundamentalist coin to creationism. It aims to get rid of all forms of religion, no matter how moderate or diffident they are, and, in the words of Mooney and Kirshenbaum, "publicly eviscerates believers, calling them delusional and irrational". The paradox is that New Atheism must prevent many people, who sincerely believe in God as a core value, from also believing in evolution because one of the world's keenest scientific minds (Dawkins) persistently preaches that the theory of evolution makes God redundant.

Scientists are somewhat to blame, together with the media, for the poor showing of global warming on the public radar of concern. The public battle over man-made global warming is fought out in the media where, as Otto points out, many journalists have been trained in journalism schools deeply influenced by postmodernism. Postmodernist philosophy promotes relativism and frowns on the notion of objective truth, believing that we each can construct our own reality and that different and even contradictory constructed realities can be equally valid. In this view, science is just another constructed reality.

But science is not a constructed reality. The entire history of science is a testament to the fact that there is an objective natural world out there and science is competent to reveal it to us. The reliability of science-based technology, which is universally accepted, is based on scientific understanding of this objective reality.

Public debates influenced by postmodernism greatly value "balance" because of the notion that many different points of view are equally "valid". However, this attitude towards scientific debates can sacrifice good judgment in the interest of "balancing" people who present argument based on the most extensive and rigorous scientific evidence with those who argue based on much flimsier evidence. The weighting of time given to the protagonists in the climate debate should reflect the strength of the evidence presented and the scientific credentials of the presenters, but very often it does not.

The majority side scientists could also make a much better job of arguing their case in public. Often they are outgunned by the climate-change-sceptic scientists in passion and perceived confidence. Scientists are obliged to move out from the quiet and refined professional lecture circuit and to joust in public when the situation demands it.

William Reville is a professor in the Biochemistry department and public awareness of science officer at UCC understandingscience.ucc.ie

Why Phillip Johnson Matters: A Biography


Casey Luskin November 17, 2011 6:00 AM | Permalink

Editor's Note: This biography of Phillip Johnson appears on the new website commemorating the 20th Anniversary of Darwin on Trial.

Phillip Johnson, law professor emeritus of UC Berkeley's Boalt Hall School of Law, is widely recognized as the godfather of the contemporary intelligent design (ID) movement. As the author of several books and numerous articles explaining scientific, legal, and cultural dimension of the debate over ID and Darwinism, Johnson was one of the most prolific authors in the formative years of the movement.

It was Johnson's 1991 book Darwin on Trial that first convinced many thinkers that neo-Darwinian evolution was buttressed more by a philosophy of naturalism than by the scientific evidence. Johnson's influential writing became the magnet of scholars from a variety of fields -- biology, chemistry, physics, philosophy, theology, and law -- to forge the intelligent design movement.

The stories of many of these scientists and scholars are told in the volume Darwin's Nemesis (InterVarsity Press, 2006). But Johnson too recounted -- with humble surprise -- the impact of his work in the 2008 volume Intelligent Design 101:

Fifteen years ago I published a book that I thought might add a few ounces of balance to the debate over Darwin's theory of evolution. The main thrust of that book, Darwin on Trial, was that evolution is propped up more by naturalistic philosophy than by the scientific evidence. Much to my pleasant surprise, this book turned out to be the match that lit the tinder beneath a stockpile of dry logs. This is not to my credit; the logs had been piled high, and the tinder gathered. Darwinian naturalists had accumulated a large stock of public discontent. [p. 23]

Part of Johnson's vision as a legal scholar has been knowing how to ask the right questions. The 1980s was an era of controversy for Biblical creationists. While young earth creationists and old earth creationists squabbled about whether Noah rode a dinosaur, or a camel onto the Ark, elite materialists were happy to take over the culture.

With the mind of a law professor, Johnson was a master at spotting issues. And the key issue he saw in the origins debate was not the age of the earth or the differing interpretations of Genesis by Christians. It was a more fundamental question of interest to theists and non-theists alike: Is life the result of blind, undirected natural causes, or is it the result of purposeful design? By focusing on this question, Johnson transformed the entire origins debate. Johnson continues:

Darwin on Trial became a uniting force around which many like-minded individuals -- scholars of many stripes, churchgoers, students, and even open-minded agnostics who dared extend their skepticism to Darwin -- could rally. For many, that rallying cry ultimately became "Intelligent Design!"

