Friday, December 21, 2007

Creationism degrees in Texas?

Reprinted from the NCSE newsletter:

The Institute for Creation Research is seeking to grant graduate degrees in Texas. Meanwhile, Glenn Branch offers his take on the Comer controversy, the Alliance for Science is holding its second annual essay contest, and new content from Reports of the NCSE is available on the NCSE website.


The Institute for Creation Research, a young-earth creationist organization, has cleared the first hurdle in its quest for authorization to issue master's degrees in science education in Texas. The Dallas Morning News (December 15, 2007) reported, "The nonprofit Institute for Creation Research in Dallas wants to train future science teachers in Texas and elsewhere using an online curriculum. A state advisory group gave its approval Friday; now the final say rests with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, which will consider the request next month." According to a December 17, 2007, report by Steven Schafersman of Texas Citizens for Science, THECB will meet on January 24, 2008, to consider the ICR's application. If approved, the ICR will have two years to obtain accreditation for its graduate school from an independent accreditation agency.

ICR recently moved its headquarters from the San Diego, California, area to Dallas. In the October issue of ICR's publication Acts & Facts, its president John Morris explained, "The possibility of moving to Dallas surfaced when my brother, Dr. Henry Morris III, discerned that a central location would be beneficial for ICR, with several possibilities for student services at nearby affiliated colleges. The many good churches and large numbers of ICR supporters living in North Texas made it a natural fit for the ministry. When my father [Henry Morris] was still alive he approved the move to Dallas, especially as a way to strengthen the graduate school. In 2006, ICR opened a distance education effort in Dallas, as well as the hub of ICR's internet ministries. ... As additional operational functions were assigned to the new Dallas office, the Board concluded that it was in ICR's best interests to move the entire ministry."

The ICR's graduate school was previously accredited by the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (TRACS), a group founded by Henry Morris; Henry Morris III presently serves on its commission. Texas does not recognize accreditation by TRACS, forcing the ICR to seek temporary state certification while it applies for accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). As a first step toward certification, a committee of Texas educators visited the ICR's facilities in Dallas to evaluate whether the ICR meets the legal requirements for state certification. The report described the educational program as "plausible," adding, "The proposed degree would be generally comparable to an initial master's degree in science education from one of the smaller, regional universities in the state."

NCSE's Eugenie C. Scott disagreed, telling the Dallas Morning News, "It sounds like the committee may have just taken at face value what the ICR claims ... There's a huge gulf between what the ICR is doing and what they're doing at legitimate institutions like ... [the University of Texas] or Baylor." (The committee members were a librarian, an educational administrator, and a mathematician; none was professionally trained in biology, geology, or physics.) Inside Higher Ed reported (December 17, 2007), "Some science groups are aghast by the idea that Texas would authorize master's degrees in science education that are based on complete opposition to evolution and literal acceptance of the Bible. And these groups are particularly concerned because the students in these programs would be people who are or want to be school teachers."

Although Patricia Nason, chair of the ICR's science education department, told the Dallas Morning News, "Our students are given both sides. They need to know both sides, and they can draw their own conclusion," the ICR's statement of faith includes the tenet, "All things in the universe were created and made by God in the six literal days of the creation week described in Genesis 1:1-2:3, and confirmed in Exodus 20:8-11. The creation record is factual, historical and perspicuous; thus all theories of origins or development which involve evolution in any form are false." Similarly, applicants to the ICR's graduate school are explicitly told that their answers to the essay questions on the application help to determine "your dedication to the Lord, the Word, and teaching creation science."

According to the Dallas Morning News's article, the ICR's graduate program "offers typical education classes, teaching such fundamentals as how to use lab equipment, the Internet and PowerPoint in the classroom. But it also offers a class called 'Advanced studies in creationism.' And the course Web page for 'Curriculum design in science' gives this scenario: 'The school board has asked you to serve on a committee that is examining grades

6-12 science goals. ... Both evolutionist and creationist teachers serve on the curriculum committee. How will you convince them to include creation science as well as evolution in the new scope and sequence?'" The ICR's graduate school's website repeatedly declares, "ICR maintains that scientific creationism should be taught along with the scientific aspects of evolutionism in tax-supported institutions."

The Texas Commissioner of Higher Education, Raymund Paredes, is to study the ICR's application and offer his opinion to THECB. He told the San Antonio Express-News (December 19, 2007), "Because this controversy is so potentially hot, we owe it to both sides to be absolutely fair in evaluating it. ... Maybe the real issue here is to put this proposal in the right category. Maybe it's not a program in science education. Maybe it's a program in creation studies. Then we have to decide whether that is a legitimate field or not." The New York Times (December 19, 2007) reported, "Asked how the institute could educate students to teach science, Dr. Paredes, who holds a doctorate in American civilization from the University of Texas and served 10 years as vice chancellor for academic development at the University of California, said, 'I don't know. I'm not a scientist.'"

For the Dallas Morning News's article, visit:

For Texas Citizens for Science's report, visit:

For the THECB committee's report (PDF), visit:

For Inside Higher Ed's article, visit:

For the San Antonio Express-News's article, visit:

For The New York Times's article, visit:

Saturday, December 1, 2007

and now for some serious news...

From NCSE newsletter, reprinted with permission...sad sad state of affairs!


