NTS LogoSkeptical News for 25 October 2008

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Evolution education update: October 24, 2008

Both the AAAS and the advisory committee of the 21st Century Science Coalition are expressing their concern over Texas's state science standards. NCSE Supporter Francisco Ayala is profiled in the pages of Scientific American. And NCSE's new website is up and running.


Writing in the Houston Chronicle (October 22, 2008), the chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Alan I. Leshner, deplores the recent appointment of three antievolutionists to a committee charged with reviewing a draft of Texas's state science standards. "The new standards will shape how science education is taught in Texas for the next decade, and it would be a terrible mistake to water down the teaching of evolution in any way," he writes, adding, "At a time when most educators are working to prepare students for 21st century jobs, the board members' action threatens to confuse students, divide communities and tarnish Texas' reputation as an international science and technology center."

Leshner's op-ed emphasizes the strength of the scientific consensus on evolution ("Mainstream science and medical organizations in the United States and worldwide, representing tens of millions of scientists, accept evolution as the best explanation for how life developed on Earth"), the fact that many people of faith, including scientists and clergy alike, regard evolution as no threat to their faith, and the importance of preserving the integrity of science education. But what he hammers home is the economic importance of a quality science education: "To maintain the state's strength as an engine of U.S. research and innovation, Texas education leaders should stick to the basics. Students need a solid science foundation to thrive in the 21st century."

In supporting a scientifically appropriate and pedagogically responsible treatment of evolution in the Texas state science standards, Leshner joins the 21st Century Science Coalition, the Texas Freedom Network, and Texas Citizens for Science, as well as the editorial boards of the Waco Tribune (October 3, 2008) and the Austin American-Statesman (October 6, 2008). As the world's largest general interest scientific organization, the AAAS regularly defends the teaching of evolution in the public schools, and presents a useful collection of relevant statements, publications, resources, and links in a section of its on-line press room.

For Leshner's op-ed, visit:

For the pro-science organizations in Texas, visit:

For the cited editorials, visit:

For the AAAS's evolution resources, visit:

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


"The State Board of Education's decisions in the coming months will affect both the college preparation and future job qualifications of our children. Our students deserve a sound education that includes the latest findings of scientific research and excludes ideas that have failed to stand up to scientific scrutiny." That was the message of the 21st Century Science Coalition's advisory committee -- Daniel I. Bolnick, R. E. Duhrkopf, David M. Hillis, Ben Pierce, and Sahotra Sarkar -- delivered in twin op-eds recently published in two Texas newspapers, the Waco Tribune (October 19, 2008), and the Austin American-Statesman (October 21, 2008).

In their op-eds, after describing the vast amount of scientific research that supports evolution, and the absence of any compelling evidence against it, Bolnick and his colleagues respond to the charge of censorship: "Evolution opponents who promote such phony 'weaknesses' claim we are trying to censor them, suppressing free speech. But the entire point of education is to provide students with the best information available, without wasting time on bogus arguments. We don't teach alchemy alongside chemistry, for example, or astrology alongside physics. We don't ask students to decide for themselves whether Earth revolves around the Sun or vice versa. Is that 'censorship'?"

They also emphasize the increasing economic importance of evolution education, writing, "We can't expect future citizens of Texas to be successful in a 21st-century world with a 19th-century science education. Once our children enter the work force, they will find that understanding evolution is central to many innovations in medicine, agriculture, engineering and biotechnology. Undermining biology education risks driving away biotechnology and other industries from our state." The Austin American-Statesman (October 6, 2008) already editorially agreed, noting that biomedical industries "have not looked favorably on communities that water down science studies with vague and unproven ideas."

The 21st Century Science Coalition was organized to resist attempts of creationists to maintain the "strengths and weaknesses" language in the Texas state science standards, which are currently undergoing revisions. Already over 1300 Texas scientists with or working towards advanced degrees in life, physical, and mathematical science have signed the coalition's statement calling on the state board of education to approve science standards that "acknowledge that instruction on evolution is vital to understanding all the biological sciences" and that "encourage valid critical thinking and scientific reasoning by leaving out all references to 'strengths and weaknesses,' which politicians have used to introduce supernatural explanations into science courses."

For the 21st Century Science Coalition's op-eds, visit:

For the Austin American-Statesman's editorial, visit:

For further information about the Coalition, visit:

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


NCSE Supporter Francisco Ayala was profiled in the November 2008 issue of Scientific American. "After some 30 years of proselytizing about evolution to Christian believers, the esteemed evolutionary biologist at the University of California, Irvine, has honed his arguments to a fine point," Sally Lehrman writes. "The 74-year-old Ayala is preparing for an exceptionally busy 2009. The year marks the bicentennial of Charles Darwin's birthday and the sesquicentennial of the publication of On the Origin of Species, and the battle over the teaching of evolution is sure to heat up. Ayala says the need is especially great for scientists to engage religious people in dialogue."

Regarding it as counterproductive for scientists to attack religion in promoting the understanding of evolution, Ayala prefers to "help believers see evolution as an ally" -- as not only compatible with their faith, contrary to the typical creationist claim, but also as enriching it. In particular, Lehrman explains, "Drawing on five years of study in preparation for ordination as a Dominican priest, Ayala uses evolution to help answer a central paradox of Christianity -- namely, how can a loving, all-knowing God allow evil and suffering ... Natural selection can explain the ruthlessness of nature, Ayala argues, and remove the 'evil' -- requiring an intentional act of free will -- from the living world."

Ayala's efforts to address religious resistance to evolution have not always been welcomed by the scientific community; he told Lehrman that when he proposed to quote theologians in the National Academy of Science's Science and Creationism, second edition (National Academies Press, 1999), "I was almost eaten alive." But its successor, Science, Evolution, and Creationism (National Academies Press, 2008), quotes both leading scientists of faith (including Francis Collins and NCSE Supporter Kenneth R. Miller) and religious leaders and groups (including the late Pope John Paul II and the now over 11,000 signatories of the Clergy Letter Project), who see no conflict between their faith and science.

A Supporter of NCSE since its founding, Ayala is University Professor, the Donald Bren Professor of Biological Sciences, and Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Irvine; he received the National Medal for Science, the nation's highest award for lifetime achievement in scientific research, in 2002. Among his contributions to the defense of the integrity of science education was his testimony for the plaintiffs in the challenge to Arkansas's 1981 "Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science Act" (McLean v. Arkansas). His latest book is Darwin's Gift: To Science and Religion (Joseph Henry Press, 2007).

For the profile of Ayala, visit:

For information about Science, Evolution, and Creationism, visit:

For information about the Clergy Letter Project, visit:

For information about Darwin's Gift, visit:


On October 18, 2008, NCSE proudly unveiled its new website. With its modern look and feel, and its highly improved functionality, it will make it easier for people to find information about the creationism/evolution controversy -- and resources for defending the teaching of evolution in the public schools.

NCSE is grateful to the designer, David Board of Stage 2 Studios, and the various NCSE staff and friends who helped to put the new website together, especially NCSE's Susan Spath, who indefatigably led the effort.

For the convenience of those who wish to refer to the old website, NCSE will be maintaining it at a new domain, ncselegacy.org, but it will not be updated. Those who subscribe to our RSS feed will want to use our new RSS feed, ncseweb.org/rss.xml.

There are doubtless a few broken links and the like remaining on both the old and new websites; we are working to fix a number of bugs still, so please bear with us. Problems with the websites may be reported to webmaster@ncseweb.org.

For NCSE's new website, visit:

For NCSE's legacy website, visit:

For NCSE's new RSS feed, visit:


Thanks for reading! And as always, be sure to consult NCSE's web site: http://www.ncseweb.org 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

Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools

Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism

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

Creationism/evolution among Eastern Orthodox laity


October 24th

A recent survey among Eastern Orthodox laity in the United States provides interesting data on their attitudes toward creationism and evolution. According to the report (PDF), published as Alexei D. Krindatch, The Orthodox Church Today (Patriarch Athenagoras Orthodox Institute, 2008), the survey was conducted from September 2007 to May 2008. Information was gathered by a mail survey of a nationally representative sample of lay members of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North America (GOA) and the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), the two largest Orthodox denominations in the United States. There were nearly 1000 respondents from 103 parishes.

Two relevant questions were included in the survey. First, respondents were asked, "Would you generally favor or oppose teaching creationism instead of evolution in public schools?" Krindatch writes, "American Orthodox laity (GOA and OCA alike) are divided in three almost equal groups: those who favor teaching creationism instead of evolution in American public schools (33%), those who reject this idea (35%) and those who are unable to take one or [another] stand on this matter (32%)" (p. 151). College graduates and those who described their theological stance as "moderate" or "liberal" (as opposed to "traditional" or "conservative") were more likely to oppose teaching creationism instead of creationism.

Second, respondents were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement, "Evolutionary theory is compatible with the idea of God as Creator." Krindatch writes, "the American Orthodox laity are deeply divided among themselves in their approach to the compatibility of evolutionism and creationism. Almost equal proportions of our respondents either agreed (41%) or disagreed (38%) with the statement ... Further, more than one-fifth (21%) of parishioners were unable to evaluate this statement and said that they are '[n]eutral or unsure'" (p. 152). College graduates, converts to Orthodoxy, and those who described their theological stance as "moderate" or "liberal" (as opposed to "traditional" or "conservative") were more likely to agree.

Abrams looking to bring State BOE experience to the Senate


10/25/2008 1:57:00 AM
By DAVE SEATON Publisher

Steve Abrams is headed in a new direction.

After serving 14 years on the Kansas State Board of Education, Abrams is running for a seat in the Kansas Senate.

He is taking on four-term incumbent Democrat Greta Goodwin of Winfield.

On the state board, the Arkansas City veterinarian pushed for science standards that would allow alternatives to Darwinian evolution to be taught in Kansas public schools.

He is immediate past chairman of the board.

Abrams, 59, has reinvented himself as a champion of technical education and tax cuts during his campaign.

He is about to finish a term as co-chair of a study group on technical and career education for the National Association of State Boards of Education. He wants to see the Kansas Legislature do more in this area.

Abrams said combining academics and vocational education can provide more high school graduates with skills for the industrial workplace. "College would still be an option," he has said, but "You don't have to go to college to be successful."

Abrams expressed frustration with the Legislature. "The Legislature has not had the vision on this."

The Mechatronics Program in Cowley County is a good start, Abrams added. But several other states are far ahead of Kansas, which needs to act to meet the demands of business and industry for skilled, reliable workers.