It has been often said that all truth passes through three stages. First it is ignored. Then it is violently opposed. Finally, it is accepted as being self-evident. This seems to be the arc that intelligent design is traversing.

Many were content to ignore Johnson's ideas until they actually started to impact public education. In 1999, members of the Kansas State Board of Education voted to soften the dogmatism that had dominated evolution-instruction. Yet Johnson was critical of the 1999 Kansas decision because it removed some aspects of macroevolution from the curriculum. Johnson has always been a proponent of objective education -- not censorship. He argued in The Wedge of Truth that students should learn both the evidence for and against Darwinian evolution:

What educators in Kansas and elsewhere should be doing is to 'teach the controversy.' Of course students should learn the orthodox Darwinian theory and the evidence that supports it, but they should also learn why so many are skeptical, and they should hear the skeptical arguments in their strongest form rather than in a caricature intended to make them look as silly as possible.

In 2001, the Ohio State Board followed Johnson's approach and required students to critically analyze the evidence for and against Darwinian evolution. Objective evolution education had won.

It was around this time that Darwin-lobbyists realized that they better stop ignoring Johnson, and start telling the world that unless students are prevented from questioning Darwinism, the sky will fall.

ID critics quickly learned that the most effective way to target ID was not to address its arguments, but to make accusations of secret, sinister motives among proponents. One imagines the godfather Phillip Johnson in a smoky dark room handing "wedge documents" to his eager followers, charging them to go forth and baptize converts to intelligent design.

On the contrary, with Phillip Johnson, what you see is what you get. As John Mark Reynolds explains in Darwin's Nemesis:

Phillip Johnson is one of those rare individuals who is always the same person. He asks the same hard questions in Sunday School as he does in the Berkeley classroom. He has a unified personality. I have seen him in hundreds of different situations, and there is no split in his soul. [p. 27]

While Johnson wouldn't flatter himself with such praise, he too observes that he has never hidden anything. "I always find these conspiracy theories amusing because our strategy has been transparent from the beginning," writes Johnson. "After all, I titled my fifth book The Wedge of Truth: Splitting the Foundations of Naturalism."

What is more striking is Johnson's gentlemanly responses to critics. "He is not a hater, not even of his enemies," writes John Mark Reynolds. "This is why so many who disagree with him can still respect him...He suffers fools gladly." [Darwin's Nemesis, pp. 26-27]

Ironically, intemperate efforts to attack Johnson often ended up drawing people to him, creating a growing network of scientists and other scholars interested in intelligent design. Biochemist Michael Behe explains how a biased critique of Darwin on Trial in the journal Science led Behe to join the ID movement:

The news item made me so mad that I wrote a letter to the editor of Science, which they published ... I wrote that this Johnson fellow appears from his book to be a rather intelligent layman, and that scientists would do much better to address the substance of his arguments than to rely on ad hominem attacks. About a week later I received a letter with a return address of Boalt Hall. ... I was now in the loop -- I was within the circle of Phil Johnson's acquaintances and useful contacts. [Darwin's Nemesis, pp. 44-45]

Behe's story is not unusual for members of the ID movement. Attracted by his intellect, character, and boldness, a new generation of scientists and scholars became connected to each other through Johnson.

Some critics would like to call Johnson the father of ID. In fact, they sometimes claim that Johnson, a non-scientist, invented the term "intelligent design" as a scheme to get around a 1987 Supreme Court ruling that declared creationism unconstitutional.

Aside from the fact that this story isn't true, it's also grossly anachronistic. ID thinking and arguments date back to the ancient Greeks, and even in its modern form, the term "intelligent design" was used long before Johnson got involved with the issue, and before any court contemplated creationism.

In this sense, Johnson is not, and cannot be the "father" of intelligent design. But the Godfather? Most definitely.

Why is the Banning of O'Reilly's Lincoln Book Making Headlines?


November 14, 2011 at 6:36 pm Chris Rodda

This is sort of pissing me off. OK, so Bill O'Reilly's new book about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln contains a bunch of historical inaccuracies, and the National Parks Service has banned its sale in the Ford's Theatre bookstore.

