NTS LogoSkeptical News for 16 December 2011

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Friday, December 30, 2011

Evolution education update: December 30, 2011

A new creationist bill in Indiana, and more on the two antievolution bills in New Hampshire. Plus a new issue of Evolution: Education and Outreach.


Senate Bill 89, prefiled in the Indiana Senate and referred to the Committee on Education and Career Development, would, if enacted, amend the Indiana Code to provide that "[t]he governing body of a school corporation may require the teaching of various theories concerning the origin of life, including creation science, within the school corporation." The sponsor of the bill is Dennis Kruse (R-District 14), who chairs the Senate Committee on Education and Career Development. In 1999, while serving in the Indiana House of Representatives, Kruse pledged to introduce a law to remove evolution from the state's science standards, according to the South Bend Tribune (August 27, 1999). Instead, however, he introduced bills with the same wording as Senate Bill 89, House Bill 1356 in 2000 and House Bill 1323 in 2001. Both died in committee.

"The obvious problem," commented NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott, "is that the Indiana legislature can't authorize a school district to violate the Constitution. And the Supreme Court held, in its 1987 decision in Edwards v. Aguillard, that it's unconstitutional for creation science to be taught in the public schools." She added, "It's disturbing that a veteran legislator like Kruse is ignorant of -- or indifferent to -- the blatant unconstitutionality of his bill." The most recent antievolution bill in Indiana, 2006's House Bill 1388, was aimed at supposed errors in textbooks, although its sponsor had previously announced his intention to introduce legislation requiring the teaching of "intelligent design" in the state's public schools; HB 1388 died in committee. The current legislative session resumes on January 4, 2012.

For the text of SB 89 as introduced, visit:

For the text of HB 1356, HB 1323, and HB 1388, visit:

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


The two antievolution bills in the New Hampshire legislature attracted the attention of the Concord Monitor (December 29, 2011). As NCSE previously reported, House Bill 1148, introduced by Jerry Bergevin (R-District 17), would charge the state board of education to "[r]equire evolution to be taught in the public schools of this state as a theory, including the theorists' political and ideological viewpoints and their position on the concept of atheism," while House Bill 1457, introduced by Gary Hopper (R-District 7) and John Burt (R-District 7), would charge the state board of education to "[r]equire science teachers to instruct pupils that proper scientific inquire [sic] results from not committing to any one theory or hypothesis, no matter how firmly it appears to be established, and that scientific and technological innovations based on new evidence can challenge accepted scientific theories or modes."

Bergevin told the Monitor, "I want the full portrait of evolution and the people who came up with the ideas to be presented. It's a worldview and it's godless." He reportedly blamed the acceptance of evolution for the atrocities of Nazi Germany and the 1999 Columbine shooting. NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott explained, however, that "Evolutionary scientists are Democrats and Republicans, Libertarians and Greens and everything. Similarly, their religious views are all over the map, too. ... If you replace atheism in the bill with Protestantism, or Catholicism, or Judaism or any other view, it's clear to see it's not going to pass legal muster." She also noted that the bill would presumably require teachers to ascertain the political and religious views of every scientist mentioned in their biology textbooks, a requirement which she characterized as "pretty dopey."

Hopper acknowledged that although he would like to see "intelligent design" taught in classrooms, he was not able to find a successful legislative precedent. Instead, he explained, "I want the problems with the current theories to be presented so that kids understand that science doesn't really have all the answers. They are just guessing." Scott retorted, "You're not improving science education for young people by pretending that well-established ideas are up for grabs. The idea of evolution, that living things have common ancestors, is not being challenged in science today." She summarized, "Neither of these bills are going to advance science education in New Hampshire and neither of them deserve to be inflicted upon the students in your state." Both bills were referred to the House Education Committee; HB 1148 is scheduled for a hearing on February 9, 2012, and HB 1457 is scheduled for a hearing on February 14, 2012.

For the article in the Concord Monitor, visit:

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


The latest issue of Evolution: Education and Outreach -- the new journal promoting the accurate understanding and comprehensive teaching of evolutionary theory for a wide audience -- is now published. The theme for the issue (volume 4, number 4) is Evolution and Medicine, edited by Kristin P. Jenkins and Michael F. Antolin. Articles include "Diagnosis: Evolution"; "Evolutionary Medicine and the Medical School Curriculum"; "Enhancing the Teaching of Evolution in Public Health"; "A Clinical Perspective in Evolutionary Medicine"; "On Designing Courses in Evolutionary Medicine"; "Developing a Curriculum for Evolutionary Medicine"; and "Evolution and Medicine: An Inquiry-Based High School Curriculum Supplement." Plus there are various articles on the teaching of evolution, book reviews, and commentaries. Remember, access to the journal is free through the end of 2011, so right now is the time to peruse the contents!

Also included is the latest installment of NCSE's regular column, Overcoming Obstacles to Evolution Education. In "Evolutionary Medicine: A Key to Introducing Evolution," NCSE's Eric Meikle and Eugenie C. Scott discuss how examples and concepts from evolutionary medicine can be used to improve the teaching of evolution across the board. "We suggest that teachers consider starting discussions of evolution with a medical example, and use such topics throughout their teaching in order to stimulate student interest and provide real-life examples that can hit home," they write, concluding, "Adding a careful exposition of how evolution informs medical practice and research -- the same medicine that students can see at work healing the wounded, preparing cures, and devising remedies -- will help not only to convey the power and beauty of evolution in general but also to assuage qualms about human evolution in particular."

For Evolution: Education and Outreach, visit:

For Meikle and Scott's article (subscription required after December 31), visit:

Thanks for reading. And don't forget to visit NCSE's website -- http://ncse.com -- where you can always find the latest news on evolution education and threats to it.

Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
510-601-7203 x305
fax: 510-601-7204

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Bills aim to roll back teaching evolution


Published on Concord Monitor (http://www.concordmonitor.com)

Lawmaker says kids must get alternative
By Sarah Palermo / Monitor staff
December 29, 2011

To state Rep. Jerry Bergevin, the horrors of the Columbine school shooting and the atrocities of Nazi Germany are linked by the theory of evolution, and that's all the evidence he needs to see that New Hampshire's children shouldn't be taught that it's correct.

Bergevin, a Republican from Manchester serving his first term, introduced one of two bills that will be before the Legislature next year addressing evolution, the first in the state since the late 1990s.

The second bill, introduced by Reps. Gary Hopper of Weare and John Burt of Goffstown, more vaguely calls for science teachers to "instruct pupils that proper scientific (inquiry) results from not committing to any one theory or hypothesis . . . and that scientific and technological innovations based on new evidence can challenge accepted scientific theories."

Hopper points to the state constitution and its order that teachers support their students' "morality and piety" for the justification of his bill.

Evolution as it's currently taught tells students "life just happens. It's just a byproduct of the universe and they are here by accident," he said.

"But more and more scientists are coming to the conclusion that it was not even remotely possible that it happened by accident. I want to introduce children to the idea that they have a purpose for being here."

He would like to see intelligent design - the idea that a creator controlled how early life on Earth developed - taught in classrooms, but hasn't been able to find an example of the philosophy being successfully legislated into schools.

"I want the problems with the current theories to be presented so that kids understand that science doesn't really have all the answers. They are just guessing," he said.

Currently, science class "is like having a creative writing class where the students are told what to create," he said. "Science is a creative process, not an absolute thing."

Bergevin is less interested in the science of evolution than he is in the political and religious views of Darwin and his disciples. His bill would require schools to teach evolution as a theory, and include "the theorists' political and ideological viewpoints and their position on the concept of atheism."

"I want the full portrait of evolution and the people who came up with the ideas to be presented. It's a worldview and it's godless. Atheism has been tried in various societies, and they've been pretty criminal domestically and internationally. The Soviet Union, Cuba, the Nazis, China today: they don't respect human rights," he said.

"As a general court we should be concerned with criminal ideas like this and how we are teaching it. . . . Columbine, remember that? They were believers in evolution. That's evidence right there," he said.

While some evolutionary biologists claim to be Christians or otherwise religious, "it changes every six months. What today is evolution is going to be different six months from now."

But none of that is true, said Eugenie Scott, the executive director of the National Center for Science Education, which promotes education of evolution, climate change and the teaching of science as a way of knowing facts about the world.

"Yes, it is the case that scientific explanations change with new data, but at some point you reach the stage where there is an agreement among scientists. . . . You're not improving science education for young people by pretending that well-established ideas are up for grabs. The idea of evolution, that living things have common ancestors, is not being challenged in science today," she said.

"Neither of these bills are going to advance science education in New Hampshire and neither of them deserve to be inflicted upon the students in your state."

Legislators in seven other states proposed similar bills this year, and all were defeated. The bills confuse the scientific use of the word "theory" with the common use, she said.

Bergevin's bill "should be obviously unacceptable to legislators on its face. They ought to be able to see pretty quickly that this bill is just silly," Scott said.

"Evolutionary scientists are Democrats and Republicans, Libertarians and Greens and everything. Similarly, their religious views are all over the map, too. . . . If you replace atheism in the bill with Protestantism, or Catholicism, or Judaism or any other view, it's clear to see it's not going to pass legal muster."

Besides, the bill would present teachers with the impossible task of tracking down information about every scientist mentioned in a textbook or other class material, "which is pretty dopey," she said.

Hopper's bill is more broadly worded and could be used to challenge scientific teachings on any topic.

"In a sense that makes it more dangerous," she said.

Both bills have been referred to the House Education Committee for hearings in early February.

(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or spalermo@cmonitor.com)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Stupidest government enterprise: $406k on coffee enemas


Published: 28 December, 2011, 01:02
Edited: 28 December, 2011, 21:57

Want to know where your tax dollars are going? Washington has a rapid response for that one on the ready: stick it up your ass.

No, really.

A recent report carried out by the Chicago Tribune reveals that the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine — a branch of the federally-funded National Institutes of Health — has spent around $1.4 billion since it began 12 years ago on finding out, among other things, that coffee enemas aimed up the butt and into the intestines will, believe it or not, not aid in pancreatic cancer treatment. That messy test, reports the Tribune, was made possible thanks to a $406,000 grant.