Abrams has signed a pledge not to raise taxes.

That pledge is promoted by Americans for Tax Reform, the organization based in Washington, D.C. ATR is led by Gordon Norquist, the conservative political guru who orchestrated passage of President George W. Bush's tax cuts in 2001.

Fliers mailed to registered Republicans in the 32nd Senate district in the past two weeks repeat the theme of Abrams' campaign literature that Kansas tax rates are too high. Abrams will "lower taxes for working families," one of the fliers says.

Those fliers are sent by Americans for Prosperity, an anti-tax group.

The 32nd Senate district includes Cowley and Sumner counties and a bit of Sedgwick County.

Goodwin responded that she did not sign pledges of any kind. She said Abrams was not a good steward of taxpayers' money as chair of the State Board of Education, and that his ideas of what he could do as a senator to cut taxes were unrealistic.

Goodwin also said Abrams had decided to run for the Senate because he realized there was no chance to restore the science standards for which he fought. Abrams said this was not true.

The First Principles: A Scientist's Guide to the Spiritual

By Dr. John Joseph Petrovic is now available on Amazon.com. This new book presents a thought-provoking, scientifically intuitive assessment of the nature of spirituality and it's guiding axioms.

The First Principles: A Scientist's Guide to the Spiritual offers a rare and invaluable perspective on the philosophy of science, spirituality, and the ever increasing, blurred boundary between the two. The author grapples with big ideas and weighty concepts, but brings them down to earth in the form of three basic axioms, elegant in their simplicity, and profound in their implications. The book does not take a purely intellectual approach to science and spirituality, far from it. Rather, scientist-author Petrovic expands his well formed and scrupulously shaped arguments into a personal and actionable philosophy, that if applied to daily life, can deepen one's relationship with the "Wholeness" that so many call God.

Told with compassion and written with the non-scientist in mind, The First Principles: A Scientist's Guide to the Spiritual teaches a new way to understand the beauty and elegance of science and spirituality. It is a must-read for those seeking a path towards spiritual truth. The book is available on Amazon.com.

Alternative medicine and heavy metal poisoning


Science Centric | 24 October 2008 14:02 GMT —

Many Ayurvedic medicines can contain dangerous quantities of heavy metals, including lead, mercury, thallium and arsenic, according to clinical toxicology specialists in London writing in the International Journal of Environment and Health. The team explains that recent European legislation aimed at improving safety of shop-bought products should go some way to protect the public against some of the potential risks associated with traditional medicines. However, it will have little impact on medicines prescribed by traditional practitioners, imported personally from overseas or bought over the Internet.

Consultant Clinical Toxicologist Dr Paul Dargan of Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust, London is working with colleagues there and Dr Indika Gawarammana of the Faculty of Medicine and South Asian Clinical Toxicology Research at the University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka, to investigate the risks of heavy metals found in Ayurvedic medicine.

Ayurvedic medicine is an ancient practice based on five elements and stresses spiritual balance as well as the use of herbal remedies for a wide range of illnesses. In India, there are more than 12,000 Ayurvedic colleges and hospital. There, almost 80% of the population uses Ayurvedic and other traditional medicines, often exclusively.

The use of Ayurvedic medicines has become popular in North America, Europe and Australasia and has spread beyond the cultural and ethnic populations from which the traditional medicine practices originated. Dargan and colleagues point out that there have been numerous reports of clinically significant heavy metal poisoning related to its use.

Practitioners may use individual herbal extracts or a mixture of herbal extracts with vegetable, animal and mineral products. It is a basic principle of Ayurveda that practitioners can use anything as a drug. Heavy metals are generally not present as contaminants but practitioners add them intentionally. In Ayurveda a balance of the metals, including lead, copper, gold, iron, mercury, silver, tin, zinc are considered to be essential for normal functioning of the human body and an important component of good health.

Unfortunately, the researchers say, few studies have recorded detailed information about just how common is heavy metal poisoning due to the use of Ayurvedic remedies. They discuss the details of several cases of lead poisoning in patients who had taken an Ayurvedic product containing lead.

'There is an urgent need for studies to quantify the frequency and potential risk of heavy metal poisoning from Ayurvedic medicines,' say the researchers. Also needed is 'culturally appropriate education' that can inform the public of the potential for toxicity associated with the many different products associated with this practice.

Source: Inderscience Publishers

Tiny Juvenile Dinosaur Fossil Sheds Light On Evolution Of Plant Eaters


ScienceDaily (Oct. 24, 2008) — One of the smallest dinosaur skulls ever discovered has been identified and described by a team of scientists from London, Cambridge and Chicago. The skull would have been only 45 millimeters (less than two inches) in length. It belonged to a very young Heterodontosaurus, an early dinosaur. This juvenile weighed about 200 grams, less than two sticks of butter.

In the Fall issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, the researchers describe important findings from this skull that suggest how and when the ornithischians, the family of herbivorous dinosaurs that includes Heterodontosaurus, made the transition from eating meat to eating plants.

"It's likely that all dinosaurs evolved from carnivorous ancestors," said study co-author Laura Porro, a post-doctoral student at the University of Chicago. "Since heterodontosaurs are among the earliest dinosaurs adapted to eating plants, they may represent a transition phase between meat-eating ancestors and more sophisticated, fully-herbivorous descendents."

"This juvenile skull," she added, "indicates that these dinosaurs were still in the midst of that transition."

Heterodontosaurus lived during the Early Jurassic period (about 190 million years ago) of South Africa. Adult Heterodontosaurs were turkey-sized animals, reaching just over three feet in length and weighing around five to six pounds.

Because their fossils are very rare, Heterodontosaurus and its relatives (the heterodontosaurs) are poorly understood compared to later and larger groups of dinosaurs.

"There were only two known fossils of Heterodontosaurus, both in South Africa and both adults," said Porro, who is completing her doctoral dissertation on feeding in Heterodontosaurus under the supervision of David Norman, researcher at the University of Cambridge and co-author of the study. "There were rumors of a juvenile heterodontosaur skull in the collection of the South African Museum," she said, "but no one had ever described it."

As part of her research, Porro visited the Iziko South African Museum, Cape Town, to examine the adult fossils. When she was there, she got permission to "poke around" in the Museum's collections. While going through drawers of material found during excavations in the 1960s, she found two more heterodontosaur fossils, including the partial juvenile skull.

"I didn't recognize it as a dinosaur at first," she said, "but when I turned it over and saw the eye looking straight at me, I knew exactly what it was."

"This discovery is important because for the first time we can examine how Heterodontosaurus changed as it grew," said the study's lead author, Richard Butler of the Natural History Museum, in London. "The juvenile Heterodontosaurus had relatively large eyes and a short snout when compared to an adult," he said, "similar to the differences we see between puppies and fully-grown dogs."

A specialist on the mechanics of feeding, Porro was particularly interested in the new fossil's teeth. Heterodontosaurs, which means "different-toothed lizards," have an unusual combination of teeth, with large fang-like canines at the front of their jaws and worn, molar-like grinding teeth at the back. In contrast, most reptiles have teeth which change little in shape along the length of the jaw.

This bizarre suite of teeth has led to debate over what heterodontosaurs ate. Some scientists think heterodontosaurs were omnivores who used their differently-shaped teeth to eat both plants and small animals. Others contend that heterodontosaurs were herbivores who ate only plants and that the canines were sexually dimorphic--present only in males, as in living warthogs. In that scenario, the canines could have been used as weapons by rival males in disputes over mates and territories.

Porro and colleagues found that the juvenile already had a fully-developed set of canines.

"The fact that canines are present at such an early stage of growth strongly suggests that this is not a sexually dimorphic character because such characters tend to appear later in life," said Butler.

Instead, the researchers suspect that the canines were used as defensive weapons against predators, or for adding occasional small animals such as insects, small mammals and reptiles to a diet composed mainly of plants--what the authors refers to as "occasional omnivory."

The study created a new mystery, however. With the aid of X-rays and CT scans, Porro found a complete lack of replacement teeth in the adult and juvenile skulls.

Most reptiles, including living crocodiles and lizards, replace their teeth constantly throughout their lives, so that sharp, unworn teeth are always available. The same was true for dinosaurs. Most mammals, on the other hand, replace their teeth only once during their lives, allowing the upper and lower teeth to develop a tight, precise fit.

Heterodontosaurus was more similar to mammals, not only in the specialized, variable shape of its teeth but also in replacing its teeth slowly, if at all, and developing tight tooth-to-tooth contact. "Tooth replacement must have occurred during growth," the authors conclude, "however, evidence of continuous tooth replacement appears to be absent, in both adult and juvenile specimens."

The research was funded by the Royal Society, Cambridge University and the Gates Cambridge Trust.

Adapted from materials provided by University of Chicago Medical Center, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.

Crossing Over in the Culture War


Three books on how religion and evolution can coexist.


How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World

RELIGION | SCIENCE: Crossing Over in the Culture War
New in Paperback: The Courage of Their Convictions
By Michael Dowd | Viking. 417 pp. $24.95


In Their Own Words

Edited by Nancy K. Frankenberry | Princeton Univ. 523 pp. $29.95


How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution

By Karl W. Giberson | HarperOne. 248 pp. $24.95

"Evolutionists Flock to Darwin-Shaped Wall Stain," ran a recent headline in the satirical newspaper the Onion. The picture showed breathless biologists worshiping a Shroud-of-Turin-like apparition of Charles Darwin's face on a concrete wall.

Darwinian fundamentalist mystics among us? Well . . . probably not. All the same, it's getting hard to tell the players without a scorecard in America's most peculiar culture war: the battle between evolution and its enemies.

Spectators often see this conflict as a straightforward affair. On one side, scientists pile up physical evidence; on the other, biblical literalists scorn that evidence as a snare of Satan. Adherents of " scientific creationism" and "intelligent design" blame evolution, with its explanation of how all living beings evolve through chance and natural selection, for everything from abortion to the Holocaust. Returning fire, the British biologist Richard Dawkins rides the bestseller list with his polemic The God Delusion, dismissing not just creationists but religious folk generally as dupes and creeps.

As if to annoy Dawkins, now comes a parade of books that jumble the sides and soften the tone of this conflict. One, by a self-proclaimed "evolutionary evangelist," declares evolution the harbinger of a new and more creative theology. In Thank God for Evolution, itinerant preacher Michael Dowd urges the faithful to forget their fears of evolution and embrace its ability to illuminate old doctrines: Original sin, for instance, should be understood as the persistence of now-inappropriate urges from our evolutionary "lizard legacy." Then there is The Faith of Scientists, a stout anthology of primary sources compiled by Dartmouth religion professor Nancy K. Frankenberry, which makes clear the rich variety of religious experience of scientists from Galileo and Darwin through Rachel Carson and Stephen Hawking.