O'Reilly's book does contain a lot of inaccuracies that are clearly due to poor scholarship and shoddy research — like being off a year on the date Ford's Theatre burnt down, getting it wrong on what the theater was called at the time, being a few feet off on the exact distance between things inside the theater, and calling the president's office in the White House the Oval Office when the Oval Office did not yet exist at the time of Lincoln.

Obviously, the decision not to sell a book that's historically inaccurate at the Ford's Theatre bookstore isn't what's pissing me off. It's the attention being given to this story. Why is this headline news while the continual, deliberate, and dangerous historical revisionism coming from Christian nationalists like David Barton rarely even registers a blip on the radar screen.

Barton's historical revisionism is actually influencing education, legislation, and voters, making it far more important to pay attention to than O'Reilly's Lincoln book. But Barton's deliberate revisionism and its very real and tangible effects in furthering the far right, theocratic, Christian nationalist agenda doesn't get a fraction of the attention that Bill O'Reilly's inconsequential vocabulary errors like saying someone "furls his brow" rather than "furrows his brow" are getting. There's something very wrong with this.

That's a good question


November 16, 2011 at 9:30 am PZ Myers

You've probably already heard that Bill O'Reilly wrote a 'history' book about the Lincoln assassination that contains enough factual errors that it was rejected by the National Parks Service for sale at Ford's Theater. I say you've probably already heard it because the media everywhere is chuckling over the humor of pissing off BillO with the ignominy of it all. Now I loves me some O'Reilly bashing, but Chris Rodda asks a very good question about that.

Why isn't the media going after all the other right-wing pseudo-history? David Barton still appears on TV fairly regularly, and he's far worse than O'Reilly. The Texas board of education tried to disappear Thomas Jefferson from history textbooks. Aren't those more significant phenomena than that one lazy loud TV blowhard tried to pretend to be a serious historian and failed?

The Kensington Forgery


Category: History • Skepticism
Posted on: November 16, 2011 11:34 PM, by PZ Myers

The infamous Kensington Runestone is kept in a museum just a few miles up the road from me. It's a carved rock that was dug up on a farm in the 19th century by a Swedish farmer, and purports to tell the tale in runes of a doomed Viking expedition that had come down from Hudson's Bay to meet a tragic end at the hands of the Minnesota natives. More likely, it's a cunning artifact produced by the farmer, Olof Öhman. It's an unlikely bit of pseudo-history, and I'd love to see an unassailable disproof of its source.

Martin Rundkvist is reporting that Öhman's signature has been found on the stone. Unfortunately, I find the evidence for that even more weirdly unlikely than that Vikings carved it. There are various numbers scattered around in the account written on the stone — the number of Vikings, the days spent traveling, that sort of thing — and the guy who claims to have detected the signature uses these numbers in a bizarrely oblique way.

The inscription has twelve lines. Larsson counts the words from the left on odd-numbered lines and from the right on even-numbered lines…

Uh, why? What if you counted from the left on even lines and from the right on odd lines? What if you counted characters up from the bottom, or whatever other random number-juggling you could do. This reeks of post-hoc fitting of an interpretation to the data set, and I don't believe a word of it.

Rats. We're going to have to keep on rolling our eyes at the silliness in that little museum to the north, I guess.

(2011-11-16) Prime Example, The New Book Telling The Story of A Doctor's Battle That Paved The Way For Alternative Medicine


Prime Example, the true story about his professional and personal odyssey to give Alternative Medicine it's rightful place in American medicine.

Prime Example, The New Book Telling The Story of A Doctor's Battle That Paved The Way For Alternative Medicine

PRLog (Press Release) – November 15, 2011 – Dr. Warren Levin is pleased to announce the newly published book, Prime Example, the true story about his professional and personal odyssey to give Alternative Medicine it's rightful place in American medicine. Dr. Levin is known as 'The East Coast Dean of Alternative Medicine.'

The book was written by the New York attorney, Robert Harris, who represented Dr. Levin during his 14 year battle with the New York Department of Health that brought victory to American patients who cried out for more than what was offered in traditional healthcare. To watch Dr. Levin and his wife Susan speak about the release of the book, please visit 1614480257. The book has been optioned to be a major Hollywood movie to be released in 2013.

Dr. Warren M. Levin is a graduate of Jefferson Medical School in Philadelphia Pennsylvania and opened the first Alternative Medical Center in NYC in 1974. It took 14 years before Dr. Levin's case won over New York State's 'headlock' on a class of physicians who saw the imperative need to integrate alternative therapies with conventional medicine.