What other scientific breakthroughs were made possible by your involuntary donations to Uncle Sam? Over half-a-million dollars helped scientists determine that AIDS could not be cured with prayer, and it took $374-grand to come to the conclusion that, contrary to popular belief, sniffing lemon juice will not help heal external wounds.

Dr. Wallace Sampson of Stanford University tells the Tribune that real medical wizzes "don't take public money and invest it in projects that are just made up out of people's imaginations." The government, on the other hand, likes to act on instinct. Such was the case with a study that spent $1.25 million to conclude that, "Hey, people with cancer feel better after being massaged."

Also keen on massages: people without cancer.

While most of these makeshift science experiments are done without merit, the writer reveals that two-out-of-five American adults say that they've used alternative treatments during the last year. The Tribune doesn't tackle how many people tried the coffee enema — before or after the results of the study — but with the alternative therapy industry raking in around $34 billion annually, the NIH seems to think that their little-known branch of barbaric home remedies is worth American tax dollars, even if it comes to the tune of $1.4 billion.

Think your money could have been better well spent? Take it up with the lawmakers that allow such funding. As RT reported earlier this year, your pennies on the dollar could have ended up elsewhere. After all, $900,000 in government funding recently went to the NIH to determine, among other things, the correlation between penis size and sexual health among gay men.

Infastructure, shminfastructure. These are real investments, America!

The Year in Review: Intelligent Design in the UK


Jonathan M. December 28, 2011 6:00 AM | Permalink

An often-heard criticism of intelligent design claims that it is exclusively an American phenomenon, since presumably the rest of the world is too smart to fall for the stuff. Of course this is nonsense. ID is making impressive strides in Europe and Asia. As I can report from personal experience, the future looks particularly bright in the United Kingdom.

Following the launch of the UK Centre for Intelligent Design (C4ID) in September 2010, and Michael Behe's inaugural lecture and debate tour in November, the British intelligent design community has seen a busy 2011, with a variety of high-profile events marking the first year.

The leadership staff of the C4ID include president Dr. Norman Nevin (Emeritus Professor of Medical Genetics, Queens University, Belfast); vice president Dr. David Galloway (Vice President of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons, Glasgow, Scotland); and director Dr. Alastair Noble (education consultant and former HM inspector of schools for science). Though the C4ID is friendly with the Discovery Institute, it exists as an operationally independent organization.

The first major event in 2011 was the five-day summer school in July, hosted at the Malvern Conference Centre in the beautiful town of Malvern, Worcestershire (where, incidentally, Charles Darwin's daughter Annie is buried). Presenters at the conference included, as keynote speakers, sociologist Professor Steve Fuller, astronomer Professor Guillermo Gonzalez, and biologist Dr. Jonathan Wells. The event also featured several homegrown scholars, including senior surgeon Dr. David Galloway, Barrister John Langlois, C4ID director Dr. Alastair Noble, biochemist Professor Chris Shaw, and Professor of thermodynamics and combustion theory Andy McIntosh. In addition, a British lawyer reviewed the Dover Trial and the flawed ruling of Judge Jones III.

The conference served to bring together, in many cases for the first time, ID-friendly scientists and thinkers from all over the UK. We attended a total of three lectures each day, between which we exchanged and explored numerous thoughts and ideas about ID and evolution, as well as strategies and plans for the future.

The second major event was the two-day ID conference at the same venue in September. Joining us for this event was Discovery Institute philosopher Dr. Jay Richards. Also featured at the conference was Dr. Geoff Barnard, a clinical biochemist and formerly a Senior Research Scientist in the Department of Veterinary Medicine, University of Cambridge. Barnard currently lives in Israel. In ID circles, he is best known for his work on the evolution of sex (a topic I have also written about here). Research professor Chris Shaw (who works on protein engineering) also featured as a speaker at this event.

At both conferences I was struck by the interest ID was attracting in the UK from scientists, students and lay people alike.

The third significant event in 2011 was Stephen Meyer's visit to London. Before an audience of some 90 invited guests in the Banqueting Hall of the Royal Horseguards Hotel in Whitehall, Meyer presented and defended his thesis proposed in Signature in the Cell. His audience included people of diverse backgrounds, including scientists, philosophers, politicians, and media representatives. You can listen to Stephen Meyer reflect on his visit to the UK by going to this ID the Future podcast. You can also read my takedown of attempted critiques of Meyer's lecture here and here. Meyer's visit included a radio debate with theistic evolutionist Keith Fox, a biochemist at the University of Southampton who chairs the "Christians in Science" network (essentially the British equivalent of the American Scientific Affiliation). You can listen to the full radio debate here.

The C4ID's website features articles from several people involved in the UK ID movement. Articles are filed under "general," "genetics," "Non-life aspects of ID," "Philosophical Implications," and "Reviews." There is also a store which is making available a professionally-produced DVD of the ID conference in Oxford in November 2010. Presenters include Michael Behe, Steve Fuller and Geoff Barnard.

As one might expect, the C4ID has not gone unopposed. The British equivalent of the American pro-Darwin lobby NCSE, called the BCSE, has marshaled a band of ID critics and established a set of poorly designed websites. You can visit their main page here, and their blog here. For the epitome of bad web design, don't miss their aptly named "Centre for Unintelligent Design" page. Sadly, however, unlike the NCSE, to see science discussed -- or to see scientific criticisms made of ID -- on their blog is a rare occurrence.

A couple of petitions were launched in 2011 in an attempt to ban the teaching of creationism and intelligent design in schools. One petition, headed up by Richard Dawkins and David Attenborough (reported on by the Guardian and the Telegraph) stated,

Creationism and "intelligent design" are not scientific theories, but they are portrayed as scientific theories by some religious fundamentalists who attempt to have their views promoted in publicly-funded schools. At the same time, an understanding of evolution is central to understanding all aspects of biology. Currently, the study of evolution does not feature explicitly in the National Curriculum until year 10 (ages 14-15). Free Schools and Academies are not obliged to teach the National Curriculum and so are under no obligation to teach about evolution at all. We petition the Government to make clear that creationism and "intelligent design" are not scientific theories and to prevent them from being taught as such in publicly funded schools, including in "faith" schools, religious Academies and religious Free Schools. At the same time, we want the Government to make the teaching of evolution in mandatory in all publicly funded schools, at both primary and secondary level.

Among the supporters of this campaign are the British Humanist Association (BHA), as well as Ekklesia which, as the C4ID's media release puts it, is "a liberal theological pressure group that has a long history of opposing criticism of evolution."

Another initiative launched by the British pro-evolution lobby is the CrISIS ("Creationism in Schools isn't Science") campaign. Their website states,

Creationism is known, and officially acknowledged, to be contrary to scientific fact. We therefore demand that creationism should not be presented as a valid scientific position, nor creationist websites and resources be promoted, in publicly funded schools or in any youth activities run on publicly funded school premises.

The problem emerges, of course, because the term "creationism" is usually not well defined, and the pro-evolution lobbyist groups wish to lump all criticism of scientific materialism together under the banner of "creationism," whether religiously inspired or otherwise.

Two anti-ID events were hosted by the "Glasgow Skeptics" in 2011, both of which I attended. The first of those talks was by PZ Myers of the University of Minnesota Morris. For more on that, I refer readers to this blog series (with contributions by myself, Casey Luskin and David Klinghoffer) and this ID the Future podcast. The NCSE's director, Dr. Eugenie Scott, also made a trip to Scotland and gave a lecture titled "Evolution and Global Warming Denial: How the Public are Misled" (see my comments here; or Alastair Noble's comments here for a thorough review of the lecture).

When the C4ID first launched, the Centre faced significant media opposition and misrepresentation. In October 2010, the Herald Scotland carried an article titled "Would you Adam and Eve it? Top scientists tell Scottish pupils: the Bible is true." This piece contained nearly as many factual errors as it did sentences. It stated that "They are among Scotland's most eminent scientists, they believe the world was created in six days and women were made from Adam's rib ...and they're coming to a school near you."

Apart from the obvious flaw with the article (ID has no religious content and has little to do with the age of the earth), the C4ID has made it very clear that they are not seeking to change school curricula. The Herald's attempt to slander ID as a form of Biblical literalism was also seemingly contradicted by the writer's own (similarly incorrect) statement that ID proposes "that a universal engineer, or god, created the initial spark of life then used physical laws and natural selection to develop it." Alastair Noble and David Galloway responded,

It was with some frustration that we read Chris Watt's article, "Would you Adam and Eve it?" in the Sunday Herald (published in Glasgow, UK) of October 10th 2010. Its treatment of Intelligent Design (ID) bore very little resemblance to the content of an interview with Alastair Noble. Indeed the thrust of the feature was completely misplaced. It is absolutely not the case that the Centre is intent on advancing the teaching of biblical creationism in schools as suggested by the article.

We also received press coverage in October 2010 from the Guardian, which published a somewhat more balanced article. The C4ID's launch was also noted by the Nature News Blog. The theological pressure group 'Ekklesia' (to which I previously alluded briefly) also featured an article on their website in December of 2010, claiming that "Intelligent Design is a flawed apologetic." As one has come to expect, the article was permeated with strawmen and misrepresentations, as Alastair Noble pointed out in his response.

With interest expressed in ID from an ever-increasing number of scientists, scholars, and students, it should not be too long before a research presence is established in Britain, somewhat akin to that launched in the US by Doug Axe's team at the Biologic Institute. As Stephen Meyer stated in his recent interview on ID the Future, intelligent design has now gone international. This is only the beginning.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Take the razor of science to alternative medicine


So-called "alternative medicine" screams out for scientific study. Scientific, as in skeptical.

Published: 12/27/11 12:05 am

So-called "alternative medicine" screams out for scientific study. Scientific, as in skeptical.

The Chicago Tribune reported earlier this month that an obscure federal agency, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, has spent $1.4 billion over the last 12 years studying such folk remedies as coffee enemas, acupuncture and gingko balboa.

Some critics say much of the money has been misspent looking at cures so obviously ridiculous that no research should be necessary. The coffee enemas – purported to treat pancreatic cancer – are an example.