Emory workshop teaches teachers how to teach evolution



The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Friday, October 24, 2008

Some students burst into tears when a high school biology told them they'd be studying evolution. Another teacher said some students repeatedly screamed "no" when he began talking about it.

Other teachers said students demanded to know whether they pray and questioned why the had to learn about evolution if it was just a theory.

They said students often walk in with grave misconceptions about the subject, and many parents fear teachers will tell kids that they can't have their religious beliefs.

"I've seen churches train students to come to school with specific questions to ask to sabotage my lessons," said Bonnie Pratt, a biology teacher at Northview High in north Fulton County. "We need parents and the community to understand why and how we teach evolution."

The teachers were at a workshop on teaching evolution organized by Emory's Center for Science Education. They discussed ways to teach it and how to address challenges and misconceptions. The training was part of a two-day evolution conference on campus that ended Friday.

Evolution is the scientific explanation for the gradual process that resulted in the diversity of living things.

Teaching evolution has long stoked a debate over science and religion in public schools. Some view it as incompatible with their religious views about how God created the universe and human beings. But many educators and scientists say it's the basis for biology, which is a gateway course to future studies of life sciences.

These conflicting ideas have battled in Georgia.

State schools Superintendent Kathy Cox triggered debate in 2004 when she proposed striking references to evolution from state science teaching standards. Cox changed her position following public pressure. The State Board of Education later approved standards calling for students to learn evolution and supporting concepts.

In 2002, Cobb County school officials put stickers in science textbooks warning that evolution was a "theory, not a fact." A judge ordered the district to remove the stickers in 2005, saying they endorsed a particular religious belief.

Teachers at the Emory conference said the challenges they face now come from the communities around their schools, and that they must find ways to confront them. Many said they tell students that regardless of what they believe, they need to know and understand evolution.

A few years ago, Pratt started holding meetings – open to parents, students, church members and others – to address their questions about evolution. She holds the annual session a few weeks before she begins the unit and gets about 200 people.

"It used to be that the whole unit was a struggle, and we were butting heads," Pratt said. "This meeting helps everyone understand that science teachers are not the enemy. Now, the kids are showing up ready to learn about evolution."

Other teachers said they try to fix students' misconceptions. They explain how humans and apes share a common ancestor that no longer exists, not that humans and apes evolved from one another. They say that while "theory" may describe a hunch in everyday language, in science it is defined as an explanation supported by factual evidence to describe events that occur in our world.

Graham Balch, a biology teacher at Grady High in Atlanta, addressed the controversy head-on. He had his students read about Cox's actions and the response she got. They learned about efforts across the country to water down lessons about evolution and how other public and private schools teach the material. They debated the cause of the conflict and whether evolution should be taught in public schools.

"I wanted to help them feel comfortable and open so they can embrace evolution," Balch said. "I wanted them to want to learn about evolution and didn't want them to be afraid."

A few of Balch's students attended the Emory workshop. While they doubted all of their classmates believed in evolution, they said there was agreement they needed to learn about it.

Freshman Caitlin Wade said the activity helped her realize she can balance her religious beliefs with her love of science. "I can pray, read my Bible and study science," she said. "I don't have to choose."

UCF Speakers Series Tackles Evolution Versus Creationism for Darwin's Anniversary


By Zenaida Gonzalez Kotala Oct. 24, 2008

Eugenie Scott, a national expert on the teaching of evolution, will speak at the University of Central Florida on Monday, Nov. 3.

Scott, the executive director of the National Center for Science Education, will discuss "Florida's Academic Freedom Bills: Creationism du jour?" at 7:30 pm in room 101 of the College of Sciences building. Her presentation is free and open to the public.

Scott and the NCSE are among the biggest opponents of intelligent design being taught in science classrooms. She has written several books, including "Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design is Wrong for Our Schools." She also has appeared on MSNBC, the Fox News Channel and CNN.

Scott is part of the UCF Department of Biology special speaker series under way this year in honor of the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin's work on evolution. The series tackles how the theory of evolution has influenced all aspects of human society.

The UCF Department of Biology has invited a series of speakers to campus beginning this month and stretching into next year to highlight the importance evolution plays in man's understanding of life science.

Biology faculty at UCF say a basic knowledge of evolution is vital to understand and advance scientific study from conservation biology to developing new medical treatments of disease.

Chris Parkinson and Eric Hoffman, who teach the capstone undergraduate evolution course at UCF, often find undergraduates are unprepared in evolutionary theory when they arrive at UCF. Their goal with this seminar series is to educate the public on the importance of teaching and understanding evolution.

The series goes hand-in-hand with Florida's new K-12 science standards and curricula, and the faculty members hope many K-12 science teachers will take advantage of this free public lecture series.

The educators recruited some of the nation's leading experts on the topic of evolution and its role in science for the series. Universities around the world, including the University of Cambridge in England and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, are conducting similar programs to celebrate Darwin's work .

In the spring, other well-known speakers will discuss the role of evolution in medicine as well as the impact of the debate on scientific advances.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Professor's views test Darwinian evolution theory


Oct. 22, 2008
Christina Kruse/Lariat Staff

"When my books appear on Amazon, they are either (marked) five stars or one star, nothing in between," said former professor Dr. William Dembski to students Tuesday night at Rogers Engineering and Computer Science Building.

By Amanda Ochoa Reporter

A rocky past with Baylor University didn't stop former Baylor professor Dr. William A. Dembski from discussing the controversial issue of intelligent design during his lecture, organized by members of the aspiring Baylor chapter of American Scientific Affiliation.

Dembski's lecture, titled "Darwin's Unpaid Debt," focused on biological complexity, information and design as the primary keys to evolution. Dembski's view is ignored by Darwin's theory of evolution, which specifically targets natural selection as the only reason for evolution.

"Darwin's Theory cannot be the whole story to life as we know it," Dembski said. "We need to connect the dots that structure all biological systems."

Dembski suggested in his lecture that there is a whole realm of biological complexities that Darwin didn't know about and that there has to be an intelligent design within evolution to create variation and change, giving evolution a never-ending future.

Evolution is all about borrowing information from previous evolutionary instances, which is why such complex biological structures and functions can be built, he said. But what we need to ask ourselves is: where does that information come from?

Dembski explained in the lecture that while natural selection is a reason of evolution, there is a higher power, which originally inputs information to create the complex structures and functions of life.

"As a Christian man, yes, I do believe it is God as the divine power and as the intelligent designer of evolution," Dembski answered after being asked a question by the audience. "But that is without saying intelligent design does not always have to be primarily focused on the supernatural."

Dembski was introduced to the audience by an officer of the aspiring chapter of the American Scientific Affiliation, junior Sam Chen, who said Dembski's research as "absolutely phenomenal." Although, after Dembski's lecture, some audience members seemed in disagreement with his intelligent design theory.

But Dembski is no stranger to confrontation. The mainstream science community rejects Dembski's work and research based upon his ideas of intelligent design.

"The idea of gathering information explaining the conventional evolutionary mechanisms are at both ends of the spectrum," said Dembski. "It's either real science or magic, both create confrontational context."

According to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, "Creationism, intelligent design, and other claims of supernatural intervention in the origin of life or of species are not science because they are not testable by the methods of science."

But during Dembski's lecture, he entertained the audience with jokes about the harsh criticism he's received in the past, especially past references to his history with Baylor and the Michael Polanyi Center controversy, based on the study and research of intelligent design on the Baylor campus in 1999 and 2000.

"Intelligent design is defined as a supernatural being that controls evolution, and we hope to bring this topic and issue to students' attention," said Katy junior Jon Brown, member of the American Scientific Affiliation.

While Brown said he believes that intelligent design should not be identified as a science, he had hoped to open the dialogue between science and faith for students through Dembski's lecture.

Kan. ed candidate defends anti-evolution changes


TOPEKA (AP) -- A conservative Republican seeking re-election to the State Board of Education is defending now-repealed science standards that questioned the validity of evolution.

Kathy Martin, a retired teacher from Clay Center, faces Democrat Christopher Renner, of Manhattan, a consultant, property manager and talk show host who's also held education-related jobs with the state and two Kansas universities.

Martin represents the 6th District, which covers 15 counties and parts of two others in northeast and north-central Kansas.

Martin's first election victory in 2004 gave conservative Republicans a 6-4 board majority for two years. In 2005, the board adopted standards incorporating criticisms of evolution at odds with mainstream science.

Martin told the Salina Journal that her concern is that evolution is often taught as fact, when she says it is science's "best guess." She said teaching students about alternatives can help develop their critical thinking skills.

And, she asked the Topeka Capital-Journal, "Why would we want to censor anything in science?"

But Renner is critical of the influence of what he calls "the radical right" on the board.

"It's not an issue of academic freedom," he said. "It's an issue of what is valid science versus what is pseudo-science."

Board members serve four-year terms, staggered so that half of the 10 members are on the ballot every two years. Martin is the only one of five incumbents eligible to seek re-election this year to run again.

Shifts in power on the board over the past decade have resulted in five sets of science standards, which are used to develop standardized tests to measure students' knowledge.

In 2005, the board approved standards backed by advocates of "intelligent design," which says an unspecified intelligent cause is the best way to explain some complex and orderly features of the universe.

Many scientists view intelligent design as creationism cloaked in subtler language -- to avoid having its teaching declared an unconstitutional government sponsorship of specific religious views.

The board's action sparked an election backlash, putting the Democratic-moderate GOP coalition back in control and resulting in another change in the standards. The current ones treat evolution as a well-documented theory.

First Dinosaur Feathers for Show, Not Flight


Charles Q. Choi
for National Geographic News

October 22, 2008

One of the oldest known dinosaur relatives of birds had "bizarre" anatomy, including long, ribbon-like tail feathers that suggest plumage may have first evolved for show rather than for flight, scientists say.

Farmers unearthed a fossil of the new dino species, dubbed Epidexipteryx hui, from the hills of Inner Mongolia in late 2007.

The remains date back to 152 million to 168 million years ago, making the newfound creature slightly older than Archaeopteryx, the most primitive known bird.

(Related: "Earliest Bird Had Feet Like Dinosaur, Fossil Shows" [December 1, 2005].)

Like other avialans—birds and their closest dinosaur relatives—Epidexipteryx is a theropod, a group of two-legged animals that includes Tyrannosaurus rex.

