NTS LogoSkeptical News for 4 December 2011

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings


Sunday, December 04, 2011

Evolution education update: December 2, 2011

News from Texas, where there's a challenge to the Institute for Creation Research's eligibility to receive donations from the state employee charitable campaign, and where the Texas Freedom Network is warning of a possible resurgence of controversies over the treatment of evolution in textbooks.

ICR CHALLENGED IN CHARITABLE CAMPAIGN

The presence of a creationist group on a list of charitable organizations approved to receive donations from state employees is under challenge, according to the Austin American-Statesman (November 30, 2011). David Hillis, a professor of biology at the University of Texas, Austin, was surprised to discover that the Institute for Creation Research was included in the list of organizations eligible to receive donations through the State Employee Charitable Campaign. Such organizations are supposed to provide "direct or indirect health and human services."

But, Hillis told the newspaper, the ICR works "to undermine the mission of the university and of science in general, and especially the science that is the very basis for health and human services. How could such an organization possibly be listed as a charitable organization to be supported by state employees?" His colleague John Hoberman, a professor of Germanic studies, added that the ICR's activities "do not qualify as the sort of humanitarian activity we associate with charity in the proper sense of the word."

The ICR is currently described in the list as follows: "Science strongly supports the Bible's authority and accuracy. With scientific research, education programs, and media presentations, we equip Christians to stand for the Truth." Hillis and a number of his colleagues will be asking the State Employee Charitable Campaign Policy Committee, which oversees the State Employee Charitable Campaign, to remove the ICR from the list at its December 2, 2011, meeting. Asked by the American-Statesman for comment, current and former members of the committee were noncommittal.

For the Austin American-Statesman's story, visit:
http://www.statesman.com/news/local/ut-professors-object-to-creation-institutes-inclusion-in-2005416.html

And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Texas, visit:
http://ncse.com/news/texas

TEXTBOOK FIGHTS IN TEXAS AGAIN?

"Just when it looked like science education might be safe for a while in Texas public schools, the State Board of Education could soon be dragging the state back into the textbook wars over evolution," the Texas Freedom Network reported on its blog (November 23, 2011). At its most recent meeting, the Texas state board of education considered a proposed schedule on which new science textbooks would be adopted in 2013, in time for classroom use in 2014.

"A full textbook adoption in 2013," TFN explained, "would give creationists another opportunity to pressure publishers into dumbing down instruction on evolution." Even in 2011, when only a limited adoption process for supplementary materials was conducted, there were attempts to introduce materials laced with creationist arguments as well as to undermine the treatment of evolution in scientifically accurate materials, as NCSE previously reported.

Complicating the situation is the fact that owing to redistricting in Texas, all fifteen seats on the state board of education are up for grabs in the November 2012 election. And the impact of state textbook adoption may be muted in any case due to a new state law -- analyzed in detail by the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund -- that allows local school districts to buy textbooks not on the state board's approved list.

For TFN's blog post, visit:
http://tfninsider.org/2011/11/23/science-back-in-the-crosshairs-in-texas/

For the analysis of the new state law (PDF), visit:
http://www.tfn.org/site/DocServer/SB6analysisFINAL.pdf?docID=2801

And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Texas, visit:
http://ncse.com/news/texas

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
800-290-6006
branch@ncse.com
http://ncse.com

Read Reports of the NCSE on-line:
http://reports.ncse.com

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I am honestly happy that Phillip Johnson is still alive

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/12/i_am_honestly_happy_that_phill.php

Category: Creationism
Posted on: December 1, 2011 8:39 PM, by PZ Myers

The last time I saw an appearance of the founder of the Intelligent Design movement, Johnson was looking very frail, recovering from a stroke. It's also been quite some time since I've seen him make an appearance. I hope that his mental faculties are also strong, and that he's alert and aware. The IDists are celebrating the 20th anniversary of the publication of his book, Darwin on Trial, so I'd love to know that he's having a grand time.

Why, you might wonder…after all, that book they're celebrating is dishonest tripe, and the ID movement has been pure poison to science. I make no bones about the fact that I consider Johnson to be an intellectual criminal.

The reason is simple: Jason Rosenhouse is right. Intelligent Design is dead. I want Johnson to suffer the pain and frustration of knowing that he has wasted his life, and that he'll be remembered as a failure.

His book was a cobbled together hodge-podge of specious reasoning, using legal logic to raise unwarranted doubts over concepts he couldn't understand. He was no scientist; neither are his followers. He was a pettifogging lawyer coming off a divorce and a midlife crisis who tried to find redemption by lying for Jesus. It didn't work.

Creationism staggered out of the Edwards v. Aguillard case in 1987 in a shambles — creationism was repudiated, it was tarred entirely as a religious concept, and prohibited from schools as a violation of the Establishment Cause. They had to find a strategy to hide its religious underpinnings, and there was good ol' Lawyer Johnson, happy to provide it. That was his contribution, the smokescreen of ID.

It thrived for a while; it had its successes as yokels everywhere embraced it as a way to pretend their Old Time Religion was actually cutting edge science. It received a mortal blow in the Kitzmiller trial, which saw through the nonsense. It's tainted fruit now. THey're struggling to find a new frame in which to cloak their agenda, but the Discovery Institute is always going to be associated with Intelligent Design.

All they have succeeded in doing is flooding the discourse with fallacious turds like "irreducible complexity", which still gets parroted by ignorant politicians, like Michele Bachmann.

Irreducible complexity is poorly formulated and not an obstacle to evolution; at this point, the explanations are so common that bringing up IC is simply an admission of ignorance, of someone with a Bachmann-like understanding of biology.

And for a scientific movement, look at the quality of the proponents who have flocked to it: basically no one. The primary spokesperson of the Discovery Institute is Casey Freakin' Luskin, a freshly minted lawyer with an undergraduate degree in earth science, and who is demonstrably incompetent at basic biology — not that that prevents him from flooding the DI website with patent nonsense.

They've got propagandists like David Klinghoffer, who's reduced to sticking his fingers in his ears and chanting la-la-la to the existence of criticisms.

It's latest pseudo-scholarly efforts are bloated, preening, vacuous babble like Signature in the Cell, books that even fans of the idea find tedious and uninspiring.

Their websites are little walled garden, either no comments allowed or comments carefully screened, because they cannot tolerate open discusssion and criticism.

They've got nothing new. There is no new science emerging from the cesspit of ID.

I think we're done.

I really just hope that Phillip Johnson is vaguely aware of, and vaguely perturbed by, the failure of his ideas. And I hope he lives many more years, to witness the continuing decay of his pathetic movement.


Saturday, December 03, 2011

Does God Exist?

http://www.thenewamerican.com/opinion/sam-blumenfeld/10022-does-god-exist

Written by Sam Blumenfeld
Friday, 02 December 2011 14:00

I recently came across a very interesting debate on YouTube on the subject of "Does God Exist?" The debaters were Christopher Hitchins, the Anglo-American author of God Is Not Great, who took the side of atheism, and Prof. William Lane Craig of Biola University who argued in favor of creationism. You can actually watch the whole debate, which turned out to be a fascinating exchange between two highly intelligent men on a subject that will be debated forever.

Of course, I favor the creationist point of view. A cursory examination of just one's own human body must convince one that there is a creator. The whole process of birth, starting from conception to the emergence of a complete human being in only nine months, is to me a miracle, which is performed millions of times a day all over the world. Just consider the different body fluids we all have: blood, sweat, tears, saliva, digestive juices, insulin, urine — all produced in just the right amounts at the proper times, each with its own distinctive purpose. How could any of this be the result of accident?

But all of these obvious manifestations of creationism that surround us have not stopped educators and judges from objecting to the teaching of Intelligent Design in the public schools. Why? Because it infers the existence of God. If creationism is the means whereby reality came into being, then God does exist. Yet, you would think that the most famous 19th-century advocate of evolution would be on the side of today's atheist educators. But such is not the case.

Thomas H. Huxley (1825-1895) — famous as a biologist and Darwinist — preferred to send his own children to a decidedly Christian school than a purely secular one for a very good parental reason. He wrote:

My belief is, that no human being, and no society composed of human beings, ever did, or ever will, come to much, unless their conduct was governed and guided by the love of some ethical idea.... And if I were compelled to choose for one of my own children, between a school in which real religious instruction is given, and one without it, I should prefer the former, even though the child might have to take a good deal of theology with it.

Huxley advocated Bible reading in the schools on moral grounds, because he could not see how children could be taught to hate evil and do good without the ethical teaching of the Bible. At the time he wrote the above in the Contemporary Review in December 1870, Parliament was debating the issue of Bible reading in the schools, which parents strongly wanted. Huxley wrote: "I do not see what reason there is for opposing that wish." He wrote further:

On the whole then, I am in favor of reading the Bible, with such grammatical, geographical, and historical explanations by a lay teacher as may be needful, with rigid exclusion of any further theological teaching than that contained in the Bible itself.

Huxley cherished his own childhood memories of Bible reading:

Some of the pleasantest recollections of my childhood are connected with the voluntary study of an ancient Bible, which belonged to my grandmother.... What come vividly back on my mind are remembrances of my delight in the histories of Joseph and David; and of my keen appreciation of the chivalrous kindness of Abraham in his dealings with Lot.... And I see, as in a cloud, pictures of the grand phantasmagoria of the Book of Revelation. I enumerate, as they issue, the childish impressions which come crowding out of the pigeon-holes in my brain, in which they have lain almost undisturbed for 40 years. I prize them as an evidence that a child of five or six years old, left to his own devices, may be deeply interested in the Bible, and draw sound moral sustenance from it.

That, of course, is the crux of the problem with our secular public schools. They provide no moral sustenance for children in desperate need of it. The schools teach moral relativism and values clarification, which means that each child has to come up with his or her own moral system, a task which has baffled some of the world's greatest atheist philosophers.

Huxley also recognized the literary and historical benefits derived from Bible reading:

And then consider the great historical fact that, for three centuries, this book has been woven into the life of all that is best and noblest in English history.

Cannot that also be said of America, the fact that the Bible has been woven into our history since the days of the Pilgrims and Puritan settlers in New England? They brought that Bible with them to the New World so that they could build a Christian civilization in the North American wilderness. It also led early Americans to become the most literate people on the planet. Huxley wrote:

[The Bible] is written in the noblest and purest English, and abounds in exquisite beauties of mere literary form; and, finally, it forbids the veriest hind who never left his village to be ignorant of the existence of other countries and other civilizations, and of a great past, stretching back to the farthest limits of the oldest nations in the world.