Actually, the money may be well-spent – but only to the degree it subjects outside-the-mainstream therapies to rigorous, skeptical review.

Tens of millions of Americans dump $34 billion a year into alternative medicine, according to a 2007 survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

Not all of the money is wasted. "Alternative medicine" is an overbroad label that covers just about any treatment that doesn't originate in a physician's office or hospital. Some of those treatments do work: Chiropractic, for example, is demonstrably effective in relieving certain forms of back pain. Yoga can be a powerful stress-reliever.

But many of those billions of dollars wind up in the pockets of people peddling dubious nostrums. The United States may lead the rest of the world in Nobel prizes, but legions of Americans are suspicious of "Western medicine" and suckers for cures rooted in ludicrous notions – think homeopathy – or outright mysticism.

Remedies from China – herbal mixtures and manipulations of mysterious energy flows – seem especially alluring to the credulous. Alternative medicine can be harmful as well as a waste of money. Some Chinese potions, for example, have been shown to be toxic.

More often, the danger comes from diverting patients from maligned conventional treatments that might heal them or save their lives. The "alternative" notion that vaccines are dangerous, for example, exposes children to life-threatening diseases.

The Chicago Tribune report suggests that the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine has done a creditable job debunking a number of popular cures, such as energy healing and those coffee enemas. But the center also continues to spend money researching acupuncture – another Chinese remedy – despite multiple studies that suggest it works no better than tricking patients into thinking they're getting acupuncture.

An important difference between science and mysticism is that a scientific hypothesis can potentially be proven false while mysticism is impervious to skepticism.

People are entitled to believe what they will, but scarce federal research money shouldn't be spent chasing magic elixirs with properties beyond the reach of mere Western science.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Turkey Blocks Web Pages Touting Darwin's Evolution Theory


Dorian Jones | Istanbul, Turkey

The blocking by Turkish state authorities of Web pages advocating the theory of evolution has put the focus on wider concerns by teachers and academics that the ideas of Darwin increasingly are being undermined by the Islamic-rooted government.

Numerous web pages advocating the theory of evolution recently were deemed unsafe for children by Turkey's regulatory board controlling the Internet.

Yaman Akdeniz of Istanbul's Bilgi University is an expert on Internet freedom.

"The authorities are trying to establish one view, one morality that the youngsters of our generation should subscribe to," said Akdeniz.

Undermining evolution

The result was an outcry by the media and academics. Soon after, regulatory authorities re-instated the web pages, with the regulatory authority claiming the ban was a "clerical error." Recent media reports, however, say the evolution sites still remain blocked in schools.

The controversy is not only confined to the Internet. Professor Asli Tolon is a molecular biologist at Istanbul's Bosphorus University. She has been tracking the changes in how evolution is taught in school text books.

Tolon said the idea of evolution increasingly is undermined by creationists who argue the world was created by God.

"Here, there is this, how life evolved. This part is quite scientific, but then right after that, it starts with the creation, the view of creation, which should really not be in a scientific book, because this is a religious view," said Tolon.

Tolon said the result of such changes are increasingly being felt by her students.

"They sometimes get the idea, that I am trying to teach them my own views. But this is not mine, because evolution is one of the basic theories," said Tolon.

Balancing the teaching

Mustafa Akyol, columnist and writer on religious affairs, said alternative theories to evolution have a place in education.

"There are some scientific facts in nature that point to a design by some intelligent being which is not a part of nature, this being might be God. This cannot be a reason to reject data just simply because it's compatible with religion. I think a fair and objective scientific education should allow Darwin evolution and also critics of Darwin evolution," said Akyol.

Turkey's teachers are now increasingly being caught in the middle of the deepening dispute.

The country's main teaching trade union frequently complain that science teachers are facing increasing intimidation by the education ministry, local authorities controlled by the governing AK party and even religious parents.

The government has dismissed such claims. But one teacher, who did not want to give her name, said teaching evolution is increasingly difficult.

"In my school, three out of five science teachers now only teach creationism," she said, adding that she faces daily pressure from fellow teachers who are religious, and from some families of children who complain about her teaching evolution.

For teachers advocating evolution in Turkey's schools, they seem destined to be on the frontline of this ongoing struggle for the minds of the nation's young.

The latest issue of Evolution: Education and Outreach


December 25th, 2011

The latest issue of Evolution: Education and Outreach — the new journal promoting the accurate understanding and comprehensive teaching of evolutionary theory for a wide audience — is now published. The theme for the issue (volume 4, number 4) is Evolution and Medicine, edited by Kristin P. Jenkins and Michael F. Antolin. Articles include "Diagnosis: Evolution"; "Evolutionary Medicine and the Medical School Curriculum"; "Enhancing the Teaching of Evolution in Public Health"; "A Clinical Perspective in Evolutionary Medicine"; "On Designing Courses in Evolutionary Medicine"; "Developing a Curriculum for Evolutionary Medicine"; and "Evolution and Medicine: An Inquiry-Based High School Curriculum Supplement." Plus there are various articles on the teaching of evolution, book reviews, and commentaries. Remember, access to the journal is free through the end of 2011, so now is the time to peruse the contents!

Also included is the latest installment of NCSE's regular column, Overcoming Obstacles to Evolution Education. In "Evolutionary Medicine: A Key to Introducing Evolution," NCSE's Eric Meikle and Eugenie C. Scott discuss how examples and concepts from evolutionary medicine can be used to improve the teaching of evolution across the board. "We suggest that teachers consider starting discussions of evolution with a medical example, and use such topics throughout their teaching in order to stimulate student interest and provide real-life examples that can hit home," they write, concluding, "Adding a careful exposition of how evolution informs medical practice and research — the same medicine that students can see at work healing the wounded, preparing cures, and devising remedies — will help not only to convey the power and beauty of evolution in general but also to assuage qualms about human evolution in particular."

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Post-Dover Education Victories for Intelligent Design


Casey Luskin December 24, 2011 7:00 AM | Permalink

Despite the scientific progress of intelligent design in recent years, critics love to claim that intelligent design (ID) is dead, that it was laid to rest by the Kitzmiller v. Dover case. The post-Dover narrative favored by the Darwin Lobby has it that in the case, ID's education policies were defeated, and it's been nothing but loss after loss for us ever since. This account is wrong on multiple counts.

First, it wasn't the ID movement's education policies that lost in the Dover case. The Dover school board expressly required the teaching of ID, but leading ID groups such as Discovery Institute have long opposed requiring ID in public schools. This was true before, during and after the Dover case, and in fact Discovery Institute did not support the Dover school district's ID policy. So when the policy got struck down, that in itself could hardly be counted as a death blow to the ID movement's educational policies.

The reason that leading ID proponents oppose pushing ID into public schools is not because somehow we think ID is unconstitutional. We do think that ID should be considered constitutional, and of course we strongly disagree with the wildly inaccurate Dover ruling. But ID leaders want the debate over design to be scientific, not political. When ID gets pushed into public school curricula, it politicizes the debate. The end result is increased persecution of pro-ID scientists and faculty in the university. As a result, we don't support pushing ID into public schools.

Instead, Discovery Institute believes that public schools should teach both the scientific evidence for and against Darwinian evolution. That's a second reason the critics' narrative is wrong: the actual educational policy goals of the ID movement have seen many successes in recent years. In fact, since the Kitzmiller v. Dover lawsuit, at least four states have passed policies requiring or permitting the teaching of scientific criticisms of evolution.

If you haven't heard of these victories, there's a good reason why: the media love to cover debates over evolution-education, but only on rare occasions do they accurately report the ID movement's wins.

Defending Academic Freedom

Prior to Dover the, ID movement talked a lot about the importance of academic freedom. However, if Dover has had any measurable legacy, it's that it has resulted in a sharp spike in the level of intolerance, discrimination, and persecution of ID proponents. Is the Darwin lobby proud of this legacy?

So one major change in the post-Dover world is that us in the ID movement have had to spend much more time defending free speech for ID. In fact, it seems that the more success we enjoy, the more ID critics seek to restrict the free speech of ID proponents.

Thus, another post-Dover landmark for the ID movement came in 2008, when the pro-ID documentary Expelled was released in mainstream theaters nationwide. The film told the stories of scientists, educators, and students who, for daring to support ID, have suffered heavy costs to their careers. The mainstream media hated this documentary because it overturned the Inherit the Wind Stereotype, which claims that it's the Darwin-opponents who are closed minded. The Darwin lobby worked overtime to put out an extensive, but error-filled website rebutting the movie. The reason Expelled was so dangerous was that it showed many ID-critics are as intolerant as the fundamentalists they claim to despise. A few examples of discrimination that came up in the wake of the Dover lawsuit include:

At Iowa State University (ISU), over 120 faculty members signed a petition denouncing ID and calling on "all faculty members to ... reject efforts to portray Intelligent Design as science." The campaign was focused on astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez, co-author of the book The Privileged Planet, who was up for tenure. As one ISU scientist said, the school "is not a friendly place for him to develop further his IDeas."

Guillermo Gonzalez was a good example of the legacy of Dover: Key people who denied him tenure cited the Dover ruling as justification for their belief that an ID proponent did not deserve a place in a science department. But all was not lost: Gonzalez was denied tenure in 2007, but the exposure of his plight in Expelled gave him a stunning victory in the court of public opinion. In fact, Expelled inspired a nationwide dialogue on the importance of protecting academic freedom. Since the documentary was released, over 15 academic freedom bills have been submitted in a dozen state legislatures.

These bills, and the debate surrounding them, have dramatically increased public awareness of the need to protect intellectual freedom for scientists and students to dissent from Darwinian orthodoxy. Indeed, a 2009 Zogby poll found that 80% of Americans agree that "teachers and students should have the academic freedom to discuss both the strengths and weaknesses of evolution as a scientific theory." This supermajority was not confined merely to stereotypical "rightwing conservatives": Over 80% of self-identified "liberals" and "Democrats" agreed that it's important to protect academic freedom in the context of teaching evolution.