Chris Comer, the director of science curriculum for the Texas Education Agency, was forced to resign after forwarding a short e-mail message announcing a presentation in Austin by Barbara Forrest. The Austin American-Statesman (November 29, 2007) reported, "Comer sent the e-mail to several individuals and a few online communities, saying, 'FYI.'" Less than two hours later, Lizzette Reynolds, the TEA's senior adviser on statewide initiatives, complained to Comer's supervisors, writing, "This is highly inappropriate ... I believe this is an offense that calls for termination or, at the very least, reassignment of responsibilities ... it assumes this is a subject that the agency supports."

The e-mail was then cited in a memorandum recommending Comer's termination, the American-Statesman noted: "They said forwarding the e-mail not only violated a directive for her not to communicate in writing or otherwise with anyone outside the agency regarding an upcoming science curriculum review, 'it directly conflicts with her responsibilities as the Director of Science.' The memo adds, 'Ms. Comer's e-mail implies endorsement of the speaker and implies that TEA endorses the speaker's position on a subject on which the agency must remain neutral.'" Other reasons for recommending her termination were listed in addition.

But Comer told the newspaper that she thought that the long-standing political controversy over evolution education in Texas was
responsible: "None of the other reasons they gave are, in and of themselves, firing offenses," she said. NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott suggested that Comer's termination seemed to be a warning to TEA employees. "This just underscores the politicization of science education in Texas," Scott said. "In most states, the department of education takes a leadership role in fostering sound science education. Apparently TEA employees are supposed to be kept in the closet and only let out to do the bidding of the board."

Kathy Miller of the Texas Freedom Network, which advances a mainstream agenda of religious freedom and individual liberties to counter the religious right, also expressed her concern. "It's important to know whether politics and ideology are standing in the way of Texas kids getting a 21st century science education," Miller told the American-Statesman. Alluding to previous battles over the place of evolution in Texas science standards and textbooks, she added, "We've already seen a faction of the State Board of Education try to politicize and censor what our schoolchildren learn. It would be even more alarming if the same thing is now happening inside TEA itself."

In a report dated November 29, 2007, Steven Schafersman of Texas Citizens for Science contended that the real reason that Comer was forced to resign was her defense of the integrity of science education during her long tenure at TEA. Describing Comer as a martyr of science, he added, "But she will not be a victim," predicting that scientists and science teachers in Texas will be "outraged by her treatment by a state agency that is now publicly and officially forgoing accurate and reliable science to serve the ideological and religious biases of a small minority of state public education officials."

Barbara Forrest herself was aghast at the news, telling NCSE, "In my talk, I simply told the truth -- about the history of the 'intelligent design'
movement, about the complete rejection of its claims by the scientific community, and about the Kitzmiller trial and my involvement in it. Maybe the TEA can't afford to take a position on what constitutes good science education -- maybe it must remain neutral on whether or not to lie to students about evolution -- but if so, that's just sad." A professor of philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University and a member of NCSE's board of directors, Forrest is the coauthor (with Paul R. Gross) of Creationism's Trojan Horse.

Comer's resignation comes a few months before the Texas board of education is expected to review the science portion of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, the state science standards that determine both what is taught in Texas's public school science classrooms and the content of the biology textbooks approved for use in the state. In 2003, there were concerted if ultimately unsuccessful attempts to wield the TEKS to compromise the treatment of evolution in the textbooks then under consideration, and it is expected that such attempts will recur -- especially since the new president of the board is himself a vocal creationist.

For the story in the Austin American-Statesman, visit:

And in the New York Times

flying spaghetti monster hat

"The Pope has a special hat. Rabbis have special hats. Rastafarians have special hats. Why not Pastafarians?"

MSNBC also has an article on the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster getting some academic attention:


Thursday, October 25, 2007

Origin of Life Paper Retracted

The New York Times has an article today, '55 'Origin of Life' Paper is Retracted describing how professor Homer Jacobson publicly retracted statements he made in a 1955 issue of American Scientist about the improbability of the early origin of life. Sign of the times - he Googled his name. What he found though horrified him -- Creationists and anti-evolutionists were regularly using his words to support their cause. He reread his old article, and realized there were some mistakes in it. So he did what he felt was best, publicly corrected the long-ago mistake. The Chronicle of Higher Education blog has a piece on this issue also. Good for Dr. Jacobson!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Can God Love Darwin?

Sharon Begley writes about embattled Nazarene University professor Richard Colling, who supports evolution, is a Christian, and wrote the book Random Designer. The Newsweek piece, Can God Love Darwin? says:

In a letter to Bowling, ministers in Caro, Mo., expressed "deep concern regarding the teaching of evolutionary theory as a scientifically proven fact," calling it "a philosophy that is godless, contrary to scripture and scientifically unverifiable."