And so, our public schools deprive our children not only of moral sustenance, but of knowledge of the ancient world and ancient civilizations, great biblical heroes, and the greatest literary treasure in the English language. How can any child read the 23rd Psalm and not know that God is speaking to him or her?

When I was a child in P.S. 62 in New York City back in the 1930s, our principal read the 23rd Psalm at every weekly assembly. That reading made a strong impression on me, and I remembered those words keenly as I served in the U.S. Army in World War II. It was all the moral sustenance, all the moral protection I needed. And I came back from that war unscathed.

Imagine an America in which every child has a Bible and can study it in school! Do you think we'd have the moral chaos among teens we have today? That ought to be the great task of Christian missionaries today: to put a Bible in the hands of every child in America. Some won't read it. But many others will.

Texas Professors Aim to Oust Creationist Group From State Charity Campaign

http://philanthropy.com/blogs/philanthropytoday/texas-professors-aim-to-oust-creationist-group-rrom-state-charity-campaign/42558

December 2, 2011, 10:37 am

A group of University of Texas faculty and staff members are protesting the inclusion of an organization that promotes the study of creationism on the roster of charities to which state employees can donate in their workplace campaign, reports the Austin American-Statesman.

The committee that oversees the State Employee Charitable Campaign will consider a grievance filed by the educators at a meeting Friday. The critics contend the Institute for Creation Research does not meet the requirement that charities offer "direct or indirect health and human services" to be included in the fund raiser.

"They work to undermine the mission of the university and of science in general, and especially the science that is the very basis for health and human services," said David Hillis, a professor of integrative biology. "How could such an organization possibly be listed as a charitable organization to be supported by state employees?"

The Dallas-based institute supports research and education programs aimed at buttressing the view that the biblical version of creation is scientifically accurate. Organization officials did not respond to requests for comment.

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Islam, Charles Darwin and the denial of science

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/8931518/Islam-Charles-Darwin-and-the-denial-of-science.html

A growing number of biology and medical students are rejecting the very basis of their chosen subject in favour of creationism.

By Steve Jones

7:30AM GMT 03 Dec 2011

A few years ago I had an operation to repair a hernia. In that I shared the experience of about one in four British men of my age, in whom a section of intestine breaks through the body wall to form an unpleasant, and potentially dangerous, bulge in the groin. The job was done quickly and efficiently by a surgeon who had, no doubt, done it hundreds of times before.

But why is that procedure needed so often? The story began long ago, when our ancestors were fish. In those happy days the testes were deep within the main body mass, close to the liver (as they still are in our marine cousins). They were connected to the outside world by a pair of straight tubes. Then came the move on to land and the shift from cold blood to warm. That had lots of advantages, but faced the unfortunate male with a problem, for the delicate machinery for making sperm works best at low temperatures, perhaps to reduce the number of errors made as DNA is copied.

The solution was a messy compromise in which the testes migrated south and emerged in their present form in an elegant external sac (which makes them, as I never fail to point out to students, both literally and figuratively the coolest part of any man's body). To make the journey, the tubes had to loop around some of the bones of the pubic girdle and to pass close to the surface of the body to make a weak point where, now and again, the intestine makes a break for freedom.

Hernias, then, are the result of the imperfect process of evolution, of the slow accumulation of successful mistakes and of the inevitable pressure of compromise. A surgeon may not need to know that and the first hernia operations were carried out well before The Origin of Species by people who had no idea why the problem arose; and (although I doubt it) perhaps my own doctor was equally ignorant.

Now, though, we have evolution, the grammar of biology. More and more, students do not like it. I no longer teach medics but I do have a lot of contact with biology undergraduates and go to many schools and to student conferences. Over the past decade there has grown up a determined denial by many people of the truths of modern science.

At University College London we have numbers of Islamic students, almost all dedicated, hard-working and able. Some, unfortunately, refuse to accept Darwin's theory on faith grounds, as do some of their Christian fellows; and just a couple of years ago a Turkish anti-evolution speaker (a Dr Babuna, as I remember) was invited on to campus to give an account of why The Origin is wrong. He was the scion of an extraordinary – and very rich – anti-evolution organisation based in his native land that has sent out thousands of lavishly illustrated creationist books and has linked Darwinism to Nazism and worse.

Much of their propaganda has been lifted from Christian fundamentalism and there is a certain irony in where it has ended up. I have had plenty of verbal complaints from undergraduates of both persuasions that I am demeaning religion, while others ask that they be excused lectures on my subject, or simply fail to turn up.

In schools things are worse: some kids will walk out rather than listen. Their teachers can be just as bad. The most virulent attack I have had in recent years came from a physics teacher in a respected north London state school, who – to the embarrassment of his colleagues – barracked my talk on evolutionary biology with repeated statements that Darwinism contradicted the laws of thermodynamics. I was forced, uncharacteristically, to be rude.

Anyone, of course, is free to believe whatever they wish. But why train to become a biologist, or a doctor, when you deny the very foundations of your subject? For a biology student to refuse to accept the fact of evolution is equivalent to choosing to do a degree in English without believing in grammar, or in physics with a rooted objection to gravity: it makes no sense at all. The same is true for doctors. How can you put a body right with no idea as to why it is liable to go wrong?

I have tried asking students at quite what point they find my lectures unacceptable: is it the laws of inheritance, mutation, the genes that protect against malaria or cancer, the global shifts in human skin colour, Neanderthal DNA, or the inherited differences between apes and men? Each point is, they say, very interesting – but when I point out that they have just accepted the whole truth of Darwin's theory they deny that frightful thought. Some take instant umbrage, although a few, thank goodness, do leave the room with a pensive look.

The problem is not with any particular belief system but with belief itself. Sir Francis Bacon once said that: "If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties." In other words, if you are absolutely sure that you are right whatever the evidence, you will end up in trouble; but if you are always willing to change your mind when the facts change you will emerge with a robust view of how the world works.

I sometimes wonder how many of those who pour their inane opinions about creationism into their young pupils' ears ever consider the damage they are doing; not to my science, but to their religion. Why, when a student begins to learn the simple and convincing facts, rather than the fantasies, about how life emerged, should he believe anything else that his pastor, his rabbi or his imam has told him? Why build a philosophy based on fixed untruths, when we have so many truths, and so many things still to find out?

The growing tide of fact-denial is a statement of failure, not by students but by their teachers, up to and including those at university level. We do our best, I think, but faced with schools or faith groups that get their ignorance in first, we seem to be fighting a losing battle. Just a few weeks ago I gave a talk to sixth-formers entitled, provocatively, "Why evolution is right and creationism is wrong". We had a vigorous discussion at the end in which one lad got me on the back foot by insisting, rightly, that the whole of science is based on uncertainty and that I could not, as a scientist, use a phrase such as "Why evolution is right". As a compromise I suggested that I would henceforth call the talk: "Why evolution is probably right, and creationism is certainly wrong". Somehow, I think that will not solve the problem.

Steve Jones was until recently Professor of Genetics at University College London and is President of the Association for Science Education.

Creationism in job discrimination case

http://ncse.com/news/2011/12/creationism-job-discrimination-case-006970

December 2nd, 2011 California General

"A Los Angeles Superior Court judge has opted to let a jury decide whether NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory discriminated against a former employee who claims he was fired for discussing intelligent design," according to the Pasadena Star-News (November 30, 2011). The initial complaint, filed on April 11, 2010, alleged that JPL discriminated against and unfairly demoted David Coppedge because of his discussion of "intelligent design" as well as religious and political issues in the workplace. After Coppedge was laid off from his job in January 2011, the complaint was amended to add a claim of wrongful termination, although JPL replied that Coppedge was laid off as part of a natural attrition.

The Star-News described Coppedge as "[a] well-known figure among proponents of 'intelligent design'" and noted that he operates the Creation-Evolution Headlines website, but overlooked the fact that he is on the board of Illustra Media, which produces "intelligent design" films such as Unlocking the Mystery of Life, The Privileged Planet, and Darwin's Dilemma. It was, in part, Coppedge's distribution of such films to his coworkers that prompted JPL to take disciplinary action against him. Coppedge's attorney, William J. Becker Jr., represented the American Freedom Alliance in its recent suit against the California Science Center over the cancellation of a screening of Darwin's Dilemma.

With the judge's decision to allow the case to go to trial on December 14, 2011, a spokesperson for JPL told the Star-News, "The suit is completely without merit, and we intend to vigorously fight the allegations raised by Mr. Coppedge." Shortly after the filing of the suit, Gary Williams, a professor of law at Loyola University, told the Star-News (April 18, 2010) that Coppedge's prospects for success were dim: "If an employee is talking about anything in the workplace that is not related to work, the employer is entitled to say that 'I don't want you to do this,'" Williams said. "You're not protected." Documents from the case, David Coppedge v. Jet Propulsion Laboratory et al., are available on NCSE's website.

It's Crunch-Time For Alternative Medicine

http://www.thehealthierlife.co.uk/natural-health-articles/news-views/camaign-against-alternative-medicine-efsa-97435.html

Date: 01/12/11

Keywords: European Food Safety Authority, Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive, Alternative medicine, anti-vitamin campaign, Beta Glucans, Co-enzyme Q10, CoQ10, Diet, Glucosamine, Nutrition

On 5th December, a European Commission committee will put forward a proposal for an EU-wide Regulation that will establish a list of authorised 'general function' health claims. If these regulations get the green-light, all general function health claims for commercial food and food supplement products that are not authorised, will be banned across all 27 EU Member States, within the next 6 months! Suffice to say, this is very bad news indeed for natural and alternative medicine. Of the 44,000 health claims that were submitted, only 224 (these are limited to just 70 foods or food ingredients) were approved and appear on the draft list. This excludes many botanical substances and probiotics. However, after a massive industry backlash, when around 1500 claims for botanicals and probiotics were largely rejected, public pressure forced the EFSA to re-evaluate these claims.

Many of our regular readers will know that plans to implement stringent European (EU) Regulations on natural remedies, came into effect in April this year. The European Food Safety Authority's (EFSA) 'one-size-fits-all' approach to all vitamins, nutritional supplements and herbal remedies, is being enforced under the guise of 'consumer protection'. Along with this, the EU Food Supplements Directive (EUFSD) will legally implement the harmonised, maximum permitted levels (MPLs) for food supplements and fortified foods throughout Europe.

That's not all... the Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive (THMPD), will make it almost impossible for a traditional herbal medicine (such as an Ayurvedic remedy or Chinese traditional remedy) to be licensed in Europe unless it has been used for 30 years in the European Union (EU) – or 15 years in the EU and 15 years elsewhere.