Dr. Levin received the Distinguished Pioneer In Alternative Medicine Award by F.A.I.M (Foundation For The Advancement For Innovative Medicine) Medicine in 1995 after his final victory. Today, Dr. Levin practices in Vienna, Virginia and is planning on establishing a practice in New York with Dr. Fran Gare, an author with over 10 million copies of her books in print and former Director of Nutrition for the Atkins Center. Dr. Levin continues to fight for the rights of physicians throughout the country to provide innovative, quality care that focuses on treating and healing the whole person.

To learn more about Dr. Warren Levin and Prime Example, please visit http://PrimeExample.net and join him on his social networks

Dr. Levin can be reached at:
407 Church Street, NE, Suite E
Vienna, VA 22180

Phone 703-255-0313 Fax 703-255-0316 info@WarrenMLevinMD.org





To order your copy of Prime Example, please visit Barnes & Noble or Amazon --- end --

About Us: Dr. Warren M. Levin is recognized as the "East Coast Dean of Alternative Medicine." He has been a visionary in reporting the interconnections among many intractable syndromes with the Standard American Diet--which he calls SAD, the heavy metals in our environment, and other factors in the modern lifestyle and drug-oriented conventional medicine.

Contact Info: Office Number 1-703-255-0313 Fax Number 1-703-255-0316 Email info@WarrenMLevinMD.org

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

"Play the Man, Master Ridley"


Bruce Chapman November 16, 2011 12:50 PM | Permalink

Just before they were burned at the stake at Oxford in 1555, Hugh Latimer famously said to Nicholas Ridley, "Play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out."

It would be nice to imagine that the auto de fe no longer occurs in university towns, but it does when someone dares challenge Darwinian evolution. And it does so on that topic more than any other -- including global warming. Two writers in the Wall Street Journal, Raymond Tallis and Matt Ridley, show how hard it is for even fair-minded intellectuals to own up to the reality.

Evolution News & Views enjoyed the same insightful article by Raymond Tallis that I read in the weekend Journal -- a review of books on the subject of brain vs. mind. ENV also came to the same conclusion: Raymond Tallis endorses Darwinian evolution only because he has to in today's PC climate before he can proceed to assail its works. (Dr. Tallis is himself the author of Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Humanity.)

In similar fashion, Christian heretics (such as the "Jesus Seminar") who want to demolish acceptance of key religious doctrines, such as the Virgin Birth or the resurrection, often begin their treatises by proclaiming their orthodox faith. Affirm what is required, then go your merry way.

The same issue of the Journal carries a fine piece by science writer Matt Ridley: "Is That Scientific Heretic a Genius -- or a Loon?" Ridley probably does accept Darwin's theory and even cites Darwin as a supposed victim of the "scientific establishment" of his day. Actually, if Darwin was a "victim" of the scientific establishment (or Einstein for that matter), then the term lacks any force. Both men were celebrated in their time.

But after using them as examples of persecution, Ridley proceeds to list a number of scientists who were not as fortunate as Darwin and really did endure ostracism or worse. His accounts are bracing. For example, Ridley cites Ignaz Semmelweiss, who discovered (before germ theory) that doctors who operated on dying patients or cadavers were spreading disease to pregnant women whom they subsequently assisted (without hand washing) to deliver their babies. For his efforts, Semmelweiss was driven out of his medical position in Vienna and into insanity by the persecution of the scientific establishment.

Ridley also cites the case of Alfred Wegener, whose theory of continental drift was not embraced in his lifetime and suffered "an especially vehement attack by the eminent evolutionary biologist George Gaylord Simpson in 1943....Only in the 1960s, with the discovery of plate tectonics, was Wegener rehabilitated."

These and other examples show that today's scientific outcast may be tomorrow's Nobel Prize winner (not that the Nobel is perfect, either). Ridley's subtle message (and Tallis', to some extent) is, don't trust the scientific establishment to determine hard clad truths. Let rigorous testing and competition do so.

Yet, the establishment before whose statue of Darwin both Ridley and Tallis genuflect is exactly the source of persecution of Darwin doubters in the science community. At some point, future Tallis' and Ridley's will find the courage to point to their examples. It's just not safe now.