All I can say is that it's a sad sad day when our country is so uneducated that people actually do not understand that evolution is fact, and ministers devote so much time to writing letters and haranguing professors who are merely teaching the current scientific consensus. It's really sad because our nation's critical thinking skills, and our ability to discern truth from propaganda is disintegrating and that makes our nation vulnerable to all manner of propaganda, and false teaching, and that is what led to Nazi Germany where highly educated people followed leaders to a horrifying end.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

TGFE website

Michael Dowd's Thank God for Evolution has a new website that is really great visually and content-wise. Check it out: It includes an audio message from Michael, endorsements from several Nobel Laureates, and more.he also has a blog.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Politics of God

There is an interesting article in the New York Times Magazine, "The Politics of God" which mentions a letter Iranian President Ahmadinejad sent to George W. Bush. The NYT article quotes it as saying:

“I have been told that Your Excellency follows the teachings of Jesus (peace be upon him) and believes in the divine promise of the rule of the righteous on Earth,” Ahmadinejad continued, reminding his fellow believer that “according to divine verses, we have all been called upon to worship one God and follow the teachings of divine Prophets.” There follows a kind of altar call, in which the American president is invited to bring his actions into line with these verses. And then comes a threatening prophecy: “Liberalism and Western-style democracy have not been able to help realize the ideals of humanity. Today, these two concepts have failed. Those with insight can already hear the sounds of the shattering and fall of the ideology and thoughts of the liberal democratic systems. . . . Whether we like it or not, the world is gravitating towards faith in the Almighty and justice and the will of God will prevail over all things.”
The Politics of God essay is adapted from the upcoming book by Mark Lilla, The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics and the Modern West, which will be published next month. It's quite an interesting article. It relates to something that will be in my book, which is also in the previous blog post, about the parallels between the earlier violent era of Christianity and the current violence within Islam. He discusses the beliefs of English philosopher Thomas Hobbes who "changed the question" that people of the day debated from "God and his commands" to "man and his beliefs" and talked about how humankind's fear led to assigning divine powers to all manner of things - animals, women, leeks... and then they feared those things that could control the whims of the universe. Ultimately it was fear of God, and he argues that because their souls were at stake they fought, and that led to wars, and that led to fear and led to people being more religious.

I'm not convinced that "because their souls were at stake they fought." I think that if people had serious concern about their souls, they wouldn't fight! I think most religious people engaged in bloodshed have deluded themselves. However immature religious people do fight to convince others of their beliefs, and to force others to think like they do. I think that is what led to wars. And what does today. I can't wait to get my book out there.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Islam vs. Islamists

I watched an absolutely fascinating documentary on Houston PBS last night, Islam vs. Islamists: Voices from the Muslim Center. It talks about attempts to silence moderate Muslims by more extreme fundamentalist Muslims, often by death threats. It talked about the Wahhabi Muslims, who are the very extreme Muslims that want sharia law instituted which means Muslim law for all people, even in non-Muslim countries. This law includes stoning women and men to death for adultery --the documentary showed secretly captured footage (which was horrid). Yet many moderate Muslims believe in democracy, and in separation of church and state, and were interviewed and highlighted in the piece. This includes Phoenix physician Zuhdi Jasser, who leads the American Islamic Forum for Democracy.

Here's the documentary trailer on YouTube.

Apparently there was a big controversy several months back because the documentary was supposed to air as part of a Crossroads in America series on PBS, but got pulled. The reason? PBS wanted the producer to somehow say that the moderate Muslims portrayed within (who believe in democracy and live in a Westernized society) are actually not "true Muslims" but the extreme fundamentalism represents a truer form of Islam.

The irony here, and the beauty, is how parallel this is to Christianity, and to some extent Judaism. In these three religions (which I know best) there are gradations from fundamentalism and literal interpretations of Scripture, to more moderate and even liberal interpretations. Fundamentalists inevitably claim they are the only "true" believers. Ultra-Orthodox Jews take a literal interpretation of Genesis, as I understand it, and believe things like the devil planted dinosaur bones like Christian creationists.

Interestingly, the literal interpretations also seem to be more tied to political activism (at least within Islam and Christianity), probably because the leaders can control those with fear. Christians in past eras engaged in Crusades because they applied Old Testament laws to the new evangelism. Spreading the "good news" became killing others who didn't convert. It's quite similar to the current flaring of Islamic fundamentalism. They want to force everyone to follow their way, which will never happen, because once you've tasted freedom there's no going back.

The fundamentalist Islamists want to institute sharia law which came not from the Kuran but, as I understand it, from oral tradition (hadith). Christian denominations vary on whether the Bible is the sole source of authority, as do Jewish sects on the use of the Torah (Old Testament) versus the Talmud (rabbinic discussions and interpretations of the Torah and its Law).

These three religions share many similar teachings, and so it comes down to whether we interpret Scripture and religious teachings literally, or rather take the spiritual lessons meant within. You can believe the Bible, for example, to be literally true without believing that every word is literal. What about poetry? In Islam, should one interpret things like the 72 virgins one will receive in heaven as a literal truth or as a description of the ecstasy of heaven since perhaps sex is the closest ecstasy we will feel to heaven on earth? (It's no accident that Jesus called the Church his bride).

It's also ironic that there are fundamentalist Christians who tend to agree with the fundamentalist Muslims that "the only good Muslim" is one who is an extremist, and wants to force their faith on others. It furthers their own cause which is often to condemn those outside their religion, and paint Christianity as somehow different. All religions suffer the same problems. That does not make the religion itself wrong, it just shows the ways humans in their selfishness and greed and power-hunger can hijack what is truly meant by faith.