Researchers think the pigeon-size Epidexipteryx might have used its plumes as flashy ornaments, since it was mostly covered in short feathers that lack the structure necessary for flight.

"For example, [the feathers] could potentially have played a role in displays intended to attract a mate, scare off a rival, or send a warning signal to other individuals of the same species," said study co-author Fucheng Zhang, a paleontologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing.

"This is very exciting indeed, since it gives us a window into a stage of avialan history just preceding the appearance of the classic 'first bird,'" Zhang said.

"It shows that the use of feathers for visual communication—as opposed to other functions such as insulation and flight—was a very early development."

"Bizarre" Anatomy

Epidexipteryx lived in the mid- to late Jurassic period in a lush, well-vegetated area that was rich in salamanders and other possible prey.

The dinosaur had claws similar to those of ground-foraging birds, such as ostriches and turkeys, and its front teeth were large and protruding.

"One can certainly imagine [the teeth] being used to snatch at small prey, such as lizards, small mammals, or even insects," Zhang said.

Epidexipteryx's anatomy seems to be a hodgepodge of features taken from a variety of animals.

For instance, its front limb bones and short, bony tail resemble those of living birds. But its short, high skull and large front teeth look like those of small theropods called oviraptors.

"It's not uncommon for features present in one group to appear independently in another," Zhang said of the newfound dino's "bizarre" anatomy.

"It's also typical for different parts of the body to evolve at different rates, so that some bits end up looking very specialized whereas others remain primitive."

(See pictures of other "bizarre" dinosaurs.)

Zhang and his colleagues report their findings this week in the journal Nature.

Evolution Experiments?

Luis Chiappe is a paleontologist with the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and a former National Geographic Society grantee. (National Geographic News is part of the National Geographic Society.)

He said that the mosaic of features suggests "there was a lot of evolutionary experimentation around the origin of birds, with many different kinds of lineages reaching different levels of 'birdness.'"

But Chiappe, who was not involved in the new study, is skeptical of the idea that feathers originated as ornaments.

"Feathers could have served an aerodynamic function of some sort whether you fly or not. You could flap feathered wings and run faster," he said.

"Still, these ornamental feathers are a really interesting new piece of evidence into why feathers first originated."

Nobel winner: America is neglecting science


Peter Agre says funding and politics are hurting a field critical to solving global crises.


Last update: October 19, 2008 - 10:37 PM

Peter Agre, a Nobel Prize-winning scientist with Minneapolis roots, says America's been neglecting science -- and he wants scientists to speak up about it.

"In the last eight years, science has been hurt by the underfunding of science agencies and the politization of science" on topics such as global warming, said Agre, 59, a graduate of Minneapolis' Roosevelt High School and Augsburg College who shared the 2003 Nobel Prize for chemistry.

He'll speak about the plight of science today at the University of Minnesota's Innovation 2008 Conference, which runs today and Tuesday. But he worries that he's preaching to those already interested in the problem, when what he wants to do is reach a broader audience.

"Today's big concerns, global warming, health care and education, are all, in the end, science-related issues," said Agre, who also is president-elect of the prestigious American Association for the Advancement of Science and director of the Malaria Research Institute at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. "Not only do we need more money for research grants, we need enhanced support for the public education system and tax benefits to encourage research and development in industry."

There are plenty of reasons why science is hurting in the United States, including federal funding neglect, society's misplaced spending priorities and the decline in U.S. literacy rates, Agre said.

"It's not just that there's a lack of public interest in science, it's that there's a lack of interest in learning," Agre said. That shows up in science and math test scores in U.S. public schools, where students trail their counterparts in small nations such as Singapore, he said.

In addition, "every year companies spend millions of dollars for 60-second advertisements during the Super Bowl," he said. "It's not a matter of whether the country can afford to invest in science, it's where our priorities are."

Part of the solution is for scientists to become more involved in community work to highlight the importance of science, he said.

"I see too many scientists complaining about short-term funding deficiencies and too few scientists involved in public debates or teaching Boy Scouts how to get their chemistry merit badges," Agre said.

The importance of science, he said, is not purely academic. "Science is what made Minnesota special in years gone by," Agre said, pointing out past science-based successes such as Medtronic and 3M. "Minnesota should be leading the country again, as it once did."

Although Agre says the lack of attention paid to science is a nonpartisan problem, he's a science adviser to Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama, and last year he tested the political waters in Minnesota before deciding not to run for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate.

"Maybe I can do more for science when I'm not running," Agre said. "The Nobel Prize has given me visibility and the chance to speak out."

Steve Alexander • 612-673-4553

The Christian Man's Evolution: How Darwinism and Faith Can Coexist


Scientific American Magazine - October 21, 2008

A geneticist ordained as a Dominican priest, Francisco J. Ayala sees no conflict between Darwinism and faith. Convincing most of the American public of that remains the challenge
By Sally Lehrman

Francisco J. Ayala pulls open the top drawer of a black cabinet and flips through nearly a dozen files, all neatly titled by publication and due date. These are the essays on evolution he has been churning out over the past six to eight weeks for popular books and magazines. "Hack jobs," he calls them with a smile, bragging that each one takes only a day or two to complete.

After some 30 years of proselytizing about evolution to Christian believers, the esteemed evolutionary biologist at the University of California, Irvine, has honed his arguments to a fine point. He has stories and examples at the ready, even a shock tactic or two at his fingertips. One out of five pregnancies ends in spontaneous miscarriage, he often reminds audiences. Next he will pointedly ask, as in an interview with U.S. Catholic magazine last year, "If God explicitly designed the human reproductive system, is God the biggest abortionist of them all?" Through such examples, he explains, "I want to turn around their arguments."

The 74-year-old Ayala is preparing for an exceptionally busy 2009. The year marks the bicentennial of Charles Darwin's birthday and the sesquicentennial of the publication of On the Origin of Species, and the battle over the teaching of evolution is sure to heat up. Ayala says the need is especially great for scientists to engage religious people in dialogue. As evidence, he lugs over the 11-by-17-inch, 12-pound Atlas of Creation mailed out by Muslim creationist Adnan Oktar in Turkey to scientists and museums across the U.S. and France. This richly illustrated tome not only attacks evolution but also links Darwin's theory to horrors, including fascism and even Satan himself.

In the U.S. the intelligent design–promoting Discovery Institute in Seattle has published biology textbooks questioning evolution and has promoted the 2008 film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed to make the case that anti-Darwinist scientists are persecuted. (For a rebuttal, see "Ben Stein's Expelled: No Integrity Displayed," by John Rennie, and related articles.) Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin has said she believes that creationism should be taught alongside evolution in schools. One in eight high school biology teachers already treat creationism as a valid alternative, according to a Pennsylvania State University poll.

Despite outreach efforts by scientists and constitutional rulings against them, creationists and intelligent design advocates "are not getting weaker," Ayala says. "If anything, they're more visible."

But Ayala thinks that scientists who attack religion and ridicule the faithful—most notably, Richard Dawkins of the University of Oxford—are making a mistake. It is destructive and gives fodder to the preachers who insist followers must choose either Darwin or God. Often students in Ayala's introductory biology class tell him that they will answer test questions as he wishes, but in truth they reject evolution because of their Christian beliefs. Then, a couple of years later, when they have learned more science, they decide to abandon their religion. The two, students seem to think, are incompatible.

That saddens him, Ayala says. Instead he would like believers to reconcile their faith with science. Drawing on five years of study in preparation for ordination as a Dominican priest, Ayala uses evolution to help answer a central paradox of Christianity—namely, how can a loving, all-knowing God allow evil and suffering?

Nature is poorly designed—with oddities such as blind spots built into the human eye and an excess of teeth jammed into our jaws. Parasites are sadists. Predators are cruel. Natural selection can explain the ruthlessness of nature, Ayala argues, and remove the "evil"—requiring an intentional act of free will—from the living world. "Darwin solved the problem," Ayala concludes. He refers to science-savvy Christian theologians who present a God that is continuously engaged in the creative process through undirected natural selection. By addressing religious people on their own terms, Ayala aims to offer a better answer than intelligent design or creationism.

Ayala straddles science and religion by speaking both languages extremely well (and with a Castilian accent). Despite his prolific—and time-consuming—activity in the public arena, he keeps his molecular genetics at the cutting edge. As in his theological debates, he enjoys challenging accepted scientific ideas. Ayala's early work was the first to demonstrate the extensive nature of genetic variation and the action of natural selection at the protein level. His measures led to important modifications to the theory of the uniform "molecular clock," which is used to time when species diverged from a common ancestor, based on differences in either protein structure or DNA. He no longer maintains a wet lab but collaborates extensively.

Ayala graduated in physics at the University of Madrid, then worked in a geneticist's lab while studying theology at the Pontifical Faculty of San Esteban in Salamanca, Spain. By his ordination in 1960 he had already decided to pursue science instead of a ministerial role. At the monastery Darwinism had never been perceived as an enemy of Christian faith. So a year later, when Ayala moved to New York City to pursue a doctorate in genetics, the prevailing U.S. view of a natural hostility between evolution and religion was a shock.

Ever since, Ayala has attempted to address religious skepticism about Darwin's theory. At first, he recalls, his scientific colleagues were wary and took the position that researchers should not engage in religious discussions. By 1981, when the Arkansas legislature voted to give creationism equal time in schools, the mood began to change. The National Academy of Sciences prepared an amicus curiae brief for a Supreme Court case on the Louisiana "Creation Act" and asked Ayala to lead the effort. The booklet became the 1984 Science and Creationism: A View from the National Academy of Sciences.

For the second edition in 1999 Ayala presented the idea of incorporating the words of some theologians but recalls, "I was almost eaten alive." In the third edition, published this year, one section features statements by four religious denominations and three scientists on the compatibility of evolution with religious beliefs.

Ayala is again giving his colleagues pause by sitting on the advisory board of the John Templeton Foundation, which paid out $70 million in grants last year alone for research and scholarly programs "engaging life's biggest questions." Some scientists complain that the organization's main mission is to inject religion into science. But Ayala defends Templeton's interest in connecting science to religious life. The foundation has "started to do very good things in recent years," he explains.