A New Edition of Alfred Russel Wallace Book Features Rare Essay


Michael Flannery November 16, 2011 1:36 PM | Permalink

http://www.amazon.com/Alfred-Russel-Wallaces-Intelligent-Evolution/dp/0981520448 I thought readers would be interested to know that a newly revised edition of my book Alfred Russel Wallace's Theory of Intelligent Evolution: How Wallace's World of Life Challenged Darwinism is now available, featuring a rare and fascinating essay by the Rev. John Magens Mello.

Mello, a graduate of Oxford University, was rector of St. Thomas's near Chesterfield from 1863 until 1887 when he became the vicar of Mapperley, Derbyshire. Mello was fascinated by the co-discoverer of natural selection and particularly with the naturalist's grand evolutionary synthesis, The World of Life (1910). Shortly after that book was published, Mello wrote "The Mystery of Life and Mind, with special reference to The World of Life by A. R. Wallace."

Although Wallace was not a Christian, Mello's essay provides a detailed outline of the work and places Wallace's ideas within a specifically Christian context. Mello's interest in The World of Life was understandable for he too was a man with scientific interests. He was a member of the Geological Society, La Société Scientifique de Bruxelles, and other scientific societies of his day. He also authored a Handbook to the Geology of Derbyshire in 1866 and released a revised edition in 1891.

Now Mello's little-known 1911 essay, originally issued as a 20-page pamphlet, is available to a new generation of readers as Appendix B, "A Theologian/Scientist Looks at The World of Life."

Are Creationist Beliefs Too Extreme for Creationists?


Tags creationism, discovery institute, ken ham, michael zimmerman

November 15, 2011 3:21PM
Post by Paul Wallace

You can take it to the bank: Any species of religion that rejects the most basic products of the last 400 years of scientific inquiry, will not last. Here's why.

The other day at HuffPo, Michael Zimmerman pointed out that, when pushed (or even gently nudged), creationist leaders such as Ken Ham and organizations such the Discovery Institute will actually disavow their own polemic. This is evidenced by the reactions of these parties to an earlier Zimmerman piece in which he made some claims about their perspectives on science. In each case they criticize Zimmerman's claims, calling them, in effect, lies. Yet the claims themselves were neither false nor unfair nor mean-spirited.

Trying to make sense of this, Zimmerman writes,

"Creationist beliefs are even too extreme for the creationists. Those beliefs make for good copy when preaching to the faithful and when raising funds, but when those very same beliefs are presented in a broader context, they are quickly disavowed."

This inability of Ham and the Discovery Institute to respond coherently when challenged is, in my view, symptomatic of their profound ambivalence toward science. They are smitten with science. They see how powerful a tool it is for exploring and describing the world. They want a piece of it.

But that's all they get: a piece. Their theology, based as it is in a shallow and demonstrably false reading of scripture, just isn't deep and wide enough to swallow all of science. So they queue up for "cafeteria science": They like electrodynamics, they dislike evolution; Ken Ham likes relativity theory, he dislikes the big bang theory; the Discovery Institute likes the atomic theory, it dislikes natural selection. (I'm only guessing physics is OK in their books.)

They want science the way they want it, not the way it is.

But science is of a piece. This is not to say that there are not outstanding questions about the evolution the solar system (did you see this?) or about the evolution of sex, or that the integrity of every scientific theory requires the integrity of every other, or that all scientific ideas stand solid and true and indisputable. It is to say that the same spirit runs through all of it. Science is not a set of products but a way of answering certain kinds of questions, and a way of excluding certain possibilities. It is animated by a very particular spirit of inquiry.

Universal gravitation and evolution may appear to be different, and they are, but down deep their roots converge. The same spirit of curiosity that animated Newton, animated Darwin.

It is this spirit of inquiry that is at issue, not certain showpieces of scientific end-product. But it is unthinkable for Ham or the Discovery Institute to publicly reject "the spirit of inquiry," so they focus — as they do so often — on externals, and wind up accepting only self-selected pieces of science. They are caught in the trap of idolizing science while wishing, on some level, it would just go away.

It's not a formula for success. Whatever theology can't expand to meet — and exceed — scientific realities, will pass away. Whatever theology can, has the hope of lasting. Both the passing away and the lasting have happened over and over and over.