Here is an interesting interview with the documentary producer, Martyn Burke.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

the flying spaghetti monster comes to texas

Margaret Downing of the Houston Press blogs in Creationism and the Dumbing Down of Texas:

"Listen, if you want to believe in creationism, go ahead. If you can’t find any way to reconcile your religious beliefs with science other than to reject evolution, a-ok. But that is a religious preference. You might as well reject the theory of gravity while you’re at it. And all those old bones and fossils they’ve dug up? Fakes, just like the moon landing. It’s a pretty slippery, greasy slope of ignorance."

Agreed. As I blogged before, I witnessed firsthand McLeory in action and was astonished and dumbfounded that such tomfoolery could take place in the 21st century in a government entity (maybe such nonsense happens all the time in politics in other subjects, but his words and childish behavior were the height of absurdity). A teacher friend wrote a letter to Governor Perry on theissue, and the reply from Perry was that he didn't have any problem with intelligent design being taught alongside evolution, and that he should address any further concerns to the State Board of Education. The same Board that he'd just appointed a creationist the Chairperson of.

The Houston Press blog refers to the nonsense being akin to believing in the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I had to laugh out loud at this hilarious satire on religious ridiculous anti-reason folks. I think I'd heard of it years back, but this is fantastic! What a great way to parody something that is truly absurd. Check out Wikipedia's Entry. The concept was started by Bobby Henderson as a satire, of course, and he encourages teaching of the Pastafarian theory of Creation in science classrooms. For one thing, you conclude prayers be declaring Ramen instead of Amen. Henderson has written a book in which he outlined the Gospel of The Flying Spaghetti Monster. This is a riot. I have to get a FSM Ichthus for my car! Also see Henderson's FSM website. He blogged that we should contact Don McLeroy and encourage inclusion of the Pastafarian/Flying Spaghetti Monster Theory of Creation alongside evolution - "i.e. that the Flying Spaghetti Monster changes our observations to make it appear that the world conforms to Natural scientific theory." Send your letters to:

Don McLeroy
9277 Brookwater Circle
College Station, TX 77845
979 255-2538
979 846-1174 (FAX)

And one of the most hilarious things is that someone emailed him asking him if this is "for real" and then laying into him about how stupid the FSM religion was, and giving him logical arguments (with lots of typos). Honey, if you can't figure out that this is a parody... well what can I say.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Special Issue on Dover case

Social Studies of Science has a special issue on the Kitzmiller vs Dover court case. There are several PDFs of journal articles on the case, including two by Michael Lynch who was an expert witness. I haven't read them yet but they should be interesting.

In other news, the Creation Museum in Kentucky has surpassed 100,000 visitors. Now half of them are probably people like me wanting to check out the freak show, but the other half, well I just don't know about them.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Bad news for Texas

Today I heard the news... Governor Rick Perry appointed Dr. Don McLeroy as the Chairman of the Texas State Board of Education. All I can say is Texans, be prepared for another showdown.

In 2003, I testified at the textbook hearings where opponents of evolution tried to water it down by introducing so called "strengths and weaknesses" (when in reality that is a farce). Don McLeroy was on the Board then but not Chair. When I walked in, of the 15 members, he sat there with a huge posterboard displaying:

Copernicus’ “Heliocentric” Hypothesis—Yes

Darwin’s “Common Descent” Hypothesis—NO

Along with various other things on the posterboard refuting Darwin. Whatever. Here's a link to his website which has much of the info. He was utterly horrible in the hearing - interrupting other members, asking very loaded questions of people who did not have the expertise to answer, and then not asking the actual scientific experts - which included Nobel Prize winner Steven Weinberg among other notable experts - the questions that they could have answered. It was done, I'm sure, to create the aura of people not having answers when it comes to evolution. But he'd ask students! Not the professors!

All I can say is, thank God my kids go to a private Episcopal school! (Yes, the Episcopal denomination accepts and teaches evolution). I was thinking about putting them in public for high school but surely not if this guy gets his hands on their textbooks. His behavior at the 2003 hearing was appalling. Here's a quote of his about evolution from the Dallas Morning News article linked below, "It is wrong to teach opinion as fact," he said. So he's not even arguing points about the science, he calls the whole 200 years of evolutionary biology studies "opinion." And he now heads our TX State Board.

Oh, and he's a dentist, not an academic but sure loves to use that doctor moniker.

The Dallas Morning News has this article, Conservative to Lead State Education Board: Perry picks chairman as panel prepares to revisit several course standards.

2007 is the year our textbook standards are up for revisiting. Help us dear God!

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Science and Islam, and Dawkins

My colleague Todd Pitock - who I met at the ASJA (American Society of Journalists and Authors) meeting in New York earlier this year - wrote an interesting piece in the latest Discover Magazine, "Science and Islam in Conflict" - but check out the print mag because it has great photos and as Todd says, the online version lacks the panache of the magazine layout.

The latest Scientific American magazine also has an interesting dialogue between Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss about conflict between science and religion, "Should Science Speak to Faith?" Frankly I get very irritated when magazines continue to give Dawkins so much space to fill the pages of their magazine, radio play, because he is utterly fringe on his beliefs on the incompatibility between science and faith.