Even so, some philosophers of science, such as Philip Kitcher of Columbia University, have come to believe that evolution and belief in a providential creator cannot coincide. Kitcher admires Ayala but complains that "he has residual supernaturalist tendencies." For others, Ayala's approach of debating theological questions and clearly explaining the science is not enough. When two thirds of the public profess a commitment to creationism, argues Stanford University evolutionary biologist Joan E. Roughgarden, the situation is dire. In 2006 Roughgarden wrote what she calls a "religious book" that detailed ideas and examples of evolution written in the Bible. The daughter of Episcopalian missionaries, Roughgarden says she meets believers on their turf—and has even given sermons on evolution from the pulpit. The heart of the debate rests not in theological concepts like explaining evil, she insists, but in the pews.

Sometimes Ayala sounds ready to go there, as when he talks about the vision of God as the author of the universe. But he is unwilling to affirm or deny a personal belief in God, preferring to stick with philosophy. Smart people are being told their faith is incompatible with science. It is his goal, Ayala says, to help believers see evolution as an ally.

Note: This story was originally published with the title, "The Christian Man's Evolution".

Creationists declare war over the brain


22 October 2008
From New Scientist Print Edition.
Amanda Gefter

"YOU cannot overestimate," thundered psychiatrist Jeffrey Schwartz, "how threatened the scientific establishment is by the fact that it now looks like the materialist paradigm is genuinely breaking down. You're gonna hear a lot in the next calendar year about... how Darwin's explanation of how human intelligence arose is the only scientific way of doing it... I'm asking us as a world community to go out there and tell the scientific establishment, enough is enough! Materialism needs to start fading away and non-materialist causation needs to be understood as part of natural reality."

His enthusiasm was met with much applause from the audience gathered at the UN's east Manhattan conference hall on 11 September for an international symposium called Beyond the Mind-Body Problem: New Paradigms in the Science of Consciousness. Earlier Mario Beauregard, a researcher in neuroscience at the University of Montreal, Canada, and co-author of The Spiritual Brain: A neuroscientist's case for the existence of the soul, told the audience that the "battle" between "maverick" scientists like himself and those who "believe the mind is what the brain does" is a "cultural war".

Schwartz and Beauregard are part of a growing "non-material neuroscience" movement. They are attempting to resurrect Cartesian dualism - the idea that brain and mind are two fundamentally different kinds of things, material and immaterial - in the hope that it will make room in science both for supernatural forces and for a soul. The two have signed the "Scientific dissent from Darwinism" petition, spearheaded by the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, headquarters of the intelligent design movement. ID argues that biological life is too complex to have arisen through evolution.

In August, the Discovery Institute ran its 2008 Insider's Briefing on Intelligent Design, at which Schwartz and Michael Egnor, a neurosurgeon at Stony Brook University in New York, were invited to speak. When two of the five main speakers at an ID meeting are neuroscientists, something is up. Could the next battleground in the ID movement's war on science be the brain?

Well, the movement certainly seems to hope that the study of consciousness will turn out to be "Darwinism's grave", as Denyse O'Leary, co-author with Beauregard of The Spiritual Brain, put it. According to proponents of ID, the "hard problem" of consciousness - how our subjective experiences arise from the objective world of neurons - is the Achilles heel not just of Darwinism but of scientific materialism. This fits with the Discovery Institute's mission as outlined in its "wedge document", which seeks "nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies", to replace the scientific world view with a Christian one.

Now the institute is funding research into "non-material neuroscience". One recipient of its cash is Angus Menuge, a philosophy professor at Concordia University, Wisconsin, a Christian college, who testified in favour of teaching ID in state-funded high-schools at the 2005 "evolution hearings" in Kansas. Using a Discovery Institute grant, Menuge wrote Agents Under Fire, in which he argued that human cognitive capacities "require some non-natural explanation".

In June, James Porter Moreland, a professor at the Talbot School of Theology near Los Angeles and a Discovery Institute fellow, fanned the flames with Consciousness and the Existence of God. "I've been doing a lot of thinking about consciousness," he writes, "and how it might contribute to evidence for the existence of God in light of metaphysical naturalism's failure to provide a helpful explanation." Non-materialist neuroscience provided him with this helpful explanation: since God "is" consciousness, "the theist has no need to explain how consciousness can come from materials bereft of it. Consciousness is there from the beginning."

To properly support dualism, however, non-materialist neuroscientists must show the mind is something other than just a material brain. To do so, they look to some of their favourite experiments, such as research by Schwartz in the 1990s on people suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder. Schwartz used scanning technology to look at the neural patterns thought to be responsible for OCD. Then he had patients use "mindful attention" to actively change their thought processes, and this showed up in the brain scans: patients could alter their patterns of neural firing at will.

From such experiments, Schwartz and others argue that since the mind can change the brain, the mind must be something other than the brain, something non-material. In fact, these experiments are entirely consistent with mainstream neurology - the material brain is changing the material brain.

But William Dembski, one of ID's founding fathers and a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, praised Schwartz's work as providing "theoretical support for the irreducibility of mind to brain". Dembski's website shows that he is currently co-editing The End of Materialism with Schwartz and Beauregard.

Meanwhile, Schwartz has been working with Henry Stapp, a physicist at the US Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, who also spoke at the symposium. They have been developing non-standard interpretations of quantum mechanics to explain how the "non-material mind" affects the physical brain.

Clearly, while there is a genuine attempt to appropriate neuroscience, it will not influence US laws or education in the way that anti-evolution campaigns can because neuroscience is not taught as part of the core curriculum in state-funded schools. But as Andy Clark, professor of logic and metaphysics at the University of Edinburgh, UK, emphasises: "This is real and dangerous and coming our way."

He and others worry because scientists have yet to crack the great mystery of how consciousness could emerge from firing neurons. "Progress in science is slow on many fronts," says John Searle, a philosopher at the University of California, Berkeley. "We don't yet have a cure for cancer, but that doesn't mean cancer has spiritual causes."

And for Patricia Churchland, a philosopher of neuroscience at the University of California, San Diego, "it is an argument from ignorance. The fact something isn't currently explained doesn't mean it will never be explained or that we need to completely change not only our neuroscience but our physics."

The attack on materialism proposes to do just that, but it all turns on definitions. "At one time it looked like all physical causation was push/pull Newtonianism," says Owen Flanagan, professor of philosophy and neurobiology at Duke University, North Carolina. "Now we have a new understanding of physics. What counts as material has changed. Some respectable philosophers think that we might have to posit sentience as a fundamental force of nature or use quantum gravity to understand consciousness. These stretch beyond the bounds of what we today call 'material', and we haven't discovered everything about nature yet. But what we do discover will be natural, not supernatural."

And as Clark observes: "This is an especially nasty mind-virus because it piggybacks on some otherwise reasonable thoughts and worries. Proponents make such potentially reasonable points as 'Oh look, we can change our brains just by changing our minds,' but then leap to the claim that mind must be distinct and not materially based. That doesn't follow at all. There's nothing odd about minds changing brains if mental states are brain states: that's just brains changing brains."

"This nasty mind-virus piggybacks on reasonable worries"That is the voice of mainstream academia. Public perception, however, is a different story. If people can be swayed by ID, despite the vast amount of solid evidence for evolution, how hard will it be when the science appears fuzzier?

What can scientists do? They have been criticised for not doing enough to teach the public about evolution. Maybe now they need a big pre-emptive push to engage people with the science of the brain - and help the public appreciate that the brain is no place to invoke the "God of the gaps".

Evolution - Learn more about the struggle to survive in our comprehensive special report.

The Human Brain - With one hundred billion nerve cells, the complexity is mind-boggling. Learn more in our cutting edge special report.

Amanda Gefter is an editor with the Opinion section of New Scientist

From issue 2679 of New Scientist magazine, 22 October 2008, page 46-47

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

New Complementary and Alternative Medicine Research Centers Target Stress-Related Illnesses, Obesity, Cancer, and Other Conditions


The National Institutes of Health's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) has added four new Centers of Excellence for Research on Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CERCs) to its research centers program. The new centers will add to knowledge about complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) approaches and their potential in treating and preventing diseases and conditions that are common among Americans.

In NCCAM's CERC program, highly accomplished researchers across a variety of disciplines apply cutting-edge technology to projects in CAM. The new centers and their projects are as follows.

Wisconsin Center for the Neuroscience and Psychophysiology of Meditation
Principal Investigator: Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D.
Institution: University of Wisconsin, Madison
Dr. Davidson's team will examine the impact of two forms of meditation — loving-kindness/compassion meditation and mindfulness meditation — on the brain and body, focusing on the regulation of emotion and on emotional reactivity. Potential applications in health include biological and behavioral processes linked with emotions and/or stress, such as recurrent depression.

Metabolic and Immunologic Effects of Meditation
Principal Investigator: Frederick M. Hecht, M.D.
Institution: University of California, San Francisco
Dr. Hecht and his colleagues will study a program combining mindfulness meditation, mindful eating (the practice of awareness and attentiveness in the present moment while eating), and a diet and exercise program, for use in obesity and metabolic syndrome. They will test whether this program helps alter participants' hormonal responses to stress and helps enhance and maintain weight loss. Metabolic syndrome involves a cluster of abnormalities--including increased cholesterol, high blood pressure, and insulin resistance--that increases one's risk for developing diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

CAM as Countermeasures Against Infectious and Inflammatory Disease
Principal Investigator: Mark A. Jutila, Ph.D.
Institution: Montana State University, Bozeman
This center will study biologically based CAM therapies and their effects on immune system function in infectious and inflammatory diseases. One project focuses on effects of botanical extracts — from apple polyphenols, which are concentrated in apple skins, and from yamoa, which comes from the bark of an African gum tree — on white blood cells, using models of infection and inflammation of the intestinal mucosa. A second project examines two compounds in licorice root — glycyrrhizin and 18-glyrrhetinic acid — for their potential antiviral effects in models of influenza and stomach virus. A third project will focus on bacterial products to see how they treat autoimmune diseases, like arthritis, which may also help build understanding of probiotics' action.

Center for Herbal Research on Colorectal Cancer
Principal Investigator: Chun-Su Yuan, M.D., Ph.D.
Institution: University of Chicago
Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer and the third leading cause of cancer-related death. Dr. Yuan and his colleagues will examine the anti-tumor effects of different preparations of the herbs American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) and notoginseng (Panax notoginseng). They will seek to learn more, through laboratory and animal studies, about how these herbs act upon cellular and molecular pathways of the mechanisms of cancer inhibition.

"The new CERCs, all based on strong preliminary work, apply natural-product and mind-body CAM approaches across a range of health conditions that affect the American public," said Josephine P. Briggs, M.D., NCCAM director. "Their multidisciplinary, collaborative structure increases opportunities for improving health and discovering insights into important aspects of human biology."