It's happening again, and this time it's creationism that's passing away.

Surgeons' letter to medical journal silent on their compensation


Side Effects | A Journal Sentinel Watchdog Update

By John Fauber of the Journal Sentinel

Nov. 11, 2011

Doctors who failed to identify a significant cancer risk with a Medtronic spine surgery product in their published research have refused to disclose relevant financial conflicts in a letter about that research to be published Friday in a medical journal.

Though it is believed that Medtronic had paid at least three of the doctors more than $20 million, they told the editors of the Spine Journal, which will publish their letter Friday, that they would not reveal how much they had been paid by Medtronic from 2006 to 2009, a time period covering research papers that are the subject of Friday's letter.

The Spine Journal said its policy is to require disclosure of potential conflicts of interest, within ranges going up to $2.5 million, for the period of papers in question, which in the case of the new letter involved papers published in 2006, 2007 and 2009.

"However, the authors refused our request for disclosures covering this time period," said an editor's note that accompanies the letter.

The note said that because of the importance of the topic an exception was made and the letter was published without the required financial disclosures.

The refusal by the doctors to reveal how much they had been paid is the latest development in the ongoing saga over Medtronic's controversial spine surgery product known as bone morphogenetic protein-2.

Last month, a Journal Sentinel/MedPage Today investigation found that those same doctors had failed to identify a significant cancer risk in a 2009 paper about a Medtronic-funded clinical trial of a high-dose BMP-2 product known as Amplify.

The surgeons left out important data and contended that there was no significant link between the product and cancer, though they and the company had information of a significant risk at least two months before the paper was published, the newspaper found.

Then, a new analysis by independent doctors presented at a spine surgeons meeting last week in Chicago found that patients in the Amplify trial who got BMP-2 were three to five times more likely to develop cancer two to three years after being implanted with the product than those who got a graft of their own hip bone.

All of that follows a rebuke of BMP-2-related research in 13 papers published over nearly a decade and written by doctors who have received tens of millions of dollars from Medtronic. That unprecedented analysis, published in June in the Spine Journal, criticized those papers for repeatedly failing to reveal serious complications linked to BMP-2.

BMP-2, a biological agent that stimulates bone growth, was approved in 2002. It is an alternative to using a small amount of a patient's own bone in spinal fusion surgery.

The product has been used in hundreds of thousands of back surgery patients and has produced sales of more than $700 million a year.

Letter to Spine Journal

Prompted in part by Journal Sentinel/MedPage Today investigative reports over more than a year, in June the U.S. Senate Finance Committee launched an investigation into the failure of doctors with financial ties to Medtronic to report a variety of serious complications with the product in their published papers. Medtronic also is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice over allegations of off-label marketing of BMP-2.

The BMP-2 controversy surfaced again in Friday's letter in the Spine Journal written by the authors of the 2009 paper. In that letter, they said they wrote to "clarify" points raised in the June Spine Journal analysis.

The first three authors of the paper and Friday's letter - or entities they are associated with - received about $10 million from Medtronic, mostly in royalties, in 2010 alone, the Journal Sentinel found. The royalties were for other products, not for BMP-2.

In 2010, Medtronic paid more than $9 million in royalties to Concept Properties LLC, a Louisville entity associated with co-authors John Dimar and Steven Glassman, both orthopedic surgeons at the Norton Leatherman Spine Center in Louisville. None of the royalties were for BMP-2.

Co-author Kenneth Burkus, an orthopedic surgeon in Columbus, Ga., and his RBCK Research & Consulting received more than $800,000 in royalty and other payments from Medtronic in 2010, none for BMP-2.

In their letter to the Spine Journal, signed by all five authors of the 2009 paper, the surgeons said an independent Data Safety Monitoring Board reviewed all reports of adverse events.

However, neither the authors nor Medtronic would say who was on that board when the information was requested Thursday by the newspaper.

The doctors also brought up the cancer issue, saying that the increased number of cases among the Amplify patients was not "statistically significant" and that the paper only included data that was available at the time. They also said the diversity of cancers did not suggest BMP-2 was the cause.

That prompted a response from three editors of the Spine Journal, who said that long before the 2009 paper was published, there was evidence of increased malignancies among the patients who got Amplify. They said the authors used "poor reporting practices" under established guidelines in their handling of the cancer data.