As a scientist, Dawkins is fantastic and I love his book The Selfish Gene and his ideas on memes (cultural ideas that transmit from generation to generation in a sort of non-genetic natural selection). However, his belief (opinion, non-scientific in any way) that faith is a delusion and that science and faith are incompatible is held by only a very small minority of people, including other atheists and agnostics. Would Scientific American give as much space to Ken Ham or another young earth creationist? I think not! And they shouldn't! Dawkins gets space because he sells magazines, is charismatic and opinionated, and is well-known - he's like the Ann Coulter of anti-religion! That is not a good enough reason. Giving him space when an article is about his own scientific concepts, or about his books perhaps is ok (his latest, The God Delusion, is not new enough to merit a whole article on him at this stage).

Frankly although the dialogue is interesting, both of these people are very cynical and condemning of religion in their own way. By continuing to give them press, it simply continues to spread the idea that scientists are always anti-God or anti-religion. Krauss also makes the mistake of saying "If one believes that homosexuality is an abomination because it says so in the Bible, one has to accept the other things that are said in the Bible, including the allowance to kill your children if they are disobedient or validation of the right to sleep with your father if you need to have a child and there are no other men around, and so forth" because he's claiming you can't cherry-pick your beliefs from the Bible. But he clearly hasn't read - or understood - the whole Bible or theology behind Christianity - because first of all he's taking things literally (ironically, the same thing he is asking fundamentalists not to do. Many of the Old Testament stories and even commandments have deeper and literary meanings hidden within the most obvious initial read of it) and second of all, according to Christian theology, Jesus came to bring a new covenant that ends legalism (following rules for the sake of it, and thinking one is better than others at the same time such people often treat people very poorly - this is according to the Bible not me, though I wholeheartedly agree) - and Jesus came to herald a deeper, more spirit- and grace-based faith. Somehow many Christians have not grasped or embraced what Jesus was all about. And clearly many non-religious people don't get it either.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Thank God For Evolution!

This book may be before it's time, but I hope and pray the world is ready. This new book "Thank God for Evolution! How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World" to be released soon by Council Oak Books was written by Reverend Michael Dowd. It's reality and science based, and I don't know any more apt word than prophetic. This is the type of book that could spawn a movement that could change the world. He says so many profound things. For example, that science is God's current revelation to humanity. Revelation didn't stop with Christ, but Truth is being revealed daily by science and scientists and we can take meaning and lesson from these things, including evolution as a beautiful creative force.

The message of this book speaks to all religions but mostly tries to relate Christianity to a modern-day evolutionary and scientific worldview. It includes a section entitled “The Gospel According to Evolution” which interprets the gospel in light of our current knowledge of evolution. It is in no way “new age.” It's very down to earth, positive, accessible to everyone, and has a lot of great quotes interpersed within. One of the most profound discussions, in my opinion, is his distinction between day (literal) and night (figurative) language and he says that we essentially belittle God by taking as day language what was clearly meant as night language. The world just might not yet be ready for Michael Dowd, but for the world's sake, I hope it is!

I'll talk more about this book in the entries to come as I read through it all. I've talked to Michael by phone, and watched some DVDs of his message. He was a former fundamentalist who rejected evolution and gradually came to realize that it not only was true, but that it had a profound message for humankind. He talks about miracles, the virgin birth, resurrection, being co-creators with God of this life on earth, and of course Creation itself which is ongoing.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Edwards on evolution

Hallelujah! Someone with some sense. The Democratic Presidential candidates had a forum on their religious faith - Faith Guiding Our Votes (see CNN article on this), and in this, Soledad O'Brien asked Sen. John Edwards about what he believes about evolution and he stood up for the view that you can be a devout Christian and accept evolution. Watch the video here.

Friday, June 1, 2007

why do people resist science?

An interesting article, "WHY DO SOME PEOPLE RESIST SCIENCE?" By Paul Bloom and Deena Skolnick Weisberg at The Edge.
PAUL BLOOM is a psychologist at Yale University and the author of Descartes' Baby. DEENA SKOLNICK WEISBERG is a doctoral candidate in psychology at Yale University. The original paper was actually published in the journal Science, 18 May 2007,
Vol. 316, pp. 996 - 997.

"The developmental data suggest that resistance to science will arise in children when scientific claims clash with early emerging, intuitive expectations. This resistance will persist through adulthood if the scientific claims are contested within a society, and will be especially strong if there is a non-scientific alternative that is rooted in common sense and championed by people who are taken as reliable and trustworthy."

This is a fascinating article, based in the authors' research, on rejection of science by educated people and how children learn and how our initial biases get reinforced by cultural and religious belief systems. Check it out!

Monday, May 28, 2007

flock of dodos

The documentary Flock of Dodos will air on Showtime several times this week. I haven't yet seen the documentary but plan to. Former evolutionary ecologist Dr. Randy Olson produced this lighthearted show looking at the intelligent design /evolution debate. As NCSE described it, "At first it seems the problem lies with intelligent design -- a movement labeled recently as "breathtaking inanity" by a federal judge -- but when a group of evolutionists convene for a night of poker and discussion they end up sounding themselves like ... a flock of dodos."
View the Showtime air dates/times.

The DVD for Flock of Dodos has some special features, including the 6 1/2- minute "Pulled Punches" - scenes that got cut from the documentary. You can view it on YouTube. The great ironic highlight in this is Dr Michael Behe, biochemist, author and intelligent design proponent, saying "My kids don't go to public schools; what do I care?"

Friday, May 25, 2007

The problem with anti-evolution rhetoric

All I can say is that people can convince others just about anything if they have enough money. This New York Times article, "Adam and Eve in the land of Dinosaurs" talks about the $27 million Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky which opens May 28. The museum is the brainchild of the notorious young earth creationist Ken Ham.