In some cases, attacks on the free speech rights of ID proponents have led to free speech lawsuits or other legal actions. In 2011, three academic freedom cases produced favorable outcomes for Darwin-skeptics:

These cases send a deterrent message to the Darwin lobby: those who illegally suppress the free speech rights of ID proponents will have to pay large sums of money for such mistakes.

The battle for academic freedom is a difficult one but it is not being lost. While these incidents show that ID still faces great intolerance, ID proponents see reasons to be encouraged: If ID's scientific arguments were not having a profound and forceful logical effect, critics would not feel the need to suppress them.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Things science & creationists can't explain


21 December 2011, 12:02

In 1858,Charles Darwin, proposed that natural selection explains life's complexity and diversity. Darwin's theory of evolution and all of its modern variations have since then come under numerous and varied attacks from those who believe that the marvellously fine-tuned architecture of living organisms indicates purposeful design by God. Can we honestly believe in Design Without a Designer?

Things That Science Can't Explain...

There are many things our modern science cannot explain,and yet they occur anyway in life.These includes phenomena in what is known in the "hard sciences" as well as that which is paranormal.

These effects were being proven in laboratories, even though they defy present scientific theories.These unfolding mysteries point the way to a new, deeper science, a science which no longer denies spirit and consciousness,but acknowledges and embraces them.

Here are a few from Science:

1. DARK MATTER of an unknown form makes up most of the matter of the universe. This matter is not predicted by the standard physics models. The so-called "Theory of Everything" does not predict and does not understand what this substance is.

2. THE LAW OF GRAVITY appears to be seriously broken. Experiments by Saxl and Allais found that Foucault pendulums veer off in strange directions during solar eclipses. Interplanetary NASA satellites are showing persistent errors in trajectory. Neither of these is explained or predicted by the standard theory of gravity known as Einstein's General Relativity.

3. COLD FUSION. The Cold Fusion phenomenon violates physics as we understand it, and yet it has been duplicated in various forms in over 500 laboratories around the world. Studies by the Electric Power Research Institute, a large non-profit research organization funded by power companies, found that Cold Fusion works. A Navy study once also verified the reality of Cold Fusion, and the original MIT study which supposedly disproved Cold Fusion has been found to have doctored its data. Present day physics has no explanation for how it works, but it does work.

4. CHARGE CLUSTERS. Under certain conditions, billions of electrons can "stick together" in close proximity, despite the law of electromagnetism that like charges repel. Charge clusters are small, one millionth of a meter in diameter, and are composed of tens or hundreds of billions of electrons. They should fly apart at enormous speed, but they do not. This indicates that our laws of electromagnetism are missing something important.

5. COSMOLOGY. Quasars, which are supposed to be the most distant astronomical objects in the sky, are often found connected to nearby galaxies by jets of gas. This suggests that they may not be as far away as previously thought, and their red shifts are due to some other, more unusual physics which is not yet fully understood.

6. SPEED OF LIGHT, once thought unbreakable, has been exceeded in several recent experiments. Our notion of what is possible in terms of propagation speed has been changing as a result.

Certain phenomena, such as solar disturbances on the sun which take more than eight minutes to be visible on the earth, are registered instantaneously on the acupuncture points of instrumented subjects.

Acupuncture points apparently respond to solar events by some other force which travels through space at a much higher speed than light.

This covers just a few of the more glaring anomalies in the "hard sciences." Evidence has also accumulated in the laboratory that many paranormal effects are real, and can be verified and studied scientifically. Among these are the following:

7. ESP. Large-scale experiments by laboratories have proven that ESP is a real, statistically verifiable scientific phenomenon. Thousands of experiments have been conducted with dozens of subjects, which demonstrate that this form of communication is real, and that it does not weaken measurably with distance. This makes it unlike any known physical force.

8. PSYCHOKINESIS, OR MIND OVER MATTER. The ability to exert psychic force over objects at a distance has also been demonstrated in large-scale experiments. Even over distances of thousands of miles, the behavior of certain machines, called REGs for Random Event Generators, have been altered by the intention, or the psychic force of a distant person. The odds that these effects are real, and not due to chance, is now measured in billions to one. In other words, this phenomenon is real.

9. REMOTE VIEWING. The American military conducted a secret remote viewing program for almost two decades. It was supported because it worked, and evidence of its success has now become public.

The remote viewers have demonstrated that it is possible to view "targets" which are remote in space and time. In many cases details which were unavailable any other way were acquired by the viewers.

Rigorous statistical experiments have confirmed that remote viewing has accuracy far above chance, and represents a real phenomenon which defies present science.

10. TIME AND PROPHECY. One unusual aspect of ESP, Remote Viewing and Psychokinesis is that "time" doesn't seem to matter. One can exert an influence or acquire information in the past and in the future, almost as easily as in the present. In conventional physics, the order of events is very important, but in the realm of psychic phenomena there seems to be a flexibility to move in time that defies current physics.

11. OUT-OF-BODY EXPERIENCE. Experiments have been performed which show that, during some out-of-body experiences, the "astral body" or center of consciousness of the individual can be detected at remote locations.

When individuals go "out of body" and focus their consciousness at another location, physical disturbances have been measured at that remote location.

These include anomalous light, electrical, magnetic and other physical forces which indicate the "astral body" sometimes has physically measurable properties.

12. GHOSTS. Modern scientific ghost hunters use magnetic, electrical, optical and thermal sensors when they survey supposedly haunted sites.

In hundreds of cases, technically trained researchers have found measurable physical anomalies when ghosts are said to be present.

Although some people have claimed to see ghosts, and many have reported anomalous cold spots and described a strange chill on their skin, modern ghost hunters have shown that unusual magnetic fields and strong voltages also occur in these same haunted locations.

Unusual orbs have been photographed at the same time that magnetic and electrical disturbances are measured. None of these can be explained by conventional science.

Things That Creation Can't Explain...

1.The position taken by many that believes that creation was recent and species are immutably fixed offers no explanation for the observed biogeographic distribution of species. However continental drift, island formation and species descending with modification explains the observation very well.

2.Creation does not explain the nested hierarchies of shared characteristics that clearly map into taxonomic trees weather using classical morphology, behaviour & distribution or modern genetic homology as the basis of comparison.Descent from a common ancestor explains this very simply.

3.Creation does not explain poor adaptation and odd complicated features with a clearly redirected use of structure. Adaptive constrains easily explains poor adaptation that work well enough, and it explains vestigial or repurposed organs.

4.Creation provides no explanation of the continuity of life with an imperfect conservative replication of DNA.Why have a mutation rate introducing infidelity into static species.

5.Creation does not explain the mechanism that limits the genetic change so species have genetic variation but cannot accumulate sufficient changes to speciate.

6.Creation does not explain the universal genetic code that has a few variant code terms for ciliates, invertebrate mitochondria, mycoplasma, yeast, and vertebrate mitochondria.However the infidelity of mutation combined with natural selection explains how the code is dynamic and still evolving.

7.Creation does not explain the observed instances of species responding to selective pressures with directional changes in the gene pool's relative ratios of alleles.

Does your understanding of what constitutes "can't explain" really matters?

If you mean by what "can't reasonably be explained",which pretty much is everything.Small amounts of problems with Creationism is perhaps their blatant historical inaccuracy of humanity being around for a few thousand years.

Many unconnected branches of science such as geology, palaeontology, biology, physics, chemistry unanimously agree on an old Earth and all of a similar timescale.

Science,however doesn't prove or disprove that much anyway. It doesn't aim to do so either.Science in many respects simply gathers evidence and deduces what the most likely explanations for that evidence is.

'Proof' is a nonsensical concept which always leaves room for doubt. When your story involves an all powerful being,like GOD,that can do anything without any restriction or any apparent motive,then you can make any and all evidence fit your story. An all powerful Being can create evidence against his own claims.

That doesn't make your defense of Him satisfactory though, nor is it any weakness for Evolutionary Scientist.If there were any evidence for Creationism or any evidence to suggest that their defense is accurate then that would be a totally different matter.

A claim being altered so that it doesn't necessarily contradict any evidence found doesn't make it a valid claim now does it, nor does it make any evidence for it.

However a theory like Evolution does have it's weaknesses.Evolution's an observed fact.

For Instance: Darwin's take on Natural selection that led to the creation of new species...

Darwin believed that what he called natural selection would favor those life-forms best suited to the environment, whereas less suitable life-forms would eventually die off.

Modern evolutionists teach that as species spread and became isolated, natural selection chose the ones with gene mutations that made them capable of surviving in their new environment. As a result, evolutionists speculate, these isolated groups eventually developed into totally new species.

However,research strongly indicates that mutations cannot produce entirely new kinds of plants or animals.What proof do evolutionists provide to support the claim that natural selection chooses beneficial mutations to produce new species?

A brochure published in 1999 by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in the United States refers to "the 13 species of finches studied by Darwin on the Galápagos Islands, now known as Darwin's finches.

In the 1970's, a research group led by Peter R. and B. Rosemary Grant of Princeton University began studying these finches and discovered that after a year of drought on the islands, finches that had slightly bigger beaks survived more readily than those with smaller beaks.

Since observing the size and shape of the beaks is one of the primary ways of determining the 13 species of finches, these findings were assumed to be significant. "The Grants have estimated," continues the NAS brochure, "that if droughts occur about once every 10 years on the islands, a new species of finch might arise in only about 200 years.

However, the NAS brochure neglects to mention that in the years following the drought, finches with smaller beaks again dominated the population. The researchers found that as the climatic conditions on the island changed, finches with longer beaks were dominant one year, but later those with smaller beaks were dominant.

They also noticed that some of the different "species" of finches were interbreeding and producing offspring that survived better than the parents. They concluded that if the interbreeding continued, it could result in the fusion of two "species" into just one.

So, does natural selection really create entirely new species?

Decades ago, evolutionary biologist George Christopher Williams began questioning whether natural selection had such power.

In 1999, evolutionary theorist Jeffrey H. Schwartz wrote that natural selection may be helping species adapt to the changing demands of existence, but it is not creating anything new.

Indeed, Darwin's finches are not becoming "anything new." They are still finches. And the fact that they are interbreeding casts doubt on the methods some evolutionists use to define a species. In addition, information about these birds exposes the fact that even prestigious scientific academies are not above reporting evidence in a biased manner.