Crunch time

Much as some herbal products have managed to survive this cull, with some even being licensed as Registered Herbal Medicines, many important alternative medicines and nutrients (and there are plenty) did not.

On 5th December, a European Commission committee will put forward a proposal for an EU-wide Regulation that will establish a list of authorised 'general function' health claims.

If these regulations get the green-light, all general function health claims for commercial food and food supplement products that are not authorised, will be banned across all 27 EU Member States, within the next 6 months!

In just 5 minutes every day, it will tell you what works, what doesn't work, and what may harm you in both orthodox and alternative medicine.

Suffice to say, this is very bad news indeed for natural and alternative medicine. Of the 44,000 health claims that were submitted, only 224 (these are limited to just 70 foods or food ingredients) were approved and appear on the draft list. This excludes many botanical substances and probiotics. However, after a massive industry backlash, when around 1500 claims for botanicals and probiotics were largely rejected, public pressure forced the EFSA to re-evaluate these claims.

As a result, a number of plant-based ingredients are still undergoing approval. Yet, despite this, only a smidgen of botanicals has so far appeared on the draft list, including the 'natural statin', red yeast rice, with a claim for maintenance of normal blood cholesterol, beta glucans from oats and barley, polyphenols in olive oil for protection of blood lipids from oxidative stress, and walnuts for improvement of elasticity of blood vessels.

How the health benefits of vita supplements like CoQ10 could soon be silenced

A great cause for concern is the absence of important minerals like boron, silicon or sulphur, either from the claims list or the list of permitted minerals in food supplements. The nine essential amino acids (that cannot be made by the body), including lysine, methionine, tryptophan and tyrosine, have also been excluded.

There are numerous other natural ingredients, widely used by millions because of their proven benefits, which do not appear on the draft list. These include:

* Alpha lipoic acid: This powerful antioxidant is invaluable for pre-diabetics and diabetics, in addition to those with neuropathy (including nerve pain).

* Various forms of carnitine: Recognised for cardiovascular support, especially among very active people.

* Co-enzyme Q10: One of the most important supplements used in supporting cardiovascular health. It's one of the body's essential building blocks, depleted by cholesterol-lowering statins and therefore particularly beneficial when taken as a supplement.

* Glucosamine and chondroitin: The two most commonly used ingredients for those looking for joint support.

* Glutamine: used particularly by sportspeople for helping to increase muscle mass.

* Ribonucleotides: Added to infant formulae and taken by immune compromised adults to help support the immune system and support healthy gut function.

Black and white approach takes away a fundamental human right

There are plenty of reasons why so many health claims have been rejected. The single most important one being that the EFSA is working on a Pharma-based evaluation process. The biggest problem with this form of evaluation is that the EFSA requires only human studies on healthy populations to substantiate any claims made. Of this, only clinical (intervention) studies are accepted in their own right, with observational and epidemiological studies only being allowed as supporting data. Animal studies or biochemical evidence are also of little value in the EFSA evaluation process.

This level of scientific scrutiny is simply impossible in the field of nutritional science. The sheer complexity of human physiological and metabolic interactions with our food, genetic variations between individuals, variability in the chemical composition of foods, along with the relatively low investment in research, mean nutritional science is far from being black and white.

In short, the EFSA has laid down rules nutritional science cannot play by...

Unfortunately, this EFSA process of approval has already gone too far for us to make a difference on a national parliamentary level. The best way forward is to get the majority of MEPs in the European Parliament to block this law. This is a mammoth task, but one that can be achieved if every concerned European citizen pulls his or her weight.

First, you need to forward this email to everyone you know who lives in the EU. Get them to become actively involved, because it will impact everyone!

Secondly, we strongly encourage everyone over the age of 18 who lives within the EU to write to their MEP (follow this link to find your MEP). Ask him or her to support blocking the passage of the Article 13.1 health claims list into European law.

Highlight the following arguments in your letter or email:

* The draft list of authorised general function health claims is very limited, comprising just 224 health claims relating to just 70 foods or ingredients.

* These claims were taken from a list of 2,758 evaluated by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and so represent just 8% of claims evaluated.

* Evaluation of other claims, such as those on botanicals and probiotics, has yet to be completed and it would be disproportionate to apply a ban on rejected claims and not on others that might be rejected in the future.

* There has been no adequate impact assessment on how authorising so few claims, while banning so many that were used in the past, will affect consumer decision- making and ultimately public health.

* There is also a significant risk that mandating such a narrow list of claims will distort the commercial food supply, encouraging food producers to focus more on foods and ingredients for which authorised claims have been allowed. This will narrow the range of foods available and could have serious long-term health consequences on the population.

If the European Parliament fails to block this half-baked list of authorised claims, it will not only impact our own future, but it will almost certainly affect our children and grandchildren... they will grow up in an environment where they will have no access to scientific information about the health benefits of food.

Imagine what impact this will have on the decisions they'll make about their health?

Energy Healing and Other Alternative Medicine for Veterans

http://www.topsecretwriters.com/2011/12/energy-healing-and-other-alternative-medicine-for-veterans/

If you are of the belief that alternative medicine is practiced by quacks that are out to steal your money, you may find it surprising that the U.S. Department of Defense has earmarked several billion dollars for research into these healing methods for the benefit of veterans.

Researchers consider the results of some of these studies to be somewhat promising.

In 2008, the U.S. Army put up $4 million dollars to be used as grant money for research into alternative methods of healing such conditions as PTSD, depression, anxiety and substance abuse. (1)

The Pentagon has also dedicated $5 million to the study of alternative methods such as yoga, acupuncture and meditation for treating PTSD in veterans.

Early results showed that acupuncture was helpful in treating PSTD, pain and depression. (2)

Other Attempts at Alternative Treatments for Veterans

These were not the first attempts to find less than contemporary methods of treating PTSD. Research using acupuncture began as early as 2007. (3)

Complimentary and Alternative Medicine has also been studied to treat chronic pain. These studies were funded, in part, by the Department of Veterans Affairs Health Services Research and Development Service and the U.S. Army Medical Command's Department of Clinical Investigation.

Results of the studies were mixed, but they did find that many alternative methods were useful in treating different types of pain. (4)

More recently in 2010, research was published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology on the effects of reiki on Acute Coronary Syndrome. (5)

This study showed reiki to benefit patients, but it was unclear if the benefits would be long-term.

The Department of Defense also recommended acupuncture as supplementary therapy to treat anxiety, pain, sleep problems and PTSD. It was also being used by field doctors to treat mild traumatic brain injuries. (6)

Currently, research is underway to test the value of meditation in the treatment of PTSD.

It has also been determined that acupuncture is promising in the treatment of PTSD, though more research is still needed on acupuncture as well as yoga. Overall, supporting evidence is sparse, but promising.

Because of these results, the VA is continuing to sponsor research into Complimentary and Alternative Medicine to treat U.S. soldiers who are suffering from these illnesses. (7)

References:
(1) Army's New PSTD Treatments: Yoga, Reiki, Bioenergy
(2) Pentagon researches alternative treatments
(3) Acupuncture May Help Symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
(4) Efficacy of selected complementary and alternative medicine interventions for chronic pain
(5) Effects of Reiki on Autonomic Activity Early After Acute Coronary Syndrome
(6) Acupuncture Makes Strides in Treatment of Brain Injuries, PTSD
(7) VA Research Projects on Complementary and Alternative Medicine

Kathleen Roberts is a freelance writer and editor with a special interest in health-related topics. Her main focus is uncovering ways to achieve health naturally while not becoming a lab rat for Big Pharma. Kathleen has 17 post(s) at Top Secret Writers
Posted in: Public Health Tags: acupuncture, alternative medicine, reiki, yoga


Thursday, December 01, 2011

Notes from the Science Desk: Jury to decide JPL discrimination lawsuit

http://www.pasadenastarnews.com/news/ci_19445645

Posted: 11/30/2011 10:15:33 PM PST

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge has opted to let a jury decide whether NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory discriminated against a former employee who claims he was fired for discussing intelligent design, the Discovery Institute reported this week.

A conservative Christian think tank known for its promotion of the intelligent design theory, the Discovery Institute claims David Coppedge was demoted then wrongfully terminated for "simple viewpoint discrimination."

A well-known figure among proponents of "intelligent design" - the protoscientific strain of creationism that attributes life and the universe to the hand of an intelligent being - Coppedge writes the blog Creation-Evolution Headlines.

In an email, Discovery spokesman Andrew McDiarmid contended JPL demoted veteran employee David Coppedge for "pushing religion" on account of his loaning intelligent design DVDs to coworkers.

JPL has contended Coppedge was part of "a natural attrition" - let go in a round of routine layoffs related to Cassini's shrinking, extended budget.

In an email Wednesday, JPL spokeswoman Veronica McGregor said, "The suit is completely without merit, and we intend to vigorously fight the allegations raised by Mr. Coppedge."

But the Discovery Institute is not loosing the grip on its aggressive PR campaign. It threatened in this week's release that the case against JPL "will remind employers that it is costly to discriminate against ID in the workplace."

Twenty Years After Darwin on Trial, ID is Dead

http://scienceblogs.com/evolutionblog/2011/11/twenty_years_after_darwin_on_t.php

Category: Anti-Creationism

Posted on: November 29, 2011 5:09 PM, by Jason Rosenhouse

I just spent the last week working out of my New Jersey office, which is to say I was visiting the family for Thanksgiving. Before that I was spending a lot of time going over the page proofs and compiling the index for the BECB (the big evolution/creationism book, for those not up on the local slang). So it's nice to see that particular project work its way down the home stretch.

It was probably sometime during 2006 when I first started thinking seriously about writing a book about my experiences at creationist conferences. When I first started mentally outlining the book I honestly thought ID would be the focus. That's not how things worked out. Among the five major sections of the book only one is devoted exclusively to ID. Once I started writing, it simply became clear that ID just isn't that interesting anymore.

When I first became aware of ID in the late nineties, I worried that evolution might have met its match. Not because of ID's scientific merits, of course. Even as a novice creationism-fighter first learning the relevant science it was clear to me that the ID arguments didn't hold up at all. Behe's arguments about irreducible complexity were logically fallacious, something that is clear even before you peruse the professional literature and discover that Behe's summaries of it were inaccurate. Dembski's probabilistic arguments were an even bigger disaster, since your average freshman math major could tell you there is no reasonable way of calculating the probability of evolving a flagellum or whatnot.