People talk about "What Would Jesus Do?" but would Jesus have Christians spend billions of dollars to promote literal interpretation of Genesis like the Discovery Institute and the young earth creationists starting the Creation Museum and Dinosaur Land, while people around the world are starving and gravely suffering? While people still don’t know the love and grace of Christ? Creationist movements preach to the choir and at the same time, without doubt, they turn people away from the faith far more than they bring anyone into the faith. Has anyone ever become a Christian from listening to creationists preach Creation?

I honestly can’t understand how any Christian who truly assesses the situation can think Christians that live that kind of way could be truly following Jesus. What about spending that kind of money on missions and humanitarian work instead?

I care about the faith, about the integrity of God’s word, and the way that people practice it out in their lives as witnesses to nonbelievers. But frankly the direction it’s headed scares me! Clinging to nonsense at the expense of rationality does not serve as a good witness.

National Center for Science Education Director Eugenie Scott appeared on ABC's Good Morning America to discuss the new museum. In this ABCNews online article, it says:

"In an evolutionary world view, why should you have things like absolute morality? Why would it be wrong to kill someone?" said Jason Lisle, of Answers in Genesis. "I'm not saying that evolutionists aren't moral. I'm saying they have no reason to be moral."

This basic misunderstanding is one of the biggest problems with anti-evolution rhetoric. The Judeo-Christian faith teaches that a Savior or Messiah will come into the world. Christians believe it was Jesus. Jesus rescued all people from sin and death... to those who accept the Way, the Way of love. Absolutely, you can not deny that horrible pain and suffering exist - among humans and animals. People do horrible things to other people - murder, rape, torture, manipulation, lies. Evolution does not give permission to anyone for anything. Evolution simply describes the way the world is. It's a dog eat dog world. Hello... that is what the whole story of original sin, and the Fall, are all about.

Yes, religion and spirituality offer morals and rules for living that allow people to rise above their sinful and selfish tendencies that we all have. To Buddhists, it is way of dharma - right conduct, and nonharm. The Boddhisattva in Buddhism commit to helping all others achieve a state of enlightenment out of the committed Bodhisattva's compassion. To Christians, it is the Way of grace and forgiveness and brotherly love. The Golden Rule. Christian and other religious tenets allow people living in an evolutionary world - in which yes, horrible events such as murder occur and we all are selfish by nature- to choose not to live a life that harms others- such as murder. So how come Christians know their faith so little that they can not understand that?

So the point the guy's making is that evolutionists don't have a "reason" to be moral, meaning that they don't have a God telling them what to do. Yet many do live just as moral of lives as Christians. How can this be? And many Christians fail to follow the tenets of their religion. Priests abusing young boys. Pastors leaving churches in shame after extramarital affairs. Christian abortion clinic bombers. These are extreme examples - but not really. Every Christian, like every person, has things in their past - or present - they're ashamed of. We all fail to be perfectly good, we all hurt others intentionally or not. That is why Christians believe we need a Savior - someone who loves us unconditionally no matter how much we screw up. And I'm talking major screw up - God's forgiveness is for those very people who do the major ^&*%-ups as well as the little ones. If only they can accept it - to really accept that one is loved and forgiven despite one's flaws - that is when a revolution of the heart takes place (and those who have committed the most grievous crimes are often the most grateful recipients of grace).

But when an evolutionist follows morality despite not having a religion - well, what do you think of this? Jesus said, in one of my favorite passages, when he was hanging out with a Samaritan woman who had been divorced many times and was living with a man not her husband. Jesus shared water from the well and said "Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth." (John 4:24)

To worship in spirit and in truth, to me, means to live out the way of loving your neighbor as yourself (which is the earthly manifestation of loving God) - and those who do this are following God whether they think they are or not. To be not hypocritical, to be truthful in words, to live a life of respect for one's fellow human beings - that to me is worshipping in spirit and in truth.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The late Jerry Falwell on evolution

Jerry Falwell, who died today at age 73, said in a 2004 interview with CNN about evolution, "[T]here is a total blackout of creation instruction in the public schools of America, and in most of the colleges and universities, because I think the scientists who, under the guise that this is not true science, are afraid to expose their theory, their model to the creation model. And to me, that is a violation of academic freedom."

The problem with this "academic freedom" argument is a basic misunderstanding of science. In just about any other field - history, sociology, cultural studies, literature studies - you could discuss any and every fringe idea or ideas that, once fringe, have become common belief. However, in science, you want to teach students about scientific facts, scientific reality. We want to teach students how the world actually works (whether physics, biology, chemistry)- not just all the random ideas people think might be true (no matter what the source - the Bible, one's mind, etc.). Hence, not teaching creationism is not about restraining academic freedom.

If you want well-educated students and ultimately an intelligent citizenry, in the science classroom, you want teachers to discuss studies that have been designed with scientific rigor, that have passed through the scientific peer-review system and that are generally accepted in the scientific community. Debates can and do exist within science, but such alternative hypotheses are still published in scientific peer-reviewed journals before they make it into textbooks. For example, evolutionary biologists debate the role of chance events (a volcanic explosion destroying an entire small population of some rare species but leaving 2 or 3 individuals to carry on the species' genes) versus natural selection driving the long-term evolution of species. But biologists don't argue over whether natural selection occurs -- any more than physicists argue about whether gravity occurs. Even intelligent design proponents agree that natural selection occurs - it drives antibiotic resistance of bacteria...