So does SCIENCE or CREATION either sound as though they are based on facts or on myths?

Archaeologist Counters Critics: Mount Ararat Discovery is a Prehistoric Site


Published on: December 21st, 2011 12:06am by: PRCInc

(OPENPRESS) December 21, 2011 -- Harvard University educated archaeologist and director of the Paleontological Research Corporation, Joel Klenck, reported that there was archaeological merit to a large wood structure near the summit of Mount Ararat discovered by a Kurdish guide, Ahmet "Parasut" Ertugrul. An organization from Hong Kong, Noah's Ark Ministries International, reported the discovery as the remains of the legendary vessel. Conversely, Randall Price from Liberty University, Don Patton from Creation Ministries International and other flood geology creationists claim the site is a hoax. Price alleged Ertugrul and a ten-person team in 2007 built wood structures for the Chinese to discover and mislead believers. Patton photographed pieces of modern wood found in ice fissures that he claimed evidenced a fraud.

Klenck states, "Although the correlation between Noah's ark and the large wood structure on Mount Ararat is debatable, the site comprises a definitive prehistoric archaeological site of great importance." Denying claims of fraud, he states, "Patton, Price and others pay a tourism company, Murat Camping, large sums of money each year to search for the ark. Murat Camping and their American partner have a financial motive to discredit anyone that supports research at the archaeological site, while they retain income from ark search groups and mislead these teams." Ark searchers garner donations from churches and individuals for expeditions that are paid to Murat Camping. In addition, Klenck states, "There are personal rivalries between Murat and Parasut Camping so there are a lot of emotions associated with this discovery."

Regarding Patton's claim that modern wood in natural fissures on Mount Ararat provides proof of a hoax, Klenck counters, "Patton's findings were not near the research area and differ from the cypress timbers and planks, often weighing hundred of kilograms, associated with the ancient wood structure and its archaeological assemblage." Klenck remarks that Patton's "backpack-sized wood" was interred in natural ice fissures by those eager to discredit the archaeological site on Mount Ararat for financial and emotional reasons.

Concerning Price's allegation that Parasut and a small team built the structure on Mount Ararat, Klenck states, "That claim is incorrect." He states, "The site is large, perhaps over one-hundred meters in length, at least two floors deep, and buried under as much as fifteen meters of stones and ice." Klenck continues, "Parasut and his team did not build the features instead they removed ice and stones from previously excavated passages formed as late as the Bronze Age, as evidenced by a small bowl from this period, to access the site."

Carl Wieland, from Creation Ministries International, reported that straight, cross-grain marks on wood planks, appearing in several photographs from the Ararat site, were produced by a modern industrial planer. Klenck responds, "These same marks are found on other wood features in antiquity, particularly maritime constructions such as the Binissafuller from the sixth century A.D. in Minorca; the Fiumicino from the fifth century A.D. in Rome; the Kyrenia from the fourth century B.C.; and planks from the sixth century B.C. vessel found at Pabuç Burnu in Turkey. These marks are caused by stone and later metal adzes and other tools used to create smooth surfaces and the construction of futtocks or cross timbers. The wood planks at the Ararat site are most certainly of ancient construction."

Wieland also claimed that a large, five-meter high structure at the Ararat site does not comprise wood but a cave of columnar basalt. "Again, Wieland is mistaken," states Klenck, "there are two loci in the large wood structure with heights around five meters that were constructed using a series of vertical wood planks, some showing severe states of decomposition." He adds, "These two all-wood loci appear to have a different function than other areas of the edifice. Both loci have much botanical remains scattered on their floors."

Others have claimed the excellent preservation and spider webs at the Ararat site suggest photographs of a modern building or ship at a lower elevation. Klenck remarks: "These claims are also incorrect. All the features of the Ararat sites are at elevations above 4,200 meters in a confined area. Different features in the large wood structure show different states of conservation, with the smaller loci in the interior of the large wood structure exhibiting the best preservation." He continues, "The vegetal material demonstrates superior preservation because these remains are encased within structures, in the interior of the larger wood edifice, which is itself buried under tons of ice and rocks." Regarding the site's superior preservation, Klenck asserts, "Many people are familiar with the baby woolly mammoth found in 1977 in the Kolyma River, Siberia, or the hunter recovered in 1991 in the Schnalstal glacier in the Ötztal Alps. The Ararat archaeological features have better taphonomic factors since these loci are preserved in multiple layers of rocks, ice, and wood, the archaeological equivalent of a Russian matryoshka doll." With regard to the spider webs, Klenck states, "Insects are evident today at comparable elevations on Mount Ararat along with birds. Also, spiders are found at much higher elevations than Mount Ararat, at 6,700 meters above sea level. It is reasonable and expected that arachnids would enter this site during ancient periods."

Andrew Snelling, of Answers in Genesis, claims the parameters of the initial calibrated radiocarbon dates from the Ararat structure, between 9,858 B.C. and recent times, suggest a hoax. Klenck counters, "The initial C-14 dates from the edifice reflect the phenomena at the site: The origin of the structure during the Late Epipaleolithic Period (13,100-9,600 B.C.) as evidenced by the majority of the artifacts; periodic visitations to the site as shown by artifacts from later Chalcolithic and Bronze Age periods; and the entry into the site and uneven sampling techniques by the recent discoverers." He continues, "Additional archaeometry work needs to be completed to ascertain the dates the site was built and briefly occupied during later periods. However, the parameters of the initial calibrated radiocarbon dates are consistent with the archaeological data and observed phenomena at the site."

In addition, Klenck adds, "Snelling and the other critics are trying to advocate flood geology creationism claims and assume the Noachian deluge formed most geological strata in one year, all archaeological remains represent post-flood artifacts deposited around 5,300 years ago, and the deluge destroyed any continuity between the pre- and post-flood earth. Snelling and his peers argue that the beginning of the post-flood earth correlates with the Cretaceous / Tertiary boundary, conventionally dated around 65 million years ago, with radiocarbon dates they allege between 45 and 21 thousand years ago. These claims are rejected by most scientists."

He continues: "The large wood structure on Mount Ararat with its assemblage and earliest C-14 date parameter, from the Late Epipaleolithic Period (13,100-9,600 B.C.), contradicts most flood geology claims and suggests to this group that pre-flood processes caused geological strata; all Paleolithic cultures were from pre-flood periods; and there was significant geographical continuity between the pre- and post-flood earth."

Flood geology creationists assumed that a large wood object on Mount Ararat would support their theories; the reverse has occurred. Klenck remarks, "Instead of modifying their views like secular scientists, these critics are attempting to vilify the site as a hoax." He laments, "For these critics, flood geology theories have become their central belief and they are now disparaging the one object they most desired to discover. Worse still, they have followed Murat Camping, who has taken their money, lied to and misled them, and is waging a campaign to discredit the site and archaeologists advocating research at this locale."

Further, he states professional secular archaeologists do not realize the bias of the critics trying to disparage this archaeological site. Klenck states, "Archaeologists have followed the claims of flood geologists without realizing these adversaries are trying to discredit an actual archaeological site either because the data threatens their theories, they object to the scientific discipline of archaeology, they acquire significant monies from alleged ark expeditions, or a combination thereof."

Turkish geology and archaeology professors, Ahmet Özbek and Oktay Belli, cite the excellent preservation and comprehensive archaeological assemblages within the edifice on Mount Ararat. Klenck agrees with both Turkish scholars: "This discovery is very special because it exhibits an assemblage of great antiquity with superior conservation." He adds, "The large wood structure and a nearby cave have similar assemblages and contain stone bowls, lithic tools and debitage, bowls made of an organic material, seeds such as those of chickpea, wood artifacts, bone tools, flax fibers and cords, pieces of fabric and many other artifacts."

He notes, "Archaeological theories are based on facts and evidence and not on beliefs. The archaeological sites on Mount Ararat are remarkable discoveries and require intensive research and conservation efforts." Klenck concludes: "I congratulate Parasut, the Ertugrul family, Chinese team, Turkish scholars and government officials that discovered and defended the efficacy of these remarkable prehistoric sites."

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Teaching Evolution and Using Evolution to Teach


By David Sloan Wilson

Whenever evolution and education are mentioned together in my circles, it is usually to discuss teaching evolution and keeping creationism out of public school classrooms. But evolution has an even more important role to play in education as a theory that can inform the design of more effective school programs and improve the teaching of all subjects.

Schools and classrooms are first and foremost social groups whose members must cooperate to achieve certain goals. If they fail as cooperative units in general terms, then they will fail to meet their specific objectives. The last few decades have witnessed a renaissance of theory and research on how groups function as cooperative units, based on general evolutionary principles that apply to all species and on our own evolutionary history. This knowledge can be used to enhance cooperation in real-world settings, such as educating our children. There is nothing static about cooperation. It succeeds under some environmental conditions and fails under others. We, therefore, evolved to be highly conditional in our willingness to cooperate with others. Since we are a cultural species that lives largely in a world of our own making, we have tremendous latitude to construct social environments that favor cooperation as an evolutionarily successful strategy, but only if we make use of our knowledge.

I recently had the opportunity to put these ideas into practice by advising a new program for at-risk high school students in Binghamton, N.Y., called the Regents Academy, or RA. It would be a self-contained school, with its own principal and teaching staff, for 9th and 10th graders who had failed three or more courses during their previous year and were unlikely to complete high school without an intervention. Working with my graduate student, Rick Kauffman; the academy principal, Miriam S. Purdy; and a dedicated staff of four teachers we designed a social environment that, according to theory, would be maximally conducive to cooperation and learning, as outlined in more detail below. To assess the program, we identified 117 qualifying 9th and 10th graders and randomly selected 56 to enter the program; the remaining 61 students were tracked as they experienced the normal routine at Binghamton High School. We also compared both groups to the performance of the average Binghamton High student.