No, I worried because ID seemed to be providing something that a lot of people wanted. You see, many folks just flat don't like evolution. They have some vague notion that it's hostile to religion, and it does seem to lower the status of humanity within The Big Picture. But for many of those same people, YEC is just a bridge too far. They're not going to take their Bible literally or dismiss out of hand huge swaths of modern science.

Then here comes ID to provide what seems like a scientifically plausible form of anti-evolutionism. You could apparently oppose evolution without descending into outright religious obscurantism. I worried that people would find that sufficiently appealing to avoid looking too carefully at the details, rather like it's easier to just enjoy a chocolate covered Oreo than it is to think about what it's doing to your innards.

But that's not what happened. Even leaving aside the blow of Dover v. Kitzmiller, ID has simply collapsed under the weight of its own vacuity. In the nineties and early 2000s, ID seemed to be producing one novel argument after another. They were variations on familiar themes, of course, but books like Darwin on Trial, Darwin's Black Box, No Free Lunch and even Icons of Evolution, written by people with serious credentials and written with far more skill than the YEC's could muster, seemed to advance the discussion in original ways. These books attracted enormous interest among scientists, if only in the sense that they were promoting bad ideas that needed be countered. Many books were written to counter ID's pretensions, and major science periodicals took notice of them.

Not so today. Consider the two biggest ID books of recent years. Michael Behe's follow-up book, The Edge of Evolution, dropped like a stone. It got a few perfunctory reviews written by scientists who perked up just long enough to note its many errors, and then everyone ignored it. Frankly, even the ID folks don't seem to talk about it very much. Stephen Meyer's book Signature in the Cell was likewise met with crickets. It briefly seemed like a big deal, a big book released by a mainstream publisher, but scientists gave it a scan, saw nothing remotely new, and yawned.

The ID blogs are hardly in any better shape. It's mostly just post after post whining and kvetching about how mean old scientists don't take them seriously. Consider this sad little post from David Klinghoffer, writing at the Discovery Institute's blog. Referring to people like P. Z. Myers and Richard Dawkins he writes:

These people are bullies and cowards. Really, it's pathetic and anyone with a critical capacity and any interest in the Darwin question should have asked himself by now why the main Darwin defenders refuse to wrestle with the most serious Darwin critics -- even if seriousness were measured simply in relative terms -- when they've got no shortage of time to plow through self-published Internet texts by the Hamza Andreas Tzortzises of this world.

The occasion for this pouty little rant was this post by P. Z. Myers, which was responding to the claims of an Islamic creationist who was arguing that the Quran anticipated modern science. Klinghoffer does not approve of Myers's choice of blog topics, it seems. (Incidentally, P. Z. Myers has already responded to Klinghoffer.)

But to anyone outside the ID bubble the claim that evolutionists have simply ignored the most serious (ahem) Darwin critics is plainly absurd. There have been numerous books and countless magazine and internet postings addressing and refuting all of the major arguments ID has to offer. Quite a few scientists have taken time out from their real jobs to take ID seriously, ponder its arguments, and formulate counter-arguments that they then patiently explain to anyone who is interested. Klinghoffer obviously does not agree that the counter-arguments have been successful, but that's a far different charge from saying that ID has been ignored.

What would Kilnghoffer have Myers do? Write another post explaining why irreducible complexity is nonsense? Another post explaining why complex specified information is crap, or why Dembski's use of the No Free Lunch Theorems is silly, or how Jonathan Wells was wrong about everything in Icons of Evolution? There's only so many times you can refute the Darwin/Hitler connection, or the urban legends about creationists being fired from their jobs just because of their beliefs, or the endless wolf-crying claims that the latest bits of esoterica from the back pages of Nature somehow refute evolution, before you move on to other things.

The situation hardly improves if you move over to Uncommon Descent. At one time UD aspired to be the outpost for serious ID thinking. Those days are long past. To see what it has become makes even a hardcore anti-ID guy like me a little sad. For one recent example, here's Granville Sewell making his thermodynamics argument one more time.

Evolution is a movie running backward, that is what makes it so different from other phenomena in our universe, and why it demands a very different sort of explanation.

In a postscript he writes:

The "compensation" argument, used by a fictional character above to argue that because the Earth is an open system, tornados constructing houses and cars out of rubble here would not violate the second law, and widely used by very real characters to argue that the most spectacular increase in order ever seen anywhere does not violate it, was the target of my Applied Mathematics Letters article "A Second Look at the Second Law". In that article, I showed that the very equations of entropy change upon which this compensation argument is based do not support this viewpoint, they instead illustrate the tautology that "if an increase in order is extremely improbable when a system is isolated, it is still extremely improbable when the system is open, unless something is entering which makes it not extremely improbable."

See what I mean about ID having nothing new to offer? Sewell has been peddling this nonsense since 2001, when he got The Mathematical Intelligencer to publish an opinion piece by him on this subject. Do we really have to explain, again, that the notion that local decreases in entropy can be offset by global increases is just a straightforward consequence of what the second law says? That the second law does nothing more than put a lower bound on the magnitude of the entropy change that results from some thermodynamical process, and that a claim that evolution contradicts the second law must be backed up with a plausible calculation showing that the bound did not hold in the case of evolution? That every serious attempt to estimate the entropy change in the course of evolution shows that Darwin is safe by many, many orders of magnitude? Must we once more point out that declaring a sequence of events to be consistent with the second law in no way implies that that sequence is probable?

Is this the sort of serious ID theorizing to which Klinghoffer wants us to pay greater attention?

The occasion for this post is the twentieth anniversary of the publication of Phillip Johnson's Darwin on Trial. This is the book that kicked off the ID phenomenon in the early nineties. Many of the ID blogs have been posting tributes to Johnson, such as this one by David Berlinski. It's a remarkable post. It goes on and on in Berlinski's familiar, tortured, "See how well I write!" style. He starts with the standard chest-pounding directed at Richard Dawkins and Michael Ghiselin, moves on to familiar creationist idiocies about the fossil record or the neutral theory of evolution, dredges up ye olde Lewontin quote (you know the one I mean), takes some shots at Gould's NOMA idea, and boasts about how the California Science Center and the University of Kentucky recently paid nuisance money to ID folks to avoid dealing with frivolous lawsuits. All so standard. And boring.

You have to wade through all the way to the end before coming to anything about ID that is not mired in the past, or that does not involve dredging up some old imagined glory. Berlinski closes with:

And now? Both critics and defenders of Darwin's theory have been humbled by the evidence. We are the beneficiaries of twenty years of brilliant and penetrating laboratory work in molecular biology and biochemistry. Living systems are more complex than ever before imagined. They are strange in their organization and nature. No theory is remotely adequate to the facts.

There is some evidence that once again, the diapason of opinion is being changed. The claims of intelligent design are too insistent and too plausible to be frivolously dismissed and the inadequacies of any Darwinian theory too obvious to be tolerated frivolously. Time has confirmed what critics like Phil Johnson have always suspected. Darwin's theory is far less a scientific theory than the default position for a view in which the universe and everything in it assembles itself from itself in a never-ending magical procession. The religious tradition and with it, a sense for the mystery, terror and grandeur of life, has always embodied insights that were never trivial.

The land is rising even as it sinks.

And this, too, is a message that Phil Johnson was pleased to convey.

You can be sure Berlinski was mentally thinking, "Damn, I'm good!" as he wrote those pretentious final lines.

But this is all so sad and silly. It will come as news to most biologists that the last twenty years of progress in biochemistry and molecular biology have been disconcerting to evolutionary theory. And the claim that evolution performs a philosophical role, and not a practical one, in modern scientific practice is refuted by the simple expedient of perusing the journals in any decent science library. For a moribund, unworthy theory, evolution sure does seem to produce a lot of results, as judged by the sheer number of papers people manage to write on the subject.

In the mid-nineties it was possible to wonder seriously if ID was a serious intellectual movement, or just another fad that would die out on its own. That verdict is now in. ID is dead. As a doornail. Even as YEC shows renewed life with the success of the Creation Museum and the fracas over their planned Noah's Ark theme park, the ID corpse isn't even twitching anymore.

From the Darwinist Blogosphere, Stephen Meyer's Trip to London Elicits a Typical Reaction

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2011/11/stephen_meyers053481.html

Jonathan M. November 29, 2011 5:33 PM | Permalink

As we have already reported, Discovery Institute's Stephen Meyer recently paid a visit to London to present and defend the thesis of Signature in the Cell at a dinner party attended by scientists, philosophers, politicians and other men and women of influence. His visit included a radio debate against theistic evolutionist Keith Fox, which you can download and listen to here. Fox presented nothing fundamentally novel, and more or less all of the objections raised by him had already been thoroughly addressed in Meyer's book. Keith Fox is a professor of biochemistry at the University of Southampton, and is also the chairman of Christians in Science -- in essence, the UK equivalent of the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA).

Unfortunately, I was not present at the event in London. But I have heard positive reports from those who were. One person wrote to me after the event, saying,

Steve Meyer was very well received and perhaps the most striking thing for me was the number of people afterwards who commented that they hadn't really thought about it before. This from professors and scientists!

How encouraging! I think one of the main reasons that ID does not enjoy a broader base of acceptance in the academic world is the sheer lack of understanding of what the theory actually says and what the arguments for it are. It's good to see the effect that exposure to these ideas is having, even on biologists and other academics. See here for the Centre for Intelligent Design's report on the event.

Meyer's London visit is already causing a stir on the blogosphere. At the Christians in Science website Internet forum, "Simon" writes,

Meyer's lecture was truly awful. [...] To be fair I was expecting something much better from so senior an ID person and was disappointed. He started with a brief overview of natural selection followed by a more detailed (but stumbly) description of the cellular transcription/translation machinery. He then showed all the usual calculations of why a functional protein sequence can't have evolved by chance, followed by a really confused attempt to explain how the information content cannot have evolved by necessity (i.e. physical laws). This was the worst bit of his lecture by a long way -- something about bonds between base-pairs in DNA not being able to self assemble. He really did not spend enough time explaining his reasoning on this point and sort of jumped quickly to his conclusion (he was running late at this point) by saying since the cellular machinery was so complex, it must have been intelligent design.

I was hoping for a much better talk from so well known a speaker, but basically it boiled down to the incredulity argument coupled with a God of the gaps conclusion. The event reminded me of why I no longer bother to read any of the ID literature, and generally consider anyone who takes ID seriously as either being naïve about science or alternatively a bit stupid.