The grants provide five years of support and bring the total number of CERCs to 11. To learn more about NCCAM's research centers, go to nccam.nih.gov/training/centers/.

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine's mission is to explore complementary and alternative medical practices in the context of rigorous science, train CAM researchers, and disseminate authoritative information to the public and professionals. For additional information, call NCCAM's Clearinghouse toll free at 1-888-644-6226, or visit the NCCAM Web site at nccam.nih.gov.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) — The Nation's Medical Research Agency — includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical research, and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.

Why I am not a creationist


By: Karl Giberson
Tuesday October 21, 2008

Categories: Creation vs. Evolution

Dear Ken,

I'm glad you've agreed to this exchange. This topic is perennial, but I imagine you share my view that it's also urgent and essential. With that in mind, I'll dive right in--first, to make some general observations on the nature of the creationism vs. evolution debate, and second to offer specific scientific reasons why I embrace evolution.

One of the most painful experiences of my life was abandoning my belief in young earth creationism. I had been raised in a wonderful Baptist church that was fundamentalist but, as it was on the edge of a potato field in rural New Brunswick, Canada, it lacked the hard political edge that makes American fundamentalism so unappealing. It was a great place to grow up, to learn to love God, and I have nothing but fond memories of the believers with whom I worshipped as a child.

As an intellectually curious teenager I read with great pleasure many of the classic works of Christian apologetics and creationism, including Whitcomb and Morris's classic: The Genesis Flood. I was fully convinced of its truth, and even contemplated attending Christian Heritage College in San Diego, where Morris's Institute for Creation Research was located.

Because Boston was much closer to New Brunswick and the home of my beloved Red Sox, I decided to attend Eastern Nazarene College (ENC) on Boston's South Shore. ENC was a Christian college and I was expecting that my creationist beliefs would be reinforced by my studies there. However, although the college was thoroughly Christian, with wonderful faculty and students eager to serve God, creationism was not taught in either the science or religion classes. My studies led me to question the assumptions supporting my creationism--assumptions that soon dissolved and left my childhood belief in creationism without a foundation. Eventually I abandoned creationism and embraced theistic evolution--the belief that God creates through natural processes over billions of years. I discovered, to my surprise, that creationism required a certain willful blindness to both the natural world and the Bible.

There were several reasons I abandoned creationism. And now, years later, I am convinced that creationism poses insurmountable problems for anyone who would defend creationism today. I would like to mention a few general concerns and then some specifics to make my point.

Creationists have to "explain away" a gigantic mountain range of evidence that the scientific community has accumulated in the past century. Neither the scientific community nor the scientific data is is on their side. They have to believe that God created a profoundly deceptive world, with countless markers inexplicably pointing to evolution, even though that was not how things originated. This makes no sense. Creationists, who are almost always Biblical literalists, also have to come up with eccentric and strained readings of the Bible to accommodate its many references to ancient near eastern cosmologies. The Bible speaks of a solid dome in the heavens (Genesis 1:6) holding back the waters to take one example. The Bible refers to the earth as "immoveable," to take another (Psalm 93:1). The alternate readings of these passages by the creationists are not faithful to the text and twist the original Hebrew in ways that would make it unrecognizable to the writer. I don't think creationists are as faithful to the Biblical text as they claim.

The most disturbing claim of the creationists, however, is their accusation that the scientific community is engaged in a vast conspiracy to trick the public into thinking that evolution is well supported. I believed this when I came to college but, as I pursued my degrees in physics, I realized that this could not possibly be true. Science is ruthlessly honest and done by bright, often maverick, intellectuals who would never sign on to a conspiracy to suppress the truth. As a fully trained scientist, now with a Ph. D in physics and publications in research journals, I can attest to the high level of integrity of the scientific community and its methods. Heroic efforts are made to ensure that bias and carelessness do not creep into scientific research. When you say, in your book The Lie: Evolution, that scientists cannot be trusted because they are "biased" and "not objective," you are devaluing the work of so many honest and unsung heroes. Scientists are "truth-seekers," which is why they have discovered so many useful and interesting things about the natural world--from curing smallpox, to landing a man on the moon, to establishing that epilepsy is not caused by demon possession. Scientists may not be perfectly objective, but this is hardly a license to set aside those parts of science that you don't like. Medical doctors are certainly not perfect, but we put our lives in their hands when we go to the hospital. The question is not "What absolute guides do we have, that will lead us to certain truth?" The question is: "What is the most likely road to whatever truth we are capable of grasping?"

I am pained to see how the creationists tar the entire scientific community with this brush of bias, for they smear the work of a great many Christian believers like Francis Collins, Ken Miller, and John Polkinghorne, who have made their peace with evolution without compromising their Christian faith. These three scientists are friends of mine and I can attest to the vitality of their faith.

Getting into some specifics, the following are reasons why I think Christians should embrace evolution over creation:

1) The age of the earth has been proven, beyond a reasonable doubt, to be billions of years, not thousands, as the creationists claim. There are so many categories of evidence for this: radioactive decay of different elements indicates that these elements were formed billions of years ago; the transit time of starlight from distant stars indicates that the light has been traveling for billions of years; continental drift reveals that the surface of the earth is very old; the fusion process by which atoms are forged in stars indicates that our sun is billions of years old; the expansion of the universe points to an ancient cosmos. And so on.

If the universe is not billions of years old, why is it filled with so many different and independent lines of evidence suggesting that it is? If all these dating methods are so unreliable, as the creationists claim, why do they converge on the same results?

2) Recent discoveries in genetics reveal that humans share almost all their genes with primates and other animals. If these genes were all functional and did something meaningful--like make blood clot, or give us two lungs--we could suppose that God used common genetic tools to make different species. But many of these genes are completely nonfunctional and do nothing. Some of them, called pseudogenes, are mutated copies of functioning genes. They sit irrelevantly beside functioning genes, not needed because their neighbors are doing all the work. There are so many different possibilities for pseudogenes that we would never expect, from a statistical point of view, for different species to have identical pseudogenes, unless they inherited them from a common ancestor. The distribution of these and other genes in different species strongly suggests that these species are related and were not created independently. Why does genetic research point so strongly toward common ancestry if common ancestry is not true?

The evidence from genetics is compelling and trustworthy. We have confidence in genetics to establish biological kinship in legal cases, such as paternity suits; that same genetics now indicates biological kinship among species and we should accept that as well.

3) I will add one more observation that seems significant. Creationists claim that humans and dinosaurs lived together on the earth just a few thousand years ago, until virtually all of them were destroyed in Noah's great flood. If this were true, it seems odd that not one dinosaur fossil was ever found with a human fossil. Why are dinosaurs always found in strata that look so much older than the strata containing human fossil remains, and never found with human remains? Was there not one place on the entire planet where a dinosaur might have killed a human just as the floodwaters were doing them in?

To be a creationist requires distorting the ancient text of the Bible--God's revelation in Scripture--to camouflage the obvious references to an obsolete cosmology. And it requires distorting the data from science--God's revelation in nature--to camouflage the mountain of data supporting evolution. Why not accept the world at face value and let it speak for itself? And why not let the Bible be what it most clearly is--a collection of inspired texts from the ancient world, and not a textbook of modern science?

In embracing evolution my view of the natural world has been deeply enriched, for I have become a part of that world. I write these words from a home office looking out into a New England forest. The leaves have donned their autumn splendor and many are joining the birds in the air, in preparation for winter. Deer, wild turkey, raccoons, squirrels, and countless other species live in those woods, and occasionally come to visit and nibble on my landscape. How awesome to think that I share a history with these life forms and that, to varying degrees, I am related to them. I am humbled to think that God's creative work is of such grand coherence and scope that the universe is one gigantic narrative of creation. This seems far richer than my former creationist view that the universe is a collection of separately created things. And, to top it off, God created us with minds capable of unpacking the whole amazing story.

Why would any Christian find it hard to believe that evolution was God's way of creating?

The Bible teaches creationism


By: Ken Ham
Tuesday October 21, 2008
Categories: Creation vs. Evolution

Dear Karl,

I too am glad that we can have an opportunity to dialogue about this issue at a personal level. I do agree that this topic is an urgent and essential one--but the fundamental reason why I say this is because I believe it is a vital foundational issue that relates to biblical authority itself, as I hope to explain as we continue in this exchange.

I, like you, was raised in a Christian home. My father was a school principal, but he had spent his life studying the Bible. Being brought up in a country (Australia), with (percentage wise) very few Christians, to be an active Christian really stood out. We lived in a number of different rural areas, as my father was transferred to a different location when he was promoted. In many of those rural areas there were few (if any) churches, and we often came across Church leaders who did not take the stand on Scripture my parents did. My parents had such a burden to proclaim the gospel to all ages--they saw eternal things as more important than anything else.

My father was not one for imposing Christianity upon us as children, but teaching us logically how one could defend the Christian faith--building Christian thinking from the foundation of God's Word upwards. He certainly taught us what it meant to understand that the Bible was what it claimed to be--a revelation from our Creator to us to enable us to have a foundation we could trust to understand the universe and the purpose and meaning of life. When a pastor of a church would preach that the plagues of Egypt, or the feeding of the five thousand (as recorded in John 6), for instance, were not miracles, but all could be explained by natural processes or other means, my father would always (in front of his family), lovingly and gently challenge this pastor with the words of Scripture itself concerning what had been taught by the pastor and what Scripture obviously stated.

My father's favorite verses of Scripture included those with statements such as, "Have you not read...", "It is written...", "Thus says the Lord..." (eg: Matthew 4:7; 19:4) My father was passionate for upholding the Word of God. All six children have a similar passion for God's Word and the spread of the saving gospel message. That is certainly my heartbeat and the reason I am involved in this ministry. I praise the Lord for Godly parents.

When I was taught Darwinian evolution and millions of years in High School, I didn't have any of the massive numbers of resources we have available to us today to research the topic. I recognized, though, that there was a big difference between conducting experiments in a laboratory with direct observable results (such as applying acid to certain metals etc) and discussing the origin of those metals in the first place. Even as a young teenager, I understood (though perhaps not in these terms) the difference between empirical science (observable, repeatable experiments--operational science) and the origins issue (an issue concerning history, when we were not there to observe directly what happened).