What happened? Not only did the RA students greatly outperform the comparison group on the state-mandated exams at the end of the year, but they also performed on par with the average Binghamton High School student. The dropout rate plummeted (3.5 percent for the RA students versus 16 percent for the comparison group). The RA students responded to their new social environment quickly; the improvement in their grades, relative to the comparison group, occurred during the first quarter and held steady for the rest of the year. Male, female, black, white, and Hispanic students benefited equally. These results have recently been published in the Public Library of Science's open-access journal, PLoS ONE. The RA also resulted in nonacademic benefits, including greater family support as perceived by the students and an improved sense of well-being, according to data that we are working up for publication.

These results are surprising, given the difficulty of the problem. Improving the academic performance of at-risk students is difficult at any age, but especially for teenagers, whose life challenges, personal habits, and social networks are firmly established. Most other successful programs require extreme efforts and additional funding, such as extending the school day and year, yet the RA was created and supported with resources that are available to most public school districts.

What are the ingredients that make the Regents Academy work so well, and how are they informed by evolutionary science? The PLoS ONE article should be consulted for additional details, but the elements include design features that enable any human group to function as a cooperative unit, such as a strong group identity and sense of purpose, consensus decisionmaking, monitoring good behavior, graduated sanctions, and conflict resolution that is quick and seen as fair by all group members. This is the kind of social environment that most adults wish for themselves, and children are no different. In addition, learning requires an atmosphere of safety and trust and needs to be rewarding over the short term in addition to its long-term benefits.

None of the ingredients that make up the RA are unusual, but the RA brings them together into an unusual package. A well-functioning group is like an organism. Just as an organism has many organs and will die if any one of them is removed, a group requires many moving parts to its design and can become severely compromised if any one is missing. Advances in the study of human social behavior have clarified the package of design features required for human groups to function as adaptive units. Although many academic disciplines have contributed, evolutionary theory provides the overarching theoretical framework, enabling advances from fields as disparate as political science and prevention science to be combined and applied to a novel setting: a program for at-risk high school students.

Time will tell whether the Regents Academy continues to succeed as well as—or better than—its first year, but its initial success makes one wonder why so many other well-meaning efforts to educate our children fail. All educational policies have a surface logic based on background assumptions; otherwise, no one would be tempted to implement them. Yet, like the wishes that are granted to people in folk tales, policies frequently have unintended consequences. Unlike with the characters in folk tales who end up realizing their mistakes, the unforeseen consequences of our educational policies are often diffuse, indirect, and difficult to trace back to their source. Additionally, even successful policies have difficulty spreading beyond their particular disciplinary boundaries. A general theoretical framework and proper validation methods can help to solve some of these problems by providing new and workable solutions to problems that previously seemed difficult or impossible to solve.

Using evolution to teach can even help to solve the problem of teaching evolution. In my experience, people of all ages are much more inclined to accept evolution when it is taught not only as a biological subject, but as a practical toolkit for increasing the quality of our everyday lives.

David Sloan Wilson is SUNY distinguished professor of biology and anthropology at Binghamton University and the president of the Evolution Institute, a think tank that formulates public policy from an evolutionary perspective. He is author of Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin's Theory Can Change the Way We Think About Our Lives and The Neighborhood Project: Using Evolution to Improve My City, One Block at a Time (Little, Brown & Co.).

Kiel science curriculum debate


Updated: Thursday, 22 Dec 2011, 9:11 AM CST
Published : Wednesday, 21 Dec 2011, 2:53 PM CST
Chad Doran, FOX 11 News

KIEL - Patty Kubetz is teaching her two children math. Kubetz homeschools her children and says she gives them a well-rounded education. Her husband Randy serves on the school board and Patty says she's concerned about the education of the children in the public school system as well.

"This isn't just about teaching my children. This is about a bigger community," said Patty Kubetz.

Patty Kubetz wrote a letter to the Kiel School Board, asking them to consider adding creationism and other alternative theories on the origins of man to the high school freshman science curriculum that currently teaches just evolution.

Recently, the Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to the school board, threatening legal action if the board moves forward with what the Freedom From Religion Foundation calls "an unlawful attempt to inject creationism into public schools."

"This is unconstitutional to be teaching these creationism theories in the schools and the district and the school board need to know this," said Freedom From Religion Foundation attorney Patrick Elliot.

School board members and the school district administrator declined our requests for an interview, but in an email to FOX 11, the school board president said, "We receive myriad of concerns ranging from naming rights of facilities to lean manufacturing methods. In an effort to exercise responsiveness to our local taxpayers, we carefully consider concerns with due diligence."

Randy Kubetz says he's frustrated the Freedom From Religion Foundation is getting involved in what he calls a local issue.

"It has nothing to do with Madison, we don't tell them how to run their schools or their towns so they should leave other districts alone," Randy Kubetz said.

But Elliott says the issue goes far beyond one school.

"It's very unwise for schools to be teaching religion along side science classes," said Elliott.

But it's an issue Patty Kubetz is willing to fight for.

"It's indoctrination, we're teaching our kids that evolution is the only way out there and it's not that, even scientists are now arguing that," said Patty Kubetz.

Any changes made would affect only the high school freshman science curriculum and would not take effect until the 2013-14 school year.

More Political Attacks on Science Education Planned for 2012


The past year was not a good one for creationists trying to force public school science teachers to water down the teaching of biological evolution.

But as this year comes to a close, it looks like legislators in New Hampshire want to be the first to attack Darwin in 2012.

Hearings for two bills are headed for the New Hampshire House Education Committee in February. According to the National Center for Science Education:

"House Bill 1148, introduced by Jerry Bergevin (R-District 17), would charge the state board of education to "[r]equire evolution to be taught in the public schools of this state as a theory, including the theorists' political and ideological viewpoints and their position on the concept of atheism." House Bill 1457, introduced by Gary Hopper (R-District 7) and John Burt (R-District 7), would charge the state board of education to "[r]equire science teachers to instruct pupils that proper scientific inquire [sic] results from not committing to any one theory or hypothesis, no matter how firmly it appears to be established, and that scientific and technological innovations based on new evidence can challenge accepted scientific theories or modes."

What's interesting in the first bill is the concern about the historical development of evolution. It's a common belief among Biblical literalists that learning about evolution will lead students to atheism. But as many a Christian high school teacher can attest, a little historical research shows Christians at the time of Darwin were not at all unanimous in rejecting his theory.

But the bill has more problems. Evolution, it charges, should only be taught in theoretical terms, "including the theorists' political and ideological viewpoints and their position on the concept of atheism."

Position on the concept of atheism? Which means, once again, introducing the discussion of religion (or the lack thereof in this case) into the public school science curriculum.

It seems to me that this could have consequences exactly counter to what the bill's supporters intend. For example, imagine a conservative Christian suing the state's education board for violating the Establishment clause.

Why? Because atheism is explicitly being discussed as a consequence of Darwin's theory. (No prayer in public schools, but open discussion of atheism!)

It will be interesting to see how the hearings on this bill turn out.

There's no recent news in the local papers about how Granite state voters feel about the bills. But one columnist for the Nashua Telegraph expressed his dismay back in the summer when the legislation was first discussed.

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

Now, it's back on the radar.

Evolution education update: December 23, 2011

Two antievolution bills surface in the Granite State. And a new issue of RNCSE for your reading pleasure.


The two antievolution bills on the horizon in New Hampshire have now been prefiled in the state House of Representatives. House Bill 1148, introduced by Jerry Bergevin (R-District 17), would charge the state board of education to "[r]equire evolution to be taught in the public schools of this state as a theory, including the theorists' political and ideological viewpoints and their position on the concept of atheism." House Bill 1457, introduced by Gary Hopper (R-District 7) and John Burt (R-District 7), would charge the state board of education to "[r]equire science teachers to instruct pupils that proper scientific inquire [sic] results from not committing to any one theory or hypothesis, no matter how firmly it appears to be established, and that scientific and technological innovations based on new evidence can challenge accepted scientific theories or modes." Although HB 1457 as drafted is silent about "intelligent design," Hopper's initial request was to have a bill drafted that would require "instruction in intelligent design in the public schools." Both bills were referred to the House Education Committee; HB 1148 is scheduled for a hearing on February 9, 2012, and HB 1457 is scheduled for a hearing on February 14, 2012. A columnist for the Nashua Telegraph (July 3, 2011) who interviewed Bergevin and Hopper about their bills commented, "My taxpayer dollars pay science teachers to teach science, not philosophy. Let's hope lawmakers don't try to get in the way."

For the text of HB 1148 and HB 1457, visit:

For the column in the Nashua Telegraph, visit:

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


NCSE is pleased to announce the sixth issue of Reports of the National Center for Science Education in its new on-line format. The issue -- volume 31, number 6 -- features George Allan Alderman III's account of his visit to Kent Hovind's creationist theme park, Dinosaur Adventure Land, and Ian C. Binns's review of the battle over science in Louisiana since the passage of the so-called Louisiana Science Education Act in 2008. For his regular People and Places column, Randy Moore discusses the controversial career of the nineteenth-century preacher and enthusiast for evolution Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887).

Plus a host of reviews of books relating to the creationism/evolution controversy: Marc-André Lachance reviews David Herbert's Charles Darwin's Religious Views: From Creationist to Evolutionist; John M. Lynch reviews Benjamin Wiker and Jonathan Witt's A Meaningful World; Arthur McCalla reviews Lenn E. Goodman's Creation and Evolution; Arcady Mushegian and Eric Kessler review John C. Avise's Inside the Human Genome; Juli Peretó reviews Fazale Rana's Creating Life in the Lab; and Jeffrey Shallit reviews James Le Fanu's Why Us? How Science Rediscovered the Mystery of Ourselves.

All of these articles, features, and reviews are freely available in PDF form from http://reports.ncse.com. Members of NCSE will shortly be receiving in the mail the print supplement to Reports 31:6, which, in addition to summaries of the on-line material, contains news from the membership, a regular column in which NCSE staffers offer personal reports on what they've been doing to defend the teaching of evolution, a new regular column interviewing NCSE's favorite people -- members of NCSE's board of directors, NCSE's Supporters, recipients of NCSE's Friend of Darwin award, and so on -- and more besides. (Not a member? Join today!)

For the table of contents for RNCSE 31:6, visit:

For information about joining NCSE, visit:

Thanks for reading. And don't forget to visit NCSE's website -- http://ncse.com -- where you can always find the latest news on evolution education and threats to it.

Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
510-601-7203 x305
fax: 510-601-7204

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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Jesus! Was the Shroud of Turin created by a supernatural "flash of light"?


By Patricia Calhoun Thu., Dec. 22 2011 at 6:45 AM

The image on the Shroud of Turin was not some medieval hoax, but was caused by a supernatural "flash of light," according to a team of Italian scientists. The recent news reports of their findings conveniently coincide with the History Channel's repeat showing of The Real Face of Jesus tonight -- but for a group of Colorado-based researchers, they've been a long time coming.

According to Vatican Insider, experts at Italy's National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Development have concluded that what's been billed as the burial cloth of Jesus Christ could not have been faked:

"The double image (front and back) of a scourged and crucified man, barely visible on the linen cloth of the Shroud of Turin has many physical and chemical characteristics that are so particular that the staining which is identical in all its facets, would be impossible to obtain today in a laboratory ... This inability to repeat (and therefore falsify) the image on the Shroud makes it impossible to formulate a reliable hypothesis on how the impression was made."

Their study involved a lot of technical use of laser lights -- pulses in short-term duration -- and also name-checks some of the research done by the Shroud of Turin Research Project headed by John Jackson, who led a STRP team of researchers to Italy back in 1978, and still runs the Turn Shroud Center in Colorado Springs. "It seems as though they're cueing off a paper that I did about twenty years ago on image-formation mechanism," Jackson says. "There's some essential physics here. I've thought for twenty years that ultra-violet could create a vision."

And in medieval times, no would-be hoax-ter would have access to the equipment needed to create that vision with ultra-violet light.

Which means that "the enigma of the Shroud of Turin is still a puzzle," he says. "Our interest was, and still is, that this characteristic tells us something about the science of the image, what made the image on the shroud. Now you've got a real scientific puzzle and problem to explain."

Jackson has been trying to solve that puzzle for decades. Born and raised in Denver, he saw a picture of the Shroud when he was thirteen or fourteen years old -- and was hooked. With STRP, he's crafted solid experiments to test different hypotheses of what might have created the image. "It's a real slow process," he admits. Partly that's because while many of the early researchers were based at the Air Force Academy, funding -- or lack thereof -- has always been an issue.

"Coloradans have played an important role in Shroud research," notes Barry Schwartz, publisher of the Colorado-based shroud.com. He was part of the team that went to Italy in the '70s (he only moved to this state five years ago) and has done much of the photographic documentation.

The Italian research, he says, "further supports the scientific data that the image on the Shroud is neither a painting or art or a hoax from the medieval times to fool us."

Jackson will continue to psh for more proof of what, exactly, the Image is. "We keep pressing forward as best we can," he says. "I would commend the Italian researchers. They're trying to understand the shroud using a radiation model...I'm pleased that they're using capabilities that they have to try to explore that type of a hypothesis."

But Schwartz, who is Jewish and says he was "the biggest skeptic on the team," is ready to make a more definitive pronouncement: "There's only one answer: this cloth wrapped the body of Jesus."

For more weird science, read Calhoun's "Plans for the Jefferson County Parkway are kicking up a lot of dust."

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Pluto objection


Category: Creationism Posted on: December 12, 2011 8:48 PM, by PZ Myers

I'm so sorry, Kentucky. How do you end up with such ignorant school superintendents?

Ricky Line is concerned because his school district is teaching the facts of evolution.

"I have a very difficult time believing that we have come to a point ... that we are teaching evolution ... as a factual occurrence, while totally omitting the creation story by a God who is bigger than all of us," he wrote. "My feeling is if the Commonwealth's site-based councils, school board members, superintendents and parents were questioned ... one would find this teaching contradictory to the majority's belief systems."

"My argument is, do we want our children to be taught these things as facts? Personally, I don't," Line said. "I don't think life on earth began as a one-celled organism. I don't think that all of us came from a common ancestor ... I don't think the Big Bang theory describes the explanation of the origin of the universe."

So a school superintendent rejects all of modern science. The only novel thing here is his excuse:

The vast majority of scientists contend that evolution is an accepted cornerstone of modern science, and that there is no real scientific debate over the concept.

Line counters that "it's interesting that the great majority of scientists felt Pluto was a planet until a short time ago, and now they have totally changed that. There are scientists who don't believe that evolution happened."

That argument might work a little better if Pluto had winked out of existence when it was retitled…but it still whirls about the sun. Just as life on earth keeps bubbling up, and descent with modification keeps on happening.

And just like bible-thumping American yokels keep meddling in our children's educations.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Creationist abuse of cuttlefish chitin


Category: Creationism • Evolution • Fossils
Posted on: December 15, 2011 6:03 PM, by PZ Myers

A few weeks ago, PLoS One published a paper on the observation of preserved chitin in 34 million year old cuttlebones. Now the Institute for Creation Research has twisted the science to support their belief that the earth is less than ten thousand years old. It was all so predictable. It's a game they play, the same game they played with the soft tissue preserved in T. rex bones. Here's how it works.

Compare the two approaches, science vs. creationism. The creationists basically insert one falsehood, generate a ludicrous conflict, and choose the dumbest of the two alternatives.

The Scientific Approach

find traces of organic material in ancient fossils

Cool! We have evidence of ancient biochemistry!


The Creationist Approach

declare it impossible for organic material to be ancient

steal other people's discovery of organic material in ancient fossils

Cool! Declare that organic material must not be ancient, because of step 1, which we invented

Throw out geology, chemistry, and physics because they say the material is old

Profit! Souls for my Lord Arioch!

You see, the scientists are aware of the fact that organic materials degrade over time, but recognize that we don't always know the rate of decay under all possible conditions. When we find stuff that hasn't rotted away or been fully replaced by minerals, we're happy because we've got new information about ancient organisms, and we may also be able to figure out what mechanisms promoted the preservation of the material.

The creationists start with dogma — in this case, a false statement. They declare

Chitin is a biological material found in the cuttlebones, or internal shells, of cuttlefish. It has a maximum shelf life of thousands of years…


Because of observed bacterial and biochemical degradation rates, researchers shouldn't expect to find any original chitin (or any other biomolecule) in a sample that is dozens of millions of years old--and it therefore should be utterly absent from samples deposited hundreds of millions of years ago. Thus, the chitin found in these fossils refutes their millions-of-years evolutionary interpretation, just as other fossil biomolecules already have done.

But wait. How do they know that? The paper they are citing says nothing of the kind; to the contrary, it argues that while rare, other examples of preserved chitin have been described.

Detection of chitin in fossils is not frequent. There are reports of fossil chitin in pogonophora, and in insect wings from amber. Chitin has also been reported from beetles preserved in an Oligocene lacustrine deposit of Enspel, Germany and chitin-protein signatures have been found in cuticles of Pennsylvanian scorpions and Silurian eurypterids.

So the paper is actually saying that the "maximum shelf life" of chitin is several tens of millions of years. And then they go on to describe…chitin found in Oligocene cuttlefish, several tens of millions of years old. The creationists are busily setting up an imaginary conflict in the evidence, a conflict that does not exist and is fully addressed in the paper.

The creationists do try to back up their claims, inappropriately. They cite a couple of papers on crustacean taphonomy where dead lobsters were sealed up in anoxic, water- and mud-filled jars; they decayed. Then they announce that there's only one way for these cuttlebones to be preserved, and that was by complete mineralization, and the cuttlebones in the PLoS One paper were not mineralized.

…mineralization--where tissues are replaced by minerals--is required for tissue impressions to last millions of years. And the PLoS ONE researchers verified that their cuttlebone chitin was not mineralized.

Funny, that. You can read the paper yourself. I counted 14 uses of the words "mineralized" and "demineralized". They state over and over that they had to specifically demineralize the specimens in hydrochloric acid to expose the imbedded chitin. And of course the chitin itself hadn't been mineralized, or it wouldn't be chitin anymore! Did the creationists lie, or did they just not understand the paper?

The scientists also do not claim that the chitin has not been degraded over time. They actually document some specific, general properties of decay in the specimens.

ß-chitin is characterized by parallel chains of chitin molecules held together with inter-chain hydrogen bonding. The OH stretching absorbance, at about 3445 cm-1 in extant chitin, is diminished in the fossil and shifted to lower wavenumbers, showing that the specimen is losing OH by an as yet undetermined mechanism. The N-H asymmetric stretching vibration is shifted to slightly lower wavenumbers, showing that it is no longer hydrogen bonding exactly as in extant specimens. Changes in the region 2800-3600 cm-1 indicate that biomolecules have been degraded via disruption of interchain hydrogen bonds.

So, yes, the creationists seem to have rather misrepresented what the paper said. Here's another blatant example of lying about the contents of the paper.

The question they did not answer, however, is why the original organic chitin had not completely fallen apart, which it would have if the fossils with it were 34 million years old…

Actually, they did. A substantial chunk of the discussion was specifically about that question, a consideration of the factors that contributed to the preservation. It was a combination of an anoxic environment, the presence of molecules that interfered with the enzymes that break down chitin, and the structure of cuttlebone, which interleaves layers containing chitin with layers containing pre-mineralized aragonite.

In vivo inorganic-organic structure of the cuttlebone, in combination with physical and geochemical conditions within the depositional environment and favorable taphonomic factors likely contributed to preservation of organics in M. mississippiensis. Available clays within the Yazoo Clay in conjunction with suboxic depositional environment may have facilitated preservation of original organics by forming a physical and geochemical barrier to degradation. One key to the preservation of organic tissues, in particular chitin and chitosan, is cessation of bacterial degradation within environments of deposition. Bacterial breakdown of polymeric molecules is accomplished through activities of both free extracellular enzymes (those in the water column) and ektoenzymes (those on the surface of the microbial cell) such as chitinases. Chitinases function either by cleaving glycosidic bonds that bind repeating N-acetyl-D-glucosamine units within chitin molecules or by cleaving terminal N-acetyl-D-glucosamine groups. These enzymes adsorb to the surface of clay particles, which inactivates them. Strong ions in solution like iron may act in the same manner. Once bound to functional groups within these polymeric molecules, Fe2+ ions prevent specific bond configuration on the active-site cleft of specific bacterial chitinases and prevents hydrolysis, thus contributing to preservation.