I was not at this lecture. But if Meyer's presentation was anything like his usual, this comment would appear to demonstrate a complete failure on the part of its author to understand the argument that Steve Meyer actually presents. For one thing, the point that Meyer makes about the bonding in DNA is that "there are no chemical bonds between the bases along the longitudinal axis in the center of the helix. Yet it is precisely along this axis of the DNA molecule that the genetic information is stored" (SITC, p. 242). It is this fundamental property of DNA that allows DNA to carry the information it does. The bases of DNA do not align in the sequential arrangement they do because of physical necessity or chemical affinity. The arrangement, on the contrary, is arbitrary -- any arrangement is possible, but only some arrangements convey functional specificity.

Meyer's argument also does not say that "x is complex; therefore, x is designed," nor does Meyer commit the "god-of-the-gaps" fallacy. On the contrary, Meyer argues -- based on the standard historical (abductive) scientific method -- that there is only one known cause, one category of explanation, that is known by virtue of our uniform and repeated experience to be able to produce large volumes of highly complex (improbable) and functionally specific information. Thus, in the absence of viable competing explanations, it follows that the most likely explanation for this phenomenon is that it too arose by virtue of an intelligent cause.

Most of the other thread comments continue in a similar vein, with much the same tone and level of argumentation.

"Simon" wrote later on in the thread,

Regarding the biochemistry, the whole argument about probabilities is a complete red herring. The reason why natural selection is a powerful theory is because it short-circuits the vanishingly small probabilities required to generate complex life through just chance by adding a "necessity" selection filter. Granted this is the "chance & necessity" argument, however Meyer did a really poor job in saying why chance & necessity cannot lead to specified information increase. For instance polyploidy is a well known biological phenomenon which leads to an increase in "specified complexity" as Meyer would call it, however he seemed to suggest that such systems couldn't occur!

Oh my. "Simon" really hasn't read any ID papers on this topic, has he? I suggest he start with Douglas Axe's thorough treatment of the topic in his 2010 paper in Bio-Complexity, which one can read here. The whole point of the argument about protein folds is that:

  1. Natural selection is blind to non-functional sequences of amino acids.
  2. Functional sequences of amino acids are astronomically rare and isolated in combinatorial sequence space.

Given these two facts, natural selection cannot navigate through combinatorial sequence space in search of the bases of those functional peaks. Sure, natural selection can optimize a function once the bases of those peaks have already been found. But finding them in the first place is like searching for a tiny needle in an enormous haystack. And this problem is only accentuated by the functional interdependency of macromolecules in even the simplest and most basic of subcellular systems.

"Simon" also cites polyploidy as a means by which specified complexity can arise. But Signature in the Cell is concerned with the origin of such specified complexity in the first life, and polyploidy concerns genome duplication in eukaryotes. Moreover, even in eukaryotes, polyploidy only appears to have a major effect within plants -- so its relevance to the origin of the first life is dubious.

One of the thread's contributors is a molecular genetics professor by the name of Robert Saunders. Saunders is a member of the BCSE (British equivalent of the National Center for Science Education) and often weighs in on intelligent design on their blog and on his own. Saunders was sent an invitation which he accepted, though he didn't turn up for the event. However he decided to blog about it anyway. Saunders writes,

The Centre for Intelligent Design makes much of the supposition that only intelligence can bring about "information." Unfortunately from their point of view, increase (and decrease) in gene number and genome size are clearly observable, not only by comparative genomics studies of a wide variety of taxa, but by direct observation of within species genome variation. What's more, those of us engaged in laboratory genetics are well aware of the kinds of genome changes that can occur even within the timescale of laboratory work.

Clearly, Saunders is unfamiliar with what ID proponents mean when they speak of "information." An increase in "genome size" can hardly be construed as an increase in CSI (Complex Specified Information), though it may well qualify as an increase in "Shannon information." He continues,

In contrast to the ongoing efforts of science, one of the hallmarks of Intelligent Design creationism is that they don't conduct novel research aimed at proving the existence of design. How can they? -- ID isn't science and makes no testable predictions. What ID creationists do is to focus on individual cases where they assert evolutionary biology cannot explain how some feature arose (usually by claiming "irreducible complexity" or some such tosh) and claim that if evolution wasn't responsible, intelligent design is the only alternative -- a pretty dubious way of claiming evidence for ID. Unfortunately for the likes of Michael Behe, each time one of these assertions is made, those pesky scientists come along and knock it down. Examples include the bacterial flagellum and the vertebrate immune system. The rather wonderful Nova TV documentary about Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District I linked to the other day (US TV Documentary -- Judgment Day: Intelligent Design On Trial) demolishes those two canards of intelligent design creationism in a very accessible fashion.

This paragraph contains nearly as many errors as there are sentences. For one thing, ID does make testable predictions. For example, it predicts the presence of complex and functionally specific information in the cell; it predicts the already-alluded-to rarity of functional protein folds in amino acid sequence space; it predicts certain patterns in the history of life (e.g., the saltationist nature of the fossil record; morphological disparity preceding diversity, etc.); it predicts that design purposes will be discovered for systems that are currently thought to be functionless (such as the discoveries of the past decade or two which have uncovered a myriad of functions for so-called "junk DNA"). In astronomy, it predicts that, as science progresses, the number of instances of fine tuning in the laws and constants of physics will increase and not decrease over time. And it makes many other predictions as well.

Furthermore, ID proponents are of course doing novel research. For a listing of such research, see the following links:

  1. Peer-Reviewed & Peer-Edited Scientific Publications Supporting the Theory of Intelligent Design (Annotated)
  2. Evolutionary Informatics Lab -- Publications
  3. Biologic Institute -- Research
  4. Bio-Complexity Publication Archive

Nor is it the case that we "focus on individual cases where [we] assert evolutionary biology cannot explain how some feature arose...and claim that if evolution wasn't responsible, intelligent design is the only alternative." Rather, we argue that, based on our knowledge of the causal powers of various competing explanations, ID is the only candidate that fits the bill. Intelligent agents possess the unique ability to visualize complexity and bring everything together that is needed to actualize a complex endpoint. In all our experience, there is a uniform causal relation between information -- of the type we find in the cell -- and intelligence. Therefore, based on the historical (abductive) method of scientific enquiry, ID is the most causally adequate explanation for this information. Perhaps the confusion stems from Saunders' own confession that not only did he not attend the speech, "I haven't read Meyer's book."

Saunders brings up the irreducible complexity of the bacterial flagellum and the vertebrate immune system, claiming that these cases of irreducible complexity have been refuted. But this is not the case. For a discussion of why the attempted explanations of the bacterial flagellum by Ken Miller and others fundamentally trivialize the complexity and organization of the system, see my article here. For a discussion of how the critics have failed to refute Behe on the vertebrate immune system, see Casey Luskin's article here.

Saunders also mentions the Dover Trial, with specific reference to the PBS film "Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial". For a thorough exposé of the errors and misrepresentations of this film, check out this website. For those who want the highlights, there is also this excellent article by ENV's Casey Luskin. For further background information on the Dover Trial, check out Traipsing Into Evolution.

Saunders concludes his reflections by asking why it is the case that the UK Centre for Intelligent Design requested that the names of the attendees at the Meyer event remain undisclosed. In this, Saunders demonstrates his sheer lack of familiarity with the dynamics of the ID debate. There is tremendous academic pressure on scientists today to conform to the scientific consensus regarding the materialistic basis of life's origins and evolution. For many, being "outed" as a proponent of (or sympathizer with) ID would be detrimental to one's career prospects. For a thorough discussion of this unfortunate fact, see Expelled.

Saunders notes that the policy was later changed to allow guests to "report, formally or informally, on the content of the lecture, the nature of the issues raised at question time, and the identities of the host, lecturer and representatives of the Centre for Intelligent Design." Saunders speculates, "Quite what significance (if any) this holds I don't know. But one interpretation might be that attendance from individuals outside the obvious ID creationism circles was looking low, and the organisers felt this statement might encourage them to come along." No, Bob, this rule was implemented at the request of some attendees, and in the interests of fostering frank, healthy discourse.

In summary, a survey of the various responses to Stephen Meyer reveals the lack of substantive rebuttal to the arguments he raises. If this is the best the critics of ID have to offer, they are in deep trouble. As the C4ID's director Dr. Alastair Noble said to Saunders in a blog comment, "I suppose the value of a critique of a book you didn't read and a lecture you didn't attend is that you achieve a much higher caliber of fiction!"

Evolution and Islam

http://www.getreligion.org/2011/11/evolution-and-islam/

Posted by geoconger

The Daily Mail has brought to its readers' attention a timely twist to the conflict between faith and science. The article: "Muslim medical students boycotting lectures on evolution… because it 'clashes with the Koran'," reports the tensions felt by Muslim medical students who are divided between adherence to their faith and the pursuit of their profession.

However, readers expecting an updated version of "Inherit the Wind", substituting Islam for Christianity and London for the American South, will be disappointed. There is a great idea for a story here, but no story as far as I can tell.

The article opens with a bang, and telegraphs the Daily Mail's editorial view (the students are villains, the professor the hero):

Muslim students, including trainee doctors on one of Britain's leading medical courses, are walking out of lectures on evolution claiming it conflicts with creationist ideas established in the Koran.

Professors at University College London have expressed concern over the increasing number of biology students boycotting lectures on Darwinist theory, which form an important part of the syllabus, citing their religion.

Similar to the beliefs expressed by fundamentalist Christians, Muslim opponents to Darwinism maintain that Allah created the world, mankind and all known species in a single act.

Steve Jones emeritus professor of human genetics at university college London has questioned why such students would want to study biology at all when it obviously conflicts with their beliefs.

Everything is here for a screenplay. It includes great characters: Muslim medical students, a lefty professor, and a mysterious Muslim scholar Harun Yahya. The photo of Yahya provided by the Daily Mail could have come from central casting. Forget Claude Akins as Rev. Jeremiah Brown (the preacher in the 1960 Stanley Kramer version of the film) Harun Yahya could be played by a mature Jack Nicholson.

We have a clash of ideals — the tenets of Islam versus evolution, and a change of scene to London. And in the background we have England's unease in dealing with the demands of its growing population of immigrant Muslims. Throw in a clash of generations with the clash of cultures and an attractive female lead and we have a modern morality play. But that movie is not this story.

The Daily Mail article is unbalanced, un-sourced, and heavy handed. Neither good entertainment nor good journalism. Following its strong opening Prof. Jones speaks.

"I had one or two slightly frisky discussions years ago with kids who belonged to fundamentalist Christian churches, now it is Islamic overwhelmingly.

"They don't come [to lectures] or they complain about it or they send notes or emails saying they shouldn't have to learn this stuff.

"What they object to - and I don't really understand it, I am not religious - they object to the idea that there is a random process out there which is not directed by God."