My training in the Scriptures led me to understand the conflict this way: The Bible claims to be the infallible (God cannot lie - Numbers 23:19) Word of God--that it is "God breathed" (2 Timothy 3:16)--thus the Word of God (even though it was written by different people in different literature forms such as history, poetry, etc), was the infinite Creator's revelation to us. Logically, the only way one can be sure of coming to the correct conclusion concerning the origin of the universe and life, is to know someone with all knowledge who can be totally trusted to reveal to us what happened. Only the God of the Bible can do and has done this. I therefore resolved the conflict between what I was taught at school this way:

1. There is a contradiction between what I was taught at school concerning how humans arose (from some ape-like ancestor) and what I understood Genesis to teach--that the first man (1 Corinthians 15:45--Adam was the first man) was made from dust and the first woman (Genesis 3:20--Eve was given that name because she would be the mother of all the living) made from Adam's side.

2. I therefore went to Scripture to ensure I was taking it the right way. Genesis seemed to be written as history (and many scholars wrote that it was written in typical Hebrew historical narrative). To confirm this, if Genesis (and the rest of the Bible) is a revelation to us from an infinite God, it must be self attesting and self authenticating--and Scripture must interpret Scripture. I checked out the New Testament. Jesus (the Son of God--The Truth--The Word) quoted from Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 2:24 in Matthew 19: 4-6 when discussing the doctrine of marriage. Obviously Jesus (and Paul in Ephesians 5) referred to Genesis as literal history in building the doctrine of marriage being one man and one woman (and the whole understanding of one flesh--Eve came from Adam, as it also states in 1 Corinthians 11:8).

I was now sure I was taking Scripture the right way. I didn't know the specific answer to many of the evolution arguments I learned in school--but recognized that my teachers were teaching me an interpretation of various fossils in the present, in relation to what certain scientists believed concerning how these fossils fitted into history when there was no human observer. I also understood that only God knows everything, and compared to what God knows, my teachers (and the scientists who gave them this interpretation of supposed ape-like human ancestors) were fallible finite beings--who, compared to God, knew very little.

As a Christian, my father had also shown me that the gospel message (the good news of salvation in Christ) was founded on the literal history in Genesis--as Paul in the New Testament makes obvious in passages such as Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15. I therefore saw the importance of standing on the authority of God's Word and determined there was a problem with what I was being taught at school--even if at that time I couldn't resolve it back then. I needed to search for answers--and I did. It began a journey that has led me to where I am today.

You specifically brought up "psuedogenes." Applying how I deal with such as per my above approach outlined in summary to you, I'd like to address your claim that the study of genetics supports common ancestry for animals and humans (assume you are including humans). From the way I take Genesis (as I did as a student), I would have to conclude there is something wrong with this interpretation (and it is an interpretation). I would also recognize that no scientist knows everything about such structures--that there is a lot we don't know about genetics and DNA--in fact, scientists are finding new information all the time. I therefore consulted one of AiG's scientists--Dr. Georgia Purdom, who has a Ph.D in molecular Genetics, and interestingly, was once a Professor at a Nazarene University. She gave me this information:

"It is a form of prejudicial conjecture to suggest that pseudogenes are non-functional leftovers from past duplication events. The function/non-function of pseudogenes has been hotly debated for years. Several studies have shown that some pseudogenes are, in fact, functional. The ENCODE Project has revealed that much of the human "junk" DNA (pseudogenes fall into this category) may have a function, especially in the area of regulation. Regulation of gene expression is especially important to prevent cancer and other diseases. The psi beta pseudogene in the human beta globin gene cluster has been suggested to play a regulatory role in the expression of the other globin genes in that cluster. Another possibility is that some pseudogenes are the result of genes originally designed by God to have a function but as a result of mutation after the Fall are no longer performing this function."

I say all this to you, Karl, because I really believe that there are at least two major differences between us that we may never be able to resolve in this dialogue:

1. Our respective approaches to Scripture

2. Our respective understanding of what I and others call "Operational Science" and "Origins Science," and how we relate these to Scripture.

Regarding the first issue, it makes sense to take Scripture in a natural way - reading the poetic sections like Psalms as poetry, and taking the historic sections as literal history. That Genesis is historic is clearly the position of Christ and the Apostles, as I've mentioned above. Indeed (as is the theme of my book "The Lie" that you refer to), every major Christian doctrine can be linked back to a literal Genesis directly or indirectly.

Regarding the second issue, it is crucial to understand the nature of starting points when interpreting the evidence around us--which is why our Creation Museum starts with a "starting points" exhibit. We all have biases--both creationists and evolutionists--so we in no way wish to denigrate scientists for having biases. Indeed, certain starting assumptions/biases are necessary in order for science to be possible in the first place--such as the assumption that our senses are basically reliable. (Why bother to do an experiment if we could not trust our senses?)

When it comes to science in the present (science "proper" - empirical, testable, repeatable observation and experimentation), there is actually little disagreement between creationists and evolutionists. However, when it comes to reconstructing past events, our different starting points will cause us to interpret the same evidence differently. After all, creationists and evolutionists have a different view of history--even a different philosophy of what is possible in the past. The creationist is open to supernatural events during the creation week, whereas evolutionists largely believe that naturalism should guide our understanding of the past. The creationist embraces the history and the catastrophic effects of Noah's Flood, whereas evolutionists largely dismiss the Flood as a global event, and embrace the philosophy of uniformitarianism (to varying degrees) instead. Our different worldviews cause us to interpret the same evidence differently.

Consider the fact that living creatures share commonalities in their DNA patterns. This is exactly what creationists would expect. All the original kinds of organisms were created by the same God, so we would expect them to have some similarities. Moreover, given that genes code for traits, it is hardly surprising that organisms with more similar traits have more similar genes. There is no rational reason to think that in all cases similarity implies common ancestry. To think otherwise, as one of my colleagues would say, is to commit the fallacy of affirming the consequent.

Karl, in order for us to get anywhere in this debate, we must get to the heart of the matter. Which method of interpreting evidence can be rationally defended? Which worldview (biblical creation or evolution) can account for human experience and reasoning in a way that is consistent, non-arbitrary, and makes sense of Christian doctrines? I would argue that the things necessary for empirical science, knowledge, and a Christian worldview are set forth in a natural reading of Scripture, and therefore a literal Genesis. It is my position that a straightforward reading (i.e. reading history as history, poetry as poetry) of God's Word is the only rational position possible--the others being either internally inconsistent, arbitrary, or destroying foundation of both knowledge in general and Christian doctrines specifically.

Yes, there is certainly good science that confirms the Genesis account of creation. Ultimately, however, I believe in creation for the same reason I believe in the resurrection of Christ: it is the clear teaching of the Word of God (John 3:12).

Kindest Regards,
Ken Ham

Pat Hardy and Mavis Knight should stay on the State Board of Education


The mother of all ideological debates is shaping up for the State Board of Education next year: another round in the decades-old argument between supporters of creationism and supporters of evolution.

It is not the purpose here to decide the winner of that debate before the discussion really begins, but we do have strong feelings about two of the people who should be taking part. Incumbents Pat Hardy in District 11 and Mavis Knight in District 13, both first elected to the board in 2002, should be re-elected.

Hardy's district covers most of Tarrant County and all of Parker, Johnson and Ellis counties. Knight represents a district that includes about half of Dallas County, as well as central Arlington and much of Fort Worth.

Both have clashed with fundamentalist conservatives on the board over curriculum standards. Adopting those standards, known as the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, is the strongest influence the state board has over what Texas students are taught in public schools. The board also recommends textbooks based on the standards.

TEKS standards in science are scheduled for revision next year. The board's practice is to receive recommendations from education experts, including classroom teachers, about such revisions. That didn't work so well this year when a conservative majority rejected the educator recommendations for English language arts and substituted 11th-hour revisions of its own making.

Another panel of teachers and other experts has made its recommendations for the science curriculum. The debate is expected to center on current language that requires strengths and weaknesses of scientific theories to be presented in the classroom.

Advocates of creationism want intelligent design to be presented as one of those theories when discussions turn to the origin of the universe and the development of living things. Others say that's not science but religion.

Hardy and Knight say teachers should help determine the science TEKS.

Hardy says the same about the adoption of new social studies standards planned for next year. She is also focused on shoring up the state's Permanent School Fund and on finding ways for career and technology students to receive greater credit for the math and science part of their coursework.

Knight says she hopes to make resources such as tutoring and reading assistance available to every student who needs them. She also advocates revisions to the school accountability system to reduce its reliance on test scores.

Republican Hardy is opposed by Libertarian Bruce Beckman. Democrat Knight's opponent is Republican Cindy Werner.

The Star-Telegram recommends Pat Hardy for District 11 and Mavis Knight for District 13 on the State Board of Education.

Debating Ideas vs. Legitimizing Falsehoods

http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2008/10/22/nku James C. Votruba has received hundreds of e-mail messages this week telling him that he should call off a campus event at Northern Kentucky University, where he is president. Has the institution invited Bill Ayers to speak? Actually, the conservatives aren't complaining — scientists are.

They want Northern Kentucky to call off tonight's debut of the Northern Kentucky Forum, in which the university will sponsor programs designed to promote discussion of divisive issues. Tonight's program is the mock trial of a fictional fired public high school teacher who taught creationism in biology class. The audience will vote on a verdict.

While there may be no scientific debate about the basics of evolution, there are plenty of Kentucky lawmakers who deny evolution and promote creationism. Votruba would never advocate teaching creationism as science. "Evolution is science and creationism is faith," he said in an interview. But just because creationism has no place in a science classroom is no reason to be afraid of debating, he said. When American society has such difficulty having civilized debate, he said, universities need to create forums to promote real discussions.

But to many scientists at Northern Kentucky and elsewhere, the university has oversimplified the questions. These critics would never question the right of a creationist to speak at the university, whatever his or her views. But for the university to create a special forum in which evolution and creationism will be presented on equal terms is in fact to take a side, they say. Creationists want the public to believe that their views and those of scientists are two competing opinions, both of equal scientific merit — and this forum will advance that view, they say.

"What this really is is an attempt to contrive a debate between science and superstition in which the superstition side gets to pretend they have equal status. And, of course, science issues are not settled in a courtroom, ever," PZ Myers, a biologist at the University of Minnesota at Morris, wrote on his blog Pharyngula, a watchdog on anti-evolution activity that urged readers to write Votruba.

Tonight's mock trial will feature a retired judge playing the role of presiding over the case, people playing the roles of the fired teacher and the superintendent of schools, and real-life expert witnesses on both sides. The first 200 people who show up will use clicker technology to express views on evolution before the trial, and their views on the verdict after the event. They may decide to give the teacher her job back, to do nothing, or to give her the job back but with conditions.