Organic layers within cuttlebones are protected by mineralized layers, similar to collagen in bones, and this mineral-organic interaction may also have played a role in their preservation. Specimens of M. mississipiensis show preserved original aragonite as well as apparent original organics. These organics appear to be endogenous and not a function of exogenous fungal or microbial activity. Fungi contain the ? form of chitin not the ß allomorph found in our samples. Also, SEM analyses shows there is no evidence of tunneling, microbes, or wide-spread recrystallization of the aragonite. Therefore the chitin-like molecules detected in fossil sample are most likely endogenous. Similar to collagen in bone, perhaps, organics could not be attacked by enzymes or other molecules until some inorganic matrix had been removed.

Like I always say, never ever trust a creationists' interpretation of a science paper: they don't understand it, and they are always filtering it through a distorting lens of biblical nonsense. They make such egregious errors of understanding that you're always left wondering whether they are actually that stupid, or that sleazily dishonest. Or both.

But imagine if the creationists hadn't screwed up royally in reading the paper, if they had actually found an instance of scientists being genuinely baffled by a discovery that should not be. What if there was actually good reason to believe that chitin could not last more than ten thousand years?

Then the only sensible interpretation of this observation of 34 million year old chitin would be that the prior estimation of the shelf-life of chitin was wrong, and that it could actually last tens of millions of years. What the creationists want to do is claim that that minor hypothetical is actually correct, and that instead the entirety of nuclear physics, geology, radiochemistry, and modern cosmology is wrong. On the one hand, uncertain details about the decay of one organic molecule; in the other, entire vast fields of science, already verified, and with complex modern technologies built on their operation…and which hand would the creationists reject? The trivial one, of course.

I'm leaning towards "stupid" as the explanation for their bad arguments.


Oh, after I started this dissection, I discovered someone had already beaten me to it: here's another analysis of the creationist misinterpretations.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Letter: Belief in evolution tied to intelligence?


Posted December 16, 2011 at 11 p.m.

Coy Roper, Roscoe

I read Noel Singleton's column "Belief in evolution now a litmus test for intelligence" on Sunday, Dec. 4., with surprise. It was surprising that someone who apparently puts himself among the intelligent would go to such lengths to antagonize the many Americans who do not share his views on evolution.

One would think that someone so intelligent would be able to tell the difference between making an assertion and proving it. The assertion is that everyone who is intelligent believes in evolution. That means, I assume, that no matter how many degrees one has, or how high his measured IQ, he is still a numskull if he does not agree with the theory of evolution.

The fact is that the atheistic theory of evolutionist begins with the assumption that there is no such thing as a God. If one begins with such an assumption, then the theory of evolution is as good an explanation for the universe as any other.

However, if one begins with the assumption that there may in fact be a God, then creation becomes a real possibility.

Is it intelligent to rule out — simply by proclaiming the fact, not by proving it — the possibility that God may exist?

Mr. Singleton suggested that if our country is ruled by people stupid enough to believe in evolution, we will be ruined. It seems to me that in the 1930s, if one were looking for a country that was the intellectual leader of the western world, he would have chosen Germany. Did the Germans' great intellectual achievements have beneficial results over the following 10 years?

© 2011 Abilene Reporter-News.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Kentucky school superintendent upset over omission of creation theory on biology test


December 14th, 2011 by Prescott Carlson | Permalink

An exhibit at Kentucky's Creation Museum shows a woman living with a dinosaur

A school superintendent in Kentucky is upset because a state test puts too much emphasis on evolution as a fact, not a theory.

Ricky D. Line, superintendent of the Hart County school district, has expressed displeasure over new guidelines put in the biology portion of the state testing as part of the Blueprint for Kentucky's Children, which was implemented by legislators in 2007 partly in an effort to meet compliance of federal No Child Left Behind regulations.

According to the Lexington Herald-Leader, Line sent letters and emails to members of Kentucky's board of education along with the state Education Commissioner Terry Holliday asking them to re-evaluate the language in the test.

Expressing "deep concern about the increased emphasis on the evolution content required," Line said that the increase "is substantial and alarming."

Line said that the test would "require students to believe that humans… evolved from primates such as apes and… were not created by God."

He also feels that it is wrong to teach evolution as a "factual occurrence" without any reference to the creation story told in the Bible.

Holliday said that Line is wrong that the state would be teaching evolution as a fact, and that teachers are allowed to bring up creation theories in the course of teaching evolution.

Kentucky has long been a hot bed of controversy over the teaching of evolution, and efforts have been made to consistently introduce creation theories or "intelligent design" into science curricula. The state is also home to the 70,000 square foot Creation Museum, which asserts that Earth is only 6,000 years old and that humans lived amongst dinosaurs.

"I don't think life on Earth began as a one-celled organism," Line said. "I don't think that all of us came from a common ancestor… I don't think the Big Bang theory describes the explanation of the origin of the universe."

"There are scientists who don't believe that evolution happened," Line added.

Did Creationist Quote a Jack Szostak Imposter?


Friday, December 16, 2011

Jack Szostak is a Harvard biologist who won a Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine and is devoting his time to understanding the origin of life. He has been public about the importance of evolution to biology. So how could he have been quoted supporting a creationist view and undercutting his own scientific quest?

Szostak's seemingly pro-creationist quote appeared in a piece by a rabbi, Moshe Averick. It appeared on a website called Algemeiner, and the sole purpose seemed to be to attack evolutionary biologist and science popularizer Jerry Coyne. I found the piece from a link on Coyne's blog, which is called Why Evolution is True.

Averick tried to support his attack with a quote by Szostak. To creationists, it must have looked like a nice piece of ammunition – a biologist and Nobel winner supporting the need for some kind of intelligent design to get life started:

"It is virtually impossible to imagine how a cell's machines…could have formed spontaneously from non-living matter," is because it is impossible for a cell's machines to have formed spontaneously from non-living matter. The notion that the functional complexity of a bacterium could be the result of an unguided process is as absurd as asserting that the sculptures on Mt. Rushmore were the result of an unguided, naturalistic process

It's interesting that just that first snippet is in direct quotes, after which Averick seems to be finishing the Harvard professor's thought. Unless there's another Jack Szostak, this is unlikely to reflect his view. The origin of life is a topic of immense interest to readers, and since Szostak is a leader in that field, I drove to Penn State last fall to intercept him. I sat next to him at dinner, had breakfast with him the next day, and listened to him give two talks. Unless he's changed in the last three months, he doesn't have a creationist neuron in his head.

Here's an excerpt from the column I wrote based on my questioning of Szostak on the origin of life:

The first life may not have been as complex as life today. That's important because there's a long-standing misconception that the origin of life was a simultaneous aggregation of cellular machinery, as unlikely as a tornado assembling a 747 from scraps in a junkyard, to use astronomer Fred Hoyle's analogy. But today scientists don't think it happened all at once. All that's needed are two things, Szostak said. One is a DNA-type molecule that can carry a genetic code and copy itself, but imperfectly. The other is some kind of membrane…..

Does evolution define life? Indeed it does, Szostak said, but Darwinian evolution requires a few things beyond just change: a way of making copies with variation from which nature can select; and a way for the variations to be propagated into future generations. Darwinian evolution, he said, is the unifying principle of life. The consensus is that the first living things did not use DNA for their genetic codes, he said, but they might have used a related code-carrier, RNA, which is made up of a single strand and needs fewer external parts to reproduce itself.

RNA is a long chain of individual links. Each of these links, called ribonucleotides, is formed from several pieces that don't like to stick together, making it hard for scientists to envision how RNA could have formed spontaneously. Two years ago, biologists in England made some progress by changing the order of assembly. Instead of trying to stick together these two building blocks of RNA, they started with precursors of the building blocks. That worked.

I was also curious about Szostak's response to the abiogenesis question that readers keep posing: Did he have faith that this happened? He looked puzzled for a moment. "Life wasn't here, and now it is," he said. "It had to have come about by a process." I said I thought the creationists were accusing the scientists of acting on their own faith to assume it happened without God.

He replied that falling back on a supernatural explanation would be like giving up the inquiry. And there's no reason to give up a problem just because it's hard. "All we can do is break it down into smaller problems," he said.

Does that sound like a man who would support a creationist attacking Jerry Coyne? I emailed Szostak to find out where Averick's quote came from - whether he remembered saying or writing it. "If I recall, the basic point I was making was that the complex machines of modern life could not have formed spontaneously, but must have emerged gradually over a lengthy period of evolution," was his reply.

It's not about whether the process is guided, but whether it was sudden or gradual. What kind of a person would take the first part of that quote and then finish with support of creationism?

Ironically, Averick's piece goes to accuse Coyne of lying:

The Talmudic Sages declare that "someone who wants to lie makes sure that his witnesses and evidence are far away." In other words, a skilled fabricator always is careful to tell a story that can never be checked out objectively or falsified…sort of like Dr. Jerry Coyne telling us that while today he has zero evidence that life could come from non-life through an unguided process, not to worry: 50 years in the future we'll have all the evidence we need. I am certain that God the Creator exists while David Berlinski is not certain at all. But on one thing we are both certain: The impotence and vacuousness of Dr. Coyne's writing and reasoning speak for themselves

Well, one thing we can say in favor of Moshe Averick – he has not pushed his witnesses too far away. Jack Szostak is here to call him on his quote abuse.

And this week has given us an example showing there's nothing "vacuous" about continuing to explore deep questions with science rather relegating them to some God of the gaps. Physicists assumed there would be a natural explanation for a puzzle involving the masses of fundamental particles. Peter Higgs came up with theory in 1964, proposing an invisible mass-generating field. The theory predicted a particle which came to be called the "Higgs Boson." (NOT the God particle) After all these years, scientists announced the first hints of the Higgs. They didn't give up on the question because it was hard. They didn't wave their hands and say "God did it." And neither is Jack Szostak. The real one, that is. I'm not sure about any imposers.

Posted by Faye Flam @ 6:38 PM Permalink