So far so good — pithy, hard hitting comments from the professor. I was initially surprised, however, by placement of the professor's comments first. When a reporter presents two sides to an argument he sometimes gives the less favored side the first chance to speak. That allows the reporter's favorite the opportunity to speak in rebuttal. ("God tells me the earth ends tomorrow" claims Fred Loonie. "Not so," replies Prof. John Serious. "The Science is against it," said the Nobel laureate ….)

But surprise turned to astonishment when I read on and found no student or Muslim voice in rebuttal or explanation. After the professor's comments comes a statement that an imam received "death threats for suggesting that Darwinism and Islam might be compatible." This is followed by:

Sources within the group Muslims4UK partly blame the growing popularity of creationist beliefs within Islam on Turkish author Harun Yahya who, influenced by the success of Christian creationists in America, has written several books denouncing Darwinist theory. Yahya associates Darwinism with Nazism and his books are and videos are available at many Islamic bookshops in the UK and regularly feature on Islamic television channels.

And the article closes with a word from Richard Dawkins.

Evolutionary Biologist and former Oxford Professor Richard Dawkins has expressed his concern at the number of students, consisting almost entirely of Muslims, who do not attend or walk out of lectures.

That's it. Somebody (known as Sources) in a group called Muslims4UK (who are they?) says the fault lies with a Turkish author who draws his insights from the work of American creationists. How does Muslims4UK know this? What does Mr. Yahya say about all of this? How does Prof. Dawkins know that students are walking out of classes at University College London because of their religious beliefs?

What we have here is the statement of one professor that some Muslim students are cutting his classes — and the professor believes this is because their faith is in conflict with the school's syllabus. The absence of any contrary voice in explanation might just as well mean the professor was boycotted because he is a boring lecturer.

The Daily Mail commits the further sin of assuming Muslims speak with a single voice and that Islam rejects the teaching of evolution. While Hamas may believe that Darwinism is a nefarious plot by Jews to destroy religion, other Muslims believe Islam and evolution are compatible. A 2004 Guardian article that discussed the teaching of creationism in British schools quoted Dr Khalid Anees, president of the Islamic Society of Britain, as saying:

There is no contradiction between what is revealed in the Koran and natural selection and survival of the fittest. However, Muslims do not agree that one species can develop from another.

The journal Science reported that while belief in Darwinian evolution was not common in the Muslim world, the scientific communities of many Muslim nations backed the teaching of evolution in state schools. The 21 June 2006 InterAcademy Panel "Statement on the Teaching of Evolution" was endorsed by the national science academies of Bangladesh, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Morocco, Pakistan, Palestine, Senegal, Tajikistan, Turkey, and Uzbekistan.

Saying there is a single Muslim voice on evolution is as false as saying there is a single Christian view. Some conservatives Christians reject evolution, but the Catholic Church does not. While some Anglicans believe in creationism, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, does not. He told the Guardian he opposed teaching creationism in state schools.

"I think creationism is … a kind of category mistake, as if the Bible were a theory like other theories … if creationism is presented as a stark alternative theory alongside other theories I think there's just been a jarring of categories … My worry is creationism can end up reducing the doctrine of creation rather than enhancing it."

The shame of it all is that there is a real story in here — but not the one the Daily Mail is reporting. If the premise of the story is true, that Muslim medical students are boycotting classes on human evolution for religious purposes, then it is important to learn why and how such a radicalization took place. What has happened in British higher education that has converted Muslim students to an extremist view of their faith? A view rejected by the scientists from across the Muslim world.

All in all, this is a mess.

IowaPolitics.com: Bachmann sidesteps endorsing creationism in classrooms

http://www.iowapolitics.com/index.iml?Article=254518

12/1/2011

By Hannah Hess | IowaPolitics.com

CEDAR FALLS -- Minnesota U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann dodged multiple questions Wednesday about teaching creationism in the classroom, during an education forum here.

"I think that all science should be on the table, and wherever science leads that's where it leads," Bachmann said, when asked if public schools should teach the belief that God created the universe, along with evolution theory.

Moderator Ben Kieffer, of Iowa Public Radio, asked the question of Bachmann, who is competing for the Republican presidential nomination.

"Is intelligent design science?" he asked ,at the Bengston Auditorium on the University of Northern Iowa campus.

Bachmann deferred, saying classrooms must be free of government censorship.

Her Christian faith includes belief in intelligent design, she said, which holds that living organisms are so complex that they must have been created by a higher power. In 2005, a Pennsylvania federal judge barred the teaching of intelligent design in public school classrooms, saying it was unconstitutional.

"My opinion goes with science, and whatever science finds, I think that information — questions, as well as responses — needs to be laid on the table, so that students can make up their mind," she said.

The answer drew a light round of applause from the 400 people gathered in the auditorium, many of them college students. A group of four women shaking their heads at Bachmann's answer slipped out of the auditorium, 45 minutes into the hour-long forum.

During a second round of questioning on the subject, Bachmann said that ultimately, the decision about what to teach in the classroom rests with local school officials, not the president.

While she resisted having her feet held to the fire over creationism, Bachmann attempted to turn up the heat on her opponents for the GOP presidential nomination.

Bachmann challenged former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich on his illegal immigration position.

"What Newt Gingrich proposes is to make legal, overnight, over 11 million illegal workers in the United States," she told reporters, referring to his suggestion that law-abiding, tax-paying illegal immigrants who had been in the country for a number of years should become citizens.

"He needs to take the heat," said Bachmann, who characterizes the position as amnesty.

Bob Hall, 81, of Cedar Falls, who sat in the front row, said he liked Gingrich until hearing his stance on illegal immigration. Now, he and his wife, Jean, are considering Bachmann and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for their caucus votes.

Iowa Republicans cast their votes in more than 1,700 precinct caucuses across the state at 7 p.m. on Jan. 3. In Black Hawk County, where the Halls reside, all voters will gather at the UNI-Dome basketball arena on the college campus.

"But, as far as being a constitutional conservative, we like Michele Bachmann," Hall said.

In her latest e-mail pitch to supporters, Bachmann insisted that she is the only "consistent conservative" in the race and prodded for donations.

"We cannot afford a candidate who will flip-flop on the issues, saying one thing and doing another," the e-mail stated, in a jab at Romney, whose inconsistencies were the target of a Democratic ad campaign.

In the most recent Iowa poll, Bachmann ranked fourth, 1.6 percentage points behind Romney, who was third. Slightly more than 10 percent of 509 likely Iowa Republican caucusgoers said Bachmann was their first choice for president, compared to 28.1 percent for Gingrich, the frontrunner. Texas U.S. Rep Ron Paul ranked second with 13.3 percent.

The poll was conducted Nov. 28 for Newsmax by Insider Advantage/Majority Opinion Research, a market research team based in Georgia. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

University of Northern Iowa political science professor Chris Larimer said Bachmann would need a win, or strong second place finish in the Iowa caucuses to stay in the race.

"If she finishes outside the top three, I think she would be the one candidate who would actually drop out after Iowa, before New Hampshire," Larimer said. "I think there are just so many other bigger personalities in the race."

Bachmann told reporters she plans to become the first woman to win the caucuses.

She held town hall-style meetings Wednesday in Waverly and Charles City after the University of Northern Iowa education forum.

Listen to Bachmann's media availability: http://www.iowapolitics.com/1009/11.11.30.Bachmann.mp3

Listen to an interview with Larimer: http://www.iowapolitics.com/1009/11.11.30.Larimer.mp3

See the Insider Advantage/Majority Opinion Research poll: http://www.realclearpolitics.com/docs/2011/InsiderAdvantage_Iowa_GOP_1129.pdf

Rick Santorum Urges Teaching Of Creationism In Public Schools (VIDEO)

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/30/rick-santorum-creationism_n_1120766.html

First Posted: 11/30/11 12:02 PM ET Updated: 11/30/11 05:27 PM ET

Former Pennsylvania Sen. and GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum says the "left" and "scientific community" have monopolized the public school system's curriculum, only permitting the teaching of evolution and leaving no room for the introduction of creation-based theories in the classroom.

"There are many on the left and in the scientific community, so to speak, who are afraid of that discussion because oh my goodness you might mention the word, God-forbid, 'God' in the classroom, or 'Creator,' that there may be some things that are inexplainable by nature where there may be, where it's actually better explained by a Creator, and of course we can't have that discussion," Santorum said in an editorial interview with the Nashua Telegraph. "It's very interesting that you have a situation where science will only allow things in the classroom that are consistent with a non-Creator idea of how we got here, as if somehow or another that's scientific. Well maybe the science points to the fact that maybe science doesn't explain all these things. And if it does point to that, then why don't you pursue that? But you can't, because it's not science, but if science is pointing you there how can you say it's not science? It's worth the debate."

Santorum has long expressed frustration with -- and tried to combat -- the whole "science only allows science to be taught in science class" scenario. He attempted to append the self-titled "Santorum Amendment" to the No Child Left Behind Act back when he was a senator in 2001. The amendment, which failed, served the dual purposes of promoting the inclusion of intelligent design teachings in classrooms, while simultaneously undercutting the academic merits of evolution.

Intelligent design, the teaching of which was ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge in 2005, has been pushed by proponents as a "scientific" alternative to evolution that includes a Creator. Critics however, claim that there is simply no scientific evidence to back this theory, and that attempts to get it in the classroom are moves by the religious community to legitimize creationism as a substitute for evolution.

Though Santorum is a social conservative Catholic and well-documented opponent of evolution, when pressed repeatedly by MSNBC host Chris Matthews earlier this year on whether he believed in evolution, Santorum said he did -- in a "micro sense."

On Wednesday, Santorum also talked about his campaign with Glenn Beck on his radio program. Beck, who earlier praised the former senator as "the next George Washington," continued to laud Santorum as someone who is "Churchill, is Washington, is Lincoln." Over the summer, the duo also shared an awkward moment when Beck told Santorum, "I could kiss you in the mouth," following a discussion about the "Cut, Cap and Balance" pledge. Beck later clarified, saying "I was just kidding, I don't want to kiss you in the mouth."

Rick Perry sparked controversy when he said that he believes evolution is "a theory" with "some gaps in it" in August.

The Texas governor said the public schools in his state teach both creationism and evolution, telling a young boy at a campaign event who asked about his views on evolution that he figured the boy was "smart enough to know which one is right."