The scientific method was developed to separate out scientific facts from "beliefs" many years ago. Scientists begin with an educated guess (a hypothesis - which is essentially a belief) but then rigorously test that idea by designing a study that prevents bias, using statistics to analyze the data collected, and then analyzing the results.

However, creation "science" is not a scientific idea - let alone a consensus or even a real opposing scientific idea - because it begins with an answer rather than a question: Creation must follow the 7 literal days of Genesis. If you begin with a preconceived answer that you are unwilling to discard if the science shows the opposite - then that is not science. If Jerry Falwell - or anyone for that matter - could discard the idea of a 7-day creation after looking at the data, then that would be science. In fact, early scientists did believe in a 7-day creation, but even before Darwin, the hypothesis of a 7-day creation was rejected by geologist Charles Lyell and others, and has since been soundly and absolutely destroyed by the scientific data, with thousands of radio-isotope dating and evolutionary studies.

Clinging blindly and stubbornly to this belief in a 7-day creation then, throws science out the window and remains clearly in the realm of faith. Blind dogmatic faith. If that's what one chooses to believe in, well, ok, but this is what psychiatrist Scott Peck writes in the bestselling book, The Road Less Traveled, about clinging to beliefs:

“We may denounce the new information as false, dangerous, heretical, the work of the devil. We may actually crusade against it, and even attempt to manipulate the world so as to make it conform to our view of reality.… Sadly, such a person may expend much more energy ultimately in defending an outmoded view of the world than would have been required to revise and correct it in the first place.”

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Dr. Dino Goes to Jail

Dinosaur Adventure Land Theme Park in Florida is designed to teach kids of all ages how people lived concurrently with the dinos. Ha! The whole concept - and the theme park - seems so outlandish that I planned to visit there for my book. I just learned from the NCSE news page, though, that the guy who runs it, the fairly well-known (as far as young earth creationists go) "Dr. Dino" Kent Hovind, was recently sentenced to 10 years in federal prison for 58 tax offense charges including various legal breaches related to taxes and employees. He owes the IRS over $600,000 in restitution to the IRS. According to Wikipedia, the IRS shows the theme park earned over $5 million from 1999 to March 2004. Apparently the Hovinds tried to renounce their US citizenship and their social security numbers, claiming instead to become "a natural citizen of 'America' and a natural sojourner" and claiming not to live in the state of Florida but in "the State of Florida Body-Politic Corporation." The US government didn't buy it.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Republican candidates and evolution

In the first Republican debate, 3 candidates raised their hands when asked if they did not believe in evolution, Sam Brownback, Tom Tancredo and Mike Huckabee. All I can say is Thank God the rest have at least a modicum of sanity. Someone commenting on the Washington Post blog said had best answer, "the correct answer is that you cannot 'believe' in evolution. evolution (as a process) is a demonstrable fact."

The Liberal Values blog makes a good point also. Huckabee had said that he didn't understand what the question had to do with being President of the United States, but as the blog rightly points out, it's incredibly important that the President of the U.S. have a basic understanding of modern science. Evolution is a fundamental backbone of biology, and the specious debate over evolution has become a precious waste of our judicial system's time and money. With around 50% of American rejecting evolution (rejecting reason for blind faith) this issue will continue to gain importance... We may as well be arguing about a flat earth!

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Wednesday, May 2, 2007

The Creation

Shared by a fellow Christian evolutionist, Warren Aney, this poem really touched me. It's beautiful. I share it here with his permission

Genesis 1

In the beginning there was only God
Just God
Nothing else
No time no space no energy no matter
But it did matter
To God

So God created
Something out of nothing
God created
Time and space and energy and particles
And God created
The laws for this universe
And there was neither night nor day
Then energy became light
And God saw that the light was good
This was the first day
Three minutes long

Then the matter came together
And became nebulae and stars and exploding novae
And this was the second day
Two billion years long
And God saw that it was good

Then came bodies of liquid and gas
And bodies of solid rock with water and air
And these bodies rotated from dark into light
Another day
Six billion years long

Then in a special place
The waters became rich
And out of this richness came life
And this life divided and multiplied and transformed
And God saw that it was good
And this was one more day
Three billion years long

Then the waters brought forth swarms of living creatures
Tiny floaters became small swimmers, and seaweeds, and fish
And Earth rotated from dark into light
A fifth day
One hundred seventy five million years long

Then life crept unto the land
And grew out of the ground
And sprang into the air
There became earthworms and ants and snails and birds
And there became ferns and flowers and grasses
And snakes and lions and apes and antelope
And God saw that it was good

Then this universe became aware of itself
An ape looked up and saw the stars
And thought
And wondered
It is said
God told this human
Take care of things
And God saw everything that had happened
And behold
It was very good
And the earth rotated from dark into light
The sixth day
Four hundred million years long

Now God rests and enjoys
The seventh day
Five million years long
So far

Copyright (c) 2005 Warren W. Aney

Monday, April 30, 2007


A writer colleague of mine and I had an email discussion over my book concept - making peace between evolution and Christianity.