To Northern Kentucky officials, this is a creative approach to getting a discussion going in a community with no shortage of rhetoric about evolution. The Creation Museum is nearby.

"Within the larger scientific community, the issue is settled, but in the public policy arena, it's not a settled issue," said Mark Neikirk, executive director of the university's Scripps Howard Center for Civic Engagement, which, along with the university's law school, is sponsoring the event. "In the real world, there is a public policy debate over how to handle this topic. Many Americans believe in intelligent design. Many Americans believe it should be taught," he said. Universities need to find new ways to promote discussion of such topics, he said.

Votruba said that most of the scientists writing him say that the university shouldn't "give a platform" to creationists, but he said that wasn't the issue. "This is about endorsing free inquiry," he said, and having all ideas welcome for discussion.

Debra Pearce, chair of biology at Northern Kentucky, said that while she strongly favors free exchanges of ideas, she is bothered by the way this event was set up. She noted, for example, that the university's announcement refers to "creation science" when creationism is not science at all. "There is no such thing," she said. American society is already confused by the word "theory" with regard to evolution — not understanding its meaning in science — and Pearce said this kind of event "just propagates the idea that the theory is a hunch."

Pearce also thinks there is something wrong with the university encouraging the idea that scientific questions can be decided by votes — especially amid fears that anti-evolution groups will bus in people to dominate the event. She noted that biology professors at her institution already face the challenge of explaining science to some students who have been taught religious doctrine as science. "One of our missions is to convince people that evolution is not a four-letter word," she said.

Some of her colleagues, she said, have wanted to stay away from the event. But Pearce said that she is encouraging people to attend, and that the department plans to release a statement after the mock trial about what takes place. While Pearce said she can understand the inclination to stay away, "I feel we need to be there, as a resource."

— Scott Jaschik

Evolution critics added to panel that recommends Texas school standards


By Bob Allen Tuesday, 21 October 2008

AUSTIN, Texas (ABP) -- Three of six members of a panel appointed to review proposed curriculum standards for science classes in Texas public schools have criticized evolution.

And the additions could have an impact far beyond the 4.6 million students in the Lone Star State's public schools.

Because Texas is one of the largest markets for textbook sales in the United States, publishers will use the standards in creating new textbooks, and then sell those books in other states as well. The Texas Freedom Network -- an organization that counters the Religious Right -- says the addition could have negative consequences for science education across the nation.

A conservative bloc on the Texas State Board of Education banded together to appoint three curriculum-review panelists critical of Darwinism. One of them, Stephen Meyer, is vice president of the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based group that advocates balancing evolution with teaching about "intelligent design."

The theory promotes the conclusion that life is too complex to have evolved by chance, but that it shows the hand of a powerful master designer. Critics call it a pseudo-science and an excuse to bring religion into the classroom -- simply an updated form of what used to be called "creation science."

Meyer and another panel member, Ralph Seelke at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, co-wrote a textbook that questions tenets of Charles Darwin's theory of how humans and other life forms evolved. Critics say that is a conflict of interest, because the book, Explore Evolution, could be on the list of approved textbooks when the state board finalizes its decision in 2011.

"It's simply stunning that any state board members would even consider appointing authors of an anti-evolution textbook to a panel of scientists," said Kathy Miller, president and executive director of the Texas Freedom Network. "Are they coming here to help write good science standards or to drum up a market for their lousy textbook?"

Casey Luskin, program officer for public policy and legal affairs at the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, said textbook authors are precisely the type of experts who should have input into curriculum standards. He accused the Texas Freedom Network of "manufacturing a controversy."

"We think the [Texas] Board of Education should be applauded for choosing a diverse group of scientific reviewers," he said. "Getting honest input from science experts with diverse views is imperative if we're going to build a world-class educational system."

Also joining the review panel is Charles Garner, a Baylor University chemistry professor who, along with Meyer and a Seelke, signed a Discovery Institute-sponsored declaration, "Scientific Dissent from Darwinism," that says: "We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged."

Veteran science professors from the University of Texas at Austin, Texas Tech University and Southern Methodist University round out the six-member panel. Two of them, David Hillis at UT Austin and Gerald Skoog at Texas Tech, have signed a "Scientists for a Responsible Curriculum in Texas Public Schools" statement that says "instruction on evolution is vital to understanding all the biological sciences" and "students are best served when matters of faith are left to families and houses of worship."


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

U.S. pilot was ordered to shoot down UFO


By Peter Griffiths – Mon Oct 20, 3:58 am ET

LONDON (Reuters) – Two U.S. fighter planes were scrambled and ordered to shoot down an unidentified flying object (UFO) over the English countryside during the Cold War, according to secret files made public on Monday.

One pilot said he was seconds away from firing 24 rockets at the object, which moved erratically and gave a radar reading like "a flying aircraft carrier."

The pilot, Milton Torres, now 77 and living in Miami , said it spent periods motionless in the sky before reaching estimated speeds of more than 7,600 mph (12,000 kph).

After the alert, a shadowy figure told Torres he must never talk about the incident and he duly kept silent for more than 30 years.

His story was among dozens of UFO sightings in defence ministry files released at the National Archives in London .

In a written account, Torres described how he scrambled his F-86 D Sabre jet in calm weather from the Royal Air Force base at Manston , Kent in May 1957.

"I was only a lieutenant and very much aware of the gravity of the situation. I felt very much like a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest," he said.

"The order came to fire a salvo of rockets at the UFO. The authentication was valid and I selected 24 rockets.

"I had a lock-on that had the proportions of a flying aircraft carrier," he added. "The larger the airplane, the easier the lock-on. This blip almost locked itself."

At the last moment, the object disappeared from the radar screen and the high-speed chase was called off.

He returned to base and was debriefed the next day by an unnamed man who "looked like a well-dressed IBM salesman."

"He threatened me with a national security breach if I breathed a word about it to anyone," he said.

The documents contain no official explanation for the incident, which came at a time of heightened tension between the West and the Soviet Union . Planes were on constant stand-by at British bases for a possible Soviet attack.

The files blame other UFO sightings on weather balloons, clouds or normal aircraft. Torres said he had been waiting 50 years for an explanation.

"I shall never forget it," he told the Times. "On that night I was ordered to open fire even before I had taken off. That had never happened before."

UFO expert David Clarke said the sighting may have been part of a secret U.S. project to create phantom aircraft on radar screens to test Soviet air defences.

"Perhaps what this pilot had seen was some kind of experiment in electronic warfare or maybe it was a UFO," he said. "Something very unusual happened."

The files are online at: www.nationalarchives/ufos

(Editing by Steve Addison)

Molecular evolution of bovine Toll-like receptor 2 suggests substitutions of functional relevance


There is accumulating evidence that polymorphism in Toll-like receptor (TLR) genes might be associated with disease resistance or susceptibility traits in livestock. Polymorphic sites affecting TLR function should exhibit signatures of positive selection, identified as a high ratio of non-synonymous to synonymous nucleotide substitutions (omega).

Phylogeny based models of codon substitution based on estimates of omega for each amino acid position can therefore offer a valuable tool to predict sites of functional relevance. We have used this approach to identify such polymorphic sites within the bovine TLR2 genes from ten Bos indicus and Bos taurus cattle breeds.

By analysing TLR2 gene phylogeny in a set of mammalian species and a subset of ruminant species we have estimated the selective pressure on individual sites and domains and identified polymorphisms at sites of putative functional importance.

Results: The omega were highest in the mammalian TLR2 domains thought to be responsible for ligand binding and lowest in regions responsible for heterodimerisation with other TLR-related molecules.

Several positively-selected sites were detected in or around ligand-binding domains. However a comparison of the ruminant subset of TLR2 sequences with the whole mammalian set of sequences revealed that there has been less selective pressure among ruminants than in mammals as a whole.

This suggests that there have been functional changes during ruminant evolution. Twenty newly-discovered non-synonymous polymorphic sites were identified in cattle.

Three of them were localised at positions shaped by positive selection in the ruminant dataset (Leu227Phe, His305Pro, His326Gln) and in domains involved in the recognition of ligands. His326Gln is of particular interest as it consists of an exchange of differentially-charged amino acids at a position which has previously been shown to be crucial for ligand binding in human TLR2.

Conclusion: Within bovine TLR2, polymorphisms at amino acid positions 227, 305 and 326 map to functionally important sites of TLR2 and should be considered as candidate SNPs for immune related traits in cattle. A final proof of their functional relevance requires further studies to determine their functional effect on the immune response after stimulation with relevant ligands and/or their association with immune related traits in animals.

Author: Oliver C Jann, Dirk Werling, Jung-Su Chang, David Haig and Elizabeth J Glass

Credits/Source: BMC Evolutionary Biology 2008, 8:288

Jefferson Teacher in Creationism Controversy Resigns


By Riya Bhattacharjee Monday October 20, 2008

A Jefferson Elementary School third-grade teacher has resigned following allegations that she might have violated the separation of church and state by teaching creationism to her third-grade class, district officials said Friday.

District Superintendent Bill Huyett confirmed that Jefferson teacher Gwen Martin—who joined the school over summer and has been on personal leave since the last week of September—resigned but declined to comment on the outcome of the investigation regarding her alleged conduct in class explaining that it was a personnel matter.

"She [Martin] resigned a little bit ago," he said. "I can't comment on that [investigation]."

Parents of children who attend Jefferson Elementary School told the Planet that Martin was discussing the differences between fiction and non-fiction with her students on Aug. 29 when she told them that the only thing they should believe in was God.

They said that Martin had also told the students that she didn't believe in evolution or the Big Bang theory either.

A group of parents at Jefferson, worried that the teacher's alleged actions violated their civil liberties, complained to Jefferson's new principal Maggie Riddle and the issue ultimately reached the Berkeley Board of Education and the superintendent.

Messages left at Jefferson Friday for Riddle and Martin by the Planet were not returned.

The Planet reported earlier this month that school board President John Selawsky had confirmed that the district was investigating the allegations against Martin, and that if they turned out to be true, the district would likely seek some form of discipline against her.

When reached Friday, Selawsky also refused comment on the outcome of the investigation citing personnel issues.

"The teacher has resigned and we have posted the position," he said. "I don't have any other comment. It has yet to come to the board for final approval but the superintendent has accepted her resignation."

Selawsky added that a substitute teacher had been assigned to fill Martin's position until a replacement could be found for her.

The courts have ruled that public schools may not sponsor religious worship, but they may teach about religion as an academic subject without teaching dogma.

For the Oct. 2 story see: www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2008-10-02/article/31218