When asked about his thoughts on evolution and creationism being taught in schools in 2010, Perry told the San Angelo, Texas Standard-Times:

I am a firm believer in intelligent design as a matter of faith and intellect, and I believe it should be presented in schools alongside the theories of evolution. The State Board of Education has been charged with the task of adopting curriculum requirements for Texas public schools and recently adopted guidelines that call for the examination of all sides of a scientific theory, which will encourage critical thinking in our students, an essential learning skill.



Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Ontario medical college votes for tougher scrutiny for alternative medicine

http://news.nationalpost.com/2011/11/29/ontario-medical-college-votes-for-tougher-scrutiny-for-alternative-medicine/

Tom Blackwell Nov 29, 2011 – 12:05 AM ET

Joe Raedle / Getty Images

A new stance on alternative treatment by the Ontario doctors' college may influence policy across Canada.

Canada's biggest medical regulator has toughened up a sympathetic new policy on acupuncture, homeopathy and other alternative medicine after sharp criticism from some physicians, who complained the proposed rules undermined the principle of science-based health care.

The revised version of the guidelines — to be voted on by the College of Physicians & Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO) Tuesday — now emphasizes doctors should employ only treatments founded on good evidence and apply the same standards of proof to all kinds of therapies.

Critics who considered the policy too liberal say it still all but prohibits doctors from voicing skepticism about unproven non-conventional remedies. Others worry physicians performing alternative medicine will continue to face "heavy-handed" scrutiny.

The college posted its draft policy over the summer and drew almost 700 submissions from doctors, other health practitioners and lay people, one of the largest responses to a regulatory proposal it has ever received.

As the most detailed policy on the issue in Canada, coming from the most populous province, it could influence the agenda elsewhere, too, some observers say.

Briefing notes for the council acknowledge the new draft will not please everyone, given the contradictory input from those on differing sides of the debate.

"It does encourage physicians to keep lines of communication open with patients who pursue these practices," noted Jill Hefley, a college spokeswoman. "Hopefully, in the final policy, we've found the right balance."

The new policy proposal was drafted to recognize what some see as growing popularity of "complementary and alternative" health care in Canada, from herbal medicine to naturopathy and chiropractic.

In its original form, it said doctors should respect patients' wishes to try non-conventional care and require "sound evidence," but not necessarily clinical trials, to back up any alternative treatments they use.

Critics included the Canadian Medical Association, which said the policy should emphasize the lack of science behind some of the therapies. A group representing allergy doctors warned it could give credence to practitioners who lure asthmatics away from life-saving treatment. Others, including the organization that oversees Canada's medical specialists, said the policy was, if anything, too restrictive.

By contrast, the B.C. college's policy states simply that alternative therapies are generally unproven and recommending them without good evidence is unethical.

The new iteration of the Ontario draft suggests everything a doctor does should be informed by "evidence and science." It removes a suggestion the type of evidence required to justify a therapy depends on the nature of the treatment. It also removes a statement that seemed to allow doctors to employ therapies whose effectiveness and safety are unknown, so long as they act "in a cautious and ethical manner."

The changes are a step forward, but the policy still prevents doctors from voicing any "non-clinical" judgments about alternative health care unless requested by patients, said Iain Martel of the Committee for the Advancement of Scientific Skepticism. That could hamstring physicians when patients choose a non-conventional treatment that seems unscientific.

"Alternative-medicine practitioners are open to make all sorts of claims that are unfounded," he added. "Doctors have far better training … and far greater medical knowledge, but they're being told to keep silent about this debate."

On the other hand, a spokesman for a pro-alternative-medicine physicians group said the revised policy, while an improvement, still could leave such doctors open to unfair investigation and prosecution by the college. As it is, doctors who do non-conventional care seem to be unduly targeted by the regulator, said Dr. Craig Appleyard, spokesman for the Ontario Society of Physicians for Complementary Medicine.

"We want to have a policy that is going to govern us and set some standards, but at the same time is not over-bearing," he said. "It's not an equitable or fair system right now. The investigations tend to be heavy-handed … They come and survey patient charts at random, which is probably a violation of privacy legislation."

National Post
tblackwell@nationalpost.com

Lonely broken-hearted creationists

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/11/lonely_broken-hearted_creation.php

Category: Creationism
Posted on: November 28, 2011 8:36 PM, by PZ Myers

Aww, poor Intelligent Design creationism is feeling unloved. Or perhaps it's jealousy. David Klinghoffer, that clueless ideologue at the Discovery Institute, is whimpering that blogging scientists aren't paying enough attention to his brand of creationism.

Darwinian scientists who blog -- in other words, those whose comments are most readily accessible to us -- may indeed not pay attention to ID arguments, but that's certainly not because of any lack of "rigorous and persuasive ideas" on ID's part. The proof is that Darwin defenders are typically very busy indeed picking on other arguments that no thoughtful and critical person would remotely regard as "rigorous and persuasive." What those other arguments have in common is that, unlike ID, they're too weak to effectively fight back.

As a convenient example, right over at Panda's Thumb, Scanlan's colleage PZ Myers contributes a longish post (1500+ words) attacking some guy's rather... well, strained attempt to discover the details of all of embryology in two vaguely formulated verses from the Koran. Dr. Myers complains:

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.

Who is Hamza Andreas Tzortzis? On his Facebook page, he is identified as "a convert to Islam, ...an international lecturer, public speaker & author. He is particularly interested in Islam, philosophy and politics." How Dr. Myers discovered Mr. Tzortzis and what an easy punching bag he makes, I do not know.

Don't worry, Davy! I think you're just an easy a punching bag as Tzortzis, and just as obscure and irrelevant! Also, I think Intelligent Design creationism is just as strained, just as ludicrous, just as fallacious as Tzortzis's Muslim creationism, or Ken Ham's fundamentalist creationism, or Hugh Ross's old earth creationism, or Biologos's theistic evolution. I despise you all equally.

Big hug, OK?

Now I know these guys are used to cherry-picking all of their data and seeing whatever they want to see, but Klinghoffer has made a ridiculously bogus claim, that we don't pay attention to Intelligent Design creationism's arguments. Of course we do! It's just that right now ID is rather spent — they've blown it in all of their attempts to legislate creationism into the schools, they've got nothing credible published, and their predictions have all fallen flat — in 2004, Dembski predicted the demise of "molecular darwinism" in 5 years, which, you may notice, has passed. Instead, it looks like ID has lapsed into a twitching coma, with nothing new to say…not that they ever did, since all they were was warmed over William Paley in the first place.

Besides, ID creationism was only a puppet for the religious creationists anyway. Almost everyone in the movement is devout in some way or another (cue Berlinski to swirl in superciliously and declare that no, his only god is Berlinski), and their support was entirely derived from a creationist base that saw ID as a convenient secular facade to plaster over the godly superstition of its underpinnings. Sorry to say, that base was only loyal when they thought ID was a useful mask…as it has failed, they're all flocking to the Hams and Hovinds and local megachurches instead. You know, the religiously-driven fanatics that Klinghoffer so lightly dismisses as our easy targets.

But it's silly to claim we haven't addressed their arguments. Personally, I've reviewed Meyer's Signature in the Cell and Jonathan Wells' Icons of Evolution and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design. I've tackled Casey Luskin and Michael Egnor and Paul Nelson and Michael Behe and William Dembski. I've written general critiques of ID creationism. I've trashed ID creationism repeatedly, and with bemused enthusiasm.

Let's not forget all those other science bloggers and writers who've also stomped on ID repeatedly: Ian Musgrave, Wesley Elsberry, Carl Zimmer, John Wilkins, Larry Moran, Steve Matheson, Jeff Shallit, Allen MacNeill, Jerry Coyne, Ken Miller and many more. Or the whole danged gang at the Panda's Thumb. We'll all continue to take swipes at ID creationism occasionally, but the Discovery Institute just has to learn that as far as creationism goes, we're polyamorously promiscuous, and we're happy to screw the whole damned bunch of anti-science goombahs.

ID is just one minor and particularly pretentious form of the pathology. We don't focus on only ID, and it's not because we're afraid that they'll "effectively fight back". They won't. What they'll do instead is pretend our critiques never existed…just as Klinghoffer does here.


Monday, November 28, 2011

Burzynski Clinic: the domain of scoundrels and quacks

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/11/burzynski_clinic_the_domain_of.php

Category: Bad science
Posted on: November 28, 2011 11:04 AM, by PZ Myers

Billie Bainbridge is four years old, and she has an inoperable brain tumor, and her prognosis is not good. Her family is desperate, and has been frantically trying to raise money from the community to cover the costs of a treatment they've been told might cure her. They need £200,000. They are asking the public to contribute.

Unfortunately, the treatment they want to give her is antineoplaston therapy: it's pure bunk. The clinic that is trying to suck large sums of money away from the family of a dying child is the Burzynski clinic. So in addition to being a quack, Burzynski is now a vampire, exploiting sick children for profit.

Andy Lewis wrote an article about the false hope of the Burzynski clinic. It's damning — the Burzynski clinic has been exploiting the sick for years with an exorbitantly priced 'therapy' that has never passed Phase III trials.

A scientific organization would respond to such an argument, you would think, with a deluge of data and explanations of the scientific basis of their treatment. Not the Burzynski clinic! Instead, they have some angry hack at their establishment who fired off a whole series of threatening letters to Lewis, claiming legal authority with no evidence that the angry clown, Marc Stephens, has any legal credentials at all. There's certainly no science behind his rants, and there doesn't seem to be any legal standing, either.

So Stephens threatens Lewis's family.

Be smart and considerate for your family and new child, and shut the article down..Immediately.

You can guess how the Internet responds to such thuggish, bullying behavior: by blowing up and pointing out even more loudly the deficiencies of the Burzynski clinic.

So Stephens has started sending these threatening letters to other people, including Rhys Morgan. "GOVERN YOURSELF ACCORDINGLY," he blusters as he promises libel suits.

I think you all know what to do now. Spread the news of the Burzynski clinic's quackery far and wide; trumpet it loudly everywhere. The media has been fairly passive about this abuse of children and dying adults for some time now, so let's make it clear to the world exactly how contemptible these phonies are.

GOVERN YOURSELF ACCORDINGLY.

The Uncivil Style of Intelligent Design Critics

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2011/11/something_to_be053441.html

Casey Luskin November 27, 2011 11:51 AM | Permalink

I'm going to let ENV readers in on a little secret: When many of us in the intelligent design (ID) movement read the arguments coming from our critics, we're surprised at their low quality and style. We don't rejoice at this -- we'd much rather see a robust, civil, and fruitful scientific debate over the relevant questions. But the incivility, basic inaccuracy, and unserious tone characteristic of so many criticisms of ID all make you wonder: If the critics had stronger rebuttals to offer, wouldn't we be hearing them?