He wrote, "I survive through a concept of existentialism and a belief in God’s holy mystery" followed by a great explanation of existentialism... and then "Such as it is with my view of scientific explanations evolution, young earth creationists, the Gnostic Gospels, or the place of Mary Magdalene in the rank of the original apostles. My “existentialist belief” is that each subject is interesting, a worthwhile exercise of human intelligence, but ultimately irrelevant to the Holy Mystery of Creation and Its Creator — the Unknowable Concept existing outside of what we perceive as the universe."

He also blogged the whole discussion at in the 4/30/07 entry.

My response is that I mostly agree. I agree that evolution is not ultimately directly relevant to the Holy Mystery of Creation which will always be on some level unknowable in terms of the role God played - or didn't. But I believe that in current affairs, the issue of evolution is vastly more important, though, than the place of Mary Magdalene as an apostle or the Gnostic gospels, etc.

The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm, from Nov 2005, (the panel includes several Nobel Laureates) states:

"Having reviewed trends in the United States and abroad, the committee is deeply concerned that the scientific and technical building blocks of our economic leadership are eroding at a time when many other nations are gathering strength. … We fear the abruptness with which a lead in science and technology can be lost- and the difficulty of recovering a lead once lost-if indeed if can be regained at all."

In many respects, science education is floundering in the U.S.. The latest polls show between 45-53% of the U.S. public reject evolution. Many studies show a lack of critical thinking skills among the public, including the college educated. I've met several teachers that shy away from teaching evolution for fear of being called "spawn of the devil" among other things.

Evolution is not just a hypothesis, or "just a theory," it is foundational to biology. There are dozens of university "departments of ecology and evolutionary biology," and hundreds of thousands of scientific peer-reviewed studies published over the past 200 years on various aspects of evolution. You don't have whole departments about "the Gnostic gospels" or "Mary Magdalene." So even if evolution's role in the Holy Mystery of Creation falls into this same general category of a Holy Mystery, I still believe that the situation with evolution elevates it to a higher level of importance in today's world, for practical purposes.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Noah's Ark Replica

This is actually pretty cool! This guy in the Netherlands built a replica of Noah's Ark. It's 2/3 the length of a football field and 3 stories high. There's a photo at the CNN site. And guess what? The real Ark would have been 5 times larger. Wow. This is really cool. "New Noah's Ark ready to sail"

I don't like how they define "creationist" as anyone who believes in the "literal truth of the Bible" because creationist specifically refers to beliefs around the Genesis creation account, not other aspects of Genesis like Noah's Ark and the flood. I believe in the absolute truth of the Bible, but I think getting a perfect "literal" interpretation of ancient words and meaning is impossible in today's world. I believe that the Noah story did happen, though I believe in a more local rather than worldwide flood, since the Hebrew word "erets" can mean both world and land. Literalist would be a more accurate term than creationist (though this guy may be a creationist, that is not clear by the story). But I guess that's not that correct either since one can believe Noah built the Ark and not be a fundamentalist or creationist.

That movie Evan Almighty about a modern day Noah looks like it's going to be a hoot!

Creationism goes global

The Economist has an article in their April 2007 issue, In the Beginning: The debate over creation and evolution, once most conspicuous in America, is fast going global. All the more reason to write my book, and quick-like. A new 770-page full-color illustrated "Atlas of Creation" quotes the Koran and claims to prove Darwin's theory wrong and links it to all kinds of horrors, such as fascism, communism and terrorism.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

On critical thinking and faith

In his book Audacity of Hope, presidential candidate Barack Obama, once an atheist, writes about how he became a Christian, “It was because of these newfound understandings–that religious commitment did not require me to suspend critical thinking, disengage from the battle for economic and social justice, or otherwise retreat from the world that I knew and loved–that I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity United Church of Christ one day and be baptized.”

Monday, April 23, 2007

In the beginning...

I have been busy working on my book proposal, the book formerly known as "The Fish Wars: How Evolution and Christianity Can Make Peace" which I'm renaming "Losing My Religion: A Christian Gets Fed Up..." I need to come up with the second half of that sentence or just leave it as is. I am taking a much more first-person approach and will talk about how the anti-science fervor, the literalism and fundamentalism and Christian right mixing politics with religion is not just about as opposite as you can get from what Jesus was all about, it's causing a lot of people to laugh at and walk away from Christianity.

My book will also talk about how many people in the church were not there for me during and after my divorce while all my non-Christian friends were. What does this say about the faith? Or about theirs anyway? I have met person after person who have said the same thing, so this is not just a local phenomenon affecting me. I am not embarrased in any way to be a Christian. I love the Bible, I love Jesus, and I think it's a beautiful empowering faith. But I am increasingly embarrassed by the Christians... the judgmentalism and narrow-minded pursuit of a political agenda, making creationism, abortion, gay marriage the main topics in their repertoire. What about poverty? What about being there for people in your life, and not running away or judging people who are not perfect? What about forgiveness?

There are certainly many wonderful things Christians have done in the world and continue to do. But in America, where I'm from and what I know, it's a mixed bag. All I know is that many intelligent and compassionate people would not think of becoming a Christian because of it's rejection of science. It's actually quite harmful to our society, and quite scary how sheep-like people can be. People often blindly follow and don't think critically about their beliefs. I like to say, Jesus didn't call people sheep for no reason! :)