Medical editor rebuts

"Unfortunately, to date, (the authors) continue to deny the significance of these observations of a clear association of cancer risk with BMP-2," wrote Eugene Carragee, editor-in-chief of the Spine Journal, and two deputy editors. "Nor in their numerous publications have they communicated the concern of independent investigators and analysts regarding the risk of cancer with the BMP-2 products (the authors) promote."

Carragee, an orthopedic surgeon at Stanford University, and his deputy editors, also noted that a related 2007 paper written by some of the same doctors erroneously stated that they had not received "any benefits in any form" from a commercial entity.

"That is also incorrect," the Spine Journal editors wrote. "The authors received substantial funds for consulting, royalties and other support from Medtronic and had extensive financial ties with this manufacturer for many years before and after publication."

They said various public documents show that Medtronic paid Dimar and Glassman "well more than $20 million" and that a news report indicated that Burkus received $1.5 million in undisclosed consulting fees from Medtronic in the years leading up to the papers.

An email seeking a response to the allegations by the Spine Journal editors was sent to Dimar, Glassman and Burkus.

None of them replied.

John Fauber reported this story in a joint project of the Journal Sentinel and MedPage Today. MedPage Today provides a clinical perspective for physicians on breaking medical news at medpagetoday.com.

Intelligent Design Debate Still Raging on Two Decades Later


By Mark Hensch | CP Contributor

The landmark book that made "intelligent design" into an anti-evolution battle cry turns 20-years-old next week.

Phillip E. Johnson's Darwin on Trial has provoked extreme reactions ever since it first challenged Charles Darwin's theory of evolution in 1991. Now considered a classic defense of intelligent design, it's still stirring debate in the scientific community with its 20th anniversary edition.

"Phillip E. Johnson's work brought the intelligent design movement together," said Casey Luskin, a research coordinator for the Discovery Institute, an intelligent design advocacy group. "It is a criticism of Darwin's theory of evolution on scientific grounds. It has really united a lot of people."

Darwin, an English naturalist from the 19th century, set the stage for the evolution debate when he published his 1859 treatise On the Origin of the Species. It argued that all life descended from common ancestors and then evolved through "natural selection," or the process by which favorable biological traits are passed to a species' offspring to preserve that species. The theory is now an essential part of contemporary science.

"Evolution is one of the most robust and widely accepted principles of modern science," wrote the Board of Directors for the American Association for the Advancement of Science in their 2006 "Statement on the Teaching of Evolution." "It is the foundation for research in a wide array of scientific fields, and accordingly, a core element in science education."

Darwin's theory soon courted detractors concerned about its reliance on random chance for explaining natural selection. Such a theory, they worried, turned life into something ultimately chaotic and meaningless.

"Darwin's theory of evolution can best be understood as a theory of unintelligent design," said Art Battson, the director of instructional resources for the Access Research Group, a scientific information group. "Johnson rightly pointed out in Darwin on Trial that most scientists consider unintelligent design to be the only scientific explanation because natural science is restricted to purely natural philosophy."

Johnson's theory of intelligent design thus deeply moved thinkers who disliked science's reliance on events that exist only in empirically-testable nature. Intelligent design arose out of this initial protest, and has since proposed that evolution is guided by a creative intelligence rather than randomness.

"In biodiversity we find organisms with huge increases in complexity as you move up the ladder," said John Calvert, managing director of the Intelligent Design network. "From a scientific standpoint, the data leads you to the conclusion that the universe arose from intelligence and design. Matter, energy and forces are so fine-tuned that if even one were slightly different, life couldn't have arisen."

The implications of Johnson's argument allowed for the presence of the supernatural in everyday reality. Luskin said it has since downgraded Darwin's theory by revealing its overreliance on random chance.

"The basis of life is the information in our DNA," he said. "We are finding that in many organisms, multiple mutations in their DNA must be present before any benefit is incurred upon that organism. Darwinian Theory has utterly failed to explain many of these complex features. Unguided natural processes don't produce complexity in our experience."

Battson said regardless of whom was right or wrong in the evolution versus intelligent design debate, it afforded a valuable opportunity to discuss God's role in the universe.

"Creation preceded evolution," he said. "Descartes said 'I think, therefore I am.' My bet is that God replied, 'I am, therefore think.'"