To be sure, there are some serious scientific critics of ID out there. These critics should be praised for their civil scientific rebuttals, and rewarded with a serious and civil response. And in fact that's what they get from ID advocates. Doug Axe's recent reply to biochemist Arthur Hunt is a good example. Another noteworthy instance is the book Signature of Controversy, which collects scientific responses to a number of critics (some critics who were civil, some not so much) of Signature in the Cell. I'd like to think my recent exchange with Dennis Venema also meets this standard.

But the fact remains that most critiques of ID look more like attempts to dismiss ID's arguments than to engage them. In particular, many critics try to dismiss ID by harping on alleged religious associations with ID, while ignoring ID's scientific merits, accomplishments, and arguments. Like a boxer who wants to win a match on a technicality without ever hitting his opponent, some critics want to win the debate without having one. Fortunately, that style doesn't usually appeal to anyone who's actually out there seeking truth. In fact, whether or not such a rebuttal style appeals to you is a good indicator of whether you really are seeking the truth.

There are so many examples of incivility among ID-critics that it's hard to know where to start. And I'm not just talking about the usual Internet suspects, like PZ Myers, Jerry Coyne, or Larry Moran. Earlier this year we covered the brouhaha that was ignited when the journal Synthese published an issue critical of ID, and the journal's editors-in-chief was forced to distance themselves from that particular issue of the journal because it failed to "follow the usual academic standards of politeness and respect."

We also saw the methods employed by opponents of Michael Behe in Quarterly Review of Biology, in a would-be rebuttal to Behe's paper in that same journal. As we discussed here earlier, Behe's paper was measured, carefully argued, restrained, and cautious in its conclusions. But the paper critical of Behe was almost completely unhinged, making charges like "ID suffers from "complete lack of scientific merits," or "the IDC [Intelligent Design Creationism] movement was never driven by its arguments but by its religious ideology" or Behe "dodges and weaves like a hunted rabbit." Of course, no rant against ID would be complete without some comparison between ID and an unwanted, parasitic plant:

We think of creationism as a cluster of ideas that reproduces itself by spreading from mind to mind and struggling with competing ideas for a home among a person's beliefs. Sometimes it loses out to more powerful rival ideas, but sometimes it finds receptive mental soil, takes root and waits to be passed on again.

(Maarten Boudry, Stefaan Blancke, and Johan Braeckman, "Irreducible Incoherence and Intelligent Design -- a look into the conceptual toolbox of a pseudoscience," Quarterly Review of Biology, Vol. 85 (December 2010).)

This tendency of ID critics to replace sound scientific arguments with uncivil rhetoric goes back for years. It has even attracted the notice of academics, who aren't pro-ID, and who study the rhetoric of science.

A few months back, I discovered a 2009 paper published in the Journal of Science Communication which evaluated the discourse adopted by evolution-defenders on blogs. It found that the frequency of uncivil attacks at the blog Pandas Thumb in particular "undermines the goals of rational debate and criticism." The article continued:

In the excerpt below evaluations serve as a technique for reinforcing the boundary between two opposing groups of actors: "us," the pro-evolution authors of the blog and those readers who agree with them, and "them," the members of the creationist movement (emphasis added).

Excerpt 4 -- Panda's Thumb

It is another mark of the incompetence of the ID movement that they actually hand out an award named after Casey Luskin. Pick the most ineffectual, uninformed, pathetic loser on the creationist side, and use his name to inspire the next generation of IDiots. It's actually amusingly appropriate.

Emotional and often insulting evaluations are very common for this and some other blogs that seem to be eager to demonstrate not only their rightness, but also to distinguish their group of reasonable and worthy individuals from others, who are wrong, unintelligent, and overall worthless. The frequency of such evaluations and mockery undermines the goals of rational debate and criticism. Such activities can foster solidarity among the like-minded individuals, yet at the same time, they may spur hostility in those who are undecided or hold a different opinion.

(Inna Kouper, "Science blogs and public engagement with science: practices, challenges, and opportunities," Journal of Science Communication, Vol. 9(1) (March, 2009) (emphases in original).

Yes, the Casey Luskin mentioned above is the same as the author of this article. You'll just have to accept my assurance that I don't take this at all personally. You get accustomed to these things, learn a thing or two about human nature, forgive and move on. I cite the passage here only because of what it reveals about the way even scholars of scientific communication are noticing the uncivil style among ID-critics.

Another scholar who has noticed the uncivil style of ID critics is Dale L. Sullivan, head of the English Department at North Dakota State University. In 2000, he published an article in the journal Technical Communication Quarterly recognizing that proponents of evolution often use "ridicule" as a means of defending Darwin:

Whereas correction is a public reprimand or censure of insiders, ridicule, usually in the form of an exposé, holds heretics up to public scorn in displays of derision, attacking heretical belief and usually denying opportunity for rejoinder in the same forum.

(Dale L. Sullivan, "Keeping the Rhetoric Orthodox: Forum Control in Science," Technical Communication Quarterly, Vol. 9(2):125-146 (Spring 2000).)

Sullivan then explains what happened after Stephen Jay Gould used this strategy against Phillip Johnson's book Darwin on Trial:

The ultimate rhetorical effect ... is to silence the voices of the authors and thereby to control the scientific forum. Gould tries to make a case that these books are not worth reading and certainly not worth discussing. One could argue that he is placing them on the index of heretical and dangerous books. .... Gould's reviews are good examples of ridicule or exposé. They are public attempts to de-authorize publications that could be perceived as dangerous to the community.

Keeping Sullivan's and Kouper's evaluation schema in mind, I'm going to post a few short articles here at ENV looking at some recent examples of ID critics who use "mockery," "ridicule," "emotional and insulting evaluations," and "public scorn in displays of derision" in order to "demonstrate not only their rightness, but also to distinguish their group of reasonable and worthy individuals from others, who are wrong, unintelligent, and overall worthless" and "de-authorize publications that could be perceived as dangerous to the community."


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Muslim medical students boycotting lectures on evolution... because it 'clashes with the Koran'

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2066795/Muslim-students-walking-lectures-Darwinism-clashes-Koran.html

By Daily Mail Reporter

Last updated at 10:34 AM on 27th November 2011

Muslim students, including trainee doctors on one of Britain's leading medical courses, are walking out of lectures on evolution claiming it conflicts with creationist ideas established in the Koran.

Professors at University College London have expressed concern over the increasing number of biology students boycotting lectures on Darwinist theory, which form an important part of the syllabus, citing their religion.

Similar to the beliefs expressed by fundamentalist Christians, Muslim opponents to Darwinism maintain that Allah created the world, mankind and all known species in a single act.

Steve Jones emeritus professor of human genetics at university college London has questioned why such students would want to study biology at all when it obviously conflicts with their beliefs.

Gove's drive to restore school standards is the best answer to the youth jobless crisis

He told the Sunday Times: 'I had one or two slightly frisky discussions years ago with kids who belonged to fundamentalist Christian churches, now it is Islamic overwhelmingly.

One of Muslim author Harun Yaha's articles denouncing Darwinism

'They don't come [to lectures] or they complain about it or they send notes or emails saying they shouldn't have to learn this stuff.

'What they object to - and I don't really understand it, I am not religious - they object to the idea that there is a random process out there which is not directed by God.'

Earlier this year Usama Hasan, iman of the Masjid al-Tawhid mosque in Leyton, received death threats for suggesting that Darwinism and Islam might be compatible.

Sources within the group Muslims4UK partly blame the growing popularity of creationist beliefs within Islam on Turkish author Harun Yahya who, influenced by the success of Christian creationists in America, has written several books denouncing Darwinist theory.

Yahya associates Dawinism with Nazism and his books are and videos are available at many Islamic bookshops in the UK and regularly feature on Islamic television channels.

Speakers regularly tour Britain lecturing on Yahya's beliefs.

One such lecture was given at UCL in 2008 and this year's talks have been given in London, Manchester, Leeds, Dundee and Glasgow.

Evolutionary Biologist and former Oxford Professor Richard Dawkins has expressed his concern at the number of students, consisting almost entirely of Muslims, who do not attend or walk out of lectures.

Christian free school bid runs into protest

http://www.sheffieldtelegraph.co.uk/news/local/christian_free_school_bid_runs_into_protest_1_4001160

Published on Sunday 27 November 2011 03:00

PLANS to launch a Christian free school in Sheffield have triggered opposition from the British Humanist Association.

Bethany School at Netherthorpe is looking to create ten centres across the city, which would combine to create a single free school, run independently but funded by the state.

Last week supporters held a public meeting to gauge parental backing. Humanists have responded by mounting a campaign in opposition.

The BHA recently fought a similar plan in Newark, which was rejected last month because of concerns over creationism, the belief that life was created by a unique act of God.

This week an open letter from the London-based organisation – which employs a campaigner against faith schools – raised similar fears over the Sheffield plan.

But Ken Walze, head of the Bethany School, hit back at the group.

"It is regrettable, when our application contains so many innovative and successful elements, that the Humanist Society is co-ordinating a campaign against one part, of one element, of our legitimate proposal," he said.

"Humanism, science and education have nothing to fear from the biblical creation account and Sheffield Christian Free School is surprised to be perceived as a significant threat to be vigorously opposed."

The BHA letter expresses concern at the 'continuing confidence of creationist groups in applying to open free schools' and calls on the Government to take firmer steps against them.

It goes on to point out that guest speaker at the recent Sheffield public meeting was prominent creationist Sylvia Baker, that creationism is a key focus at the Bethany School and that the new school admits its curriculum will be 'broadly based' on themes in the book of Genesis.

Mr Walze insists the Bethany community is being completely open. "Our school ethos is in the conservative evangelical church tradition. Our families are drawn from many different churches with a range of theological positions and we have families with no church connection who are fully involved with the school."

He argues that their belief in the Christian account of creation is a faith position – in the same way that the BHA promotes its own beliefs.

"At the SCFS we will explain thoroughly that 'some people think differently' and give our pupils tools for world-view analysis. We deliberately include other views in our curriculum, unlike our critics."

He adds: "Christians have been at the heart of education in Sheffield for hundreds of years… We want to add to their work a new Christian school which will increase choice and extend the educational provision for families within our city.

"We have 25 years' experience of running a school that parents really appreciate, where children thrive and where teachers can express their enthusiasm and creativity. Our aim is make this sort of school available to many more parents throughout Sheffield and the free school initiative will make this possible."

The school is running an online survey at www.sheffieldchristianfreeschool.org.uk. A formal proposal will be submitted to the Government in May 2012 with a view to opening in September 2013.