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February 15, 2004

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Religion in the News

Newsweek asks, "Who killed Jesus?"
Newsweek managing editor Jon Meacham is an award-winning reporter. But he's neither a theologian nor a historian, so one may wish that he "showed his work" a bit more in this week's cover story, "Who Really Killed Jesus?" (It's a subject U.S. News & World Report put on its cover four years ago.) It's clear that he did quite a bit of research, but some of his statements certainly raise the question, "Says who?" This especially comes into play when Meacham sets himself up as a better recorder of events than four well-known reporters: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

The Dick Staub Interview: The Gospel According to Tupac Shakur
Why do kids relate so well to hip-hop artists Eminem or Tupac? And what can a preacher learn from these modern-day prophets?

A Law That Shouldn't Be Cloned
New Jersey legalizes human cloning for research. By Mark Stricherz in Washington.

Pilot's Evangelistic Efforts Freak Out Passengers, Country
Plus: Far too many stories on Passion, along with some on crime (but none on crimes of passion). Compiled by Ted Olsen.

French Assembly votes to ban religious symbols in schools
The move underscores the broad public support for the French secular ideal but is certain to deepen resentment among France's Muslim population (The New York Times).

Three wise men may have been neither wise nor men
The traditional infant Nativity play scene could be in for a drastic rewrite after the Church of England indulged in some academic gender-swapping over the three Magi at its General Synod in London this week (Reuters).

Gospel Gem
How a dying jewelry tycoon shares the pearl of great price with Panama's elite. By James A. Beverley

New Kids on the Blog
Compiled by Ted Olsen.

In search of St. Valentine
Who is the man named Valentine who gave us the biggest heart day of the year? Good luck finding the correct answer (The Sun Herald, Biloxi, Miss.).

Science in the News


Answers in Genesis claims that fresh dinosaur blood and bones have been found.
Dr. Gary Hurd examines these claims.

Challenging Canyon Orthodoxy
Controversy over book with young-earth views raises protests—and sales. By Stan Guthrie.

Compatability test
How the five major religions do and don't open their doors to Darwin's theory (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution).

Georgia evolution flap prompts proposal
A short-lived plan to delete the word "evolution" from Georgia's science curriculum inspired lawmakers to propose new rules Monday for how the state decides what to teach in schools (Associated Press).

Left out of state's proposed curriculum
Georgia copied almost all the biology standards developed by the American Association for the Advancement for Science. These sections related to evolution were left out of the state's proposed curriculum (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution).

Document: Board of Education's statement (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution).

E-word brings out the e-mail
Lots of people hit the roof after state Schools Superintendant Kathy Cox proposed that evolution be downplayed in Georgia's public schools. I joined the critics, in three columns, and readers bombarded me with mail (Colin Campbell, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution).

Chat with Robert Wright, a visiting scholar at the University of Pennsylvania, is the author of Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny and The Moral Animal: Evolutionary Psychology and Everyday Life, both published by Vintage Books.

A passion for evolution
Despite his breadth, Richard Dawkins is surely best known for three things: his defense of the selfish gene view of biological evolution, his invention of the selfish meme view of cultural evolution, and his animosity toward religion. A Devil's Chaplain takes up each of these themes, some more convincingly than others (H. Allen Orr, The New York Review of Books).

Campaigners push for 'Darwin Day'
Atheist, agnostic and humanist organisations in the Americas, Europe and Asia are gearing up for a five-year campaign aimed at achieving international recognition of February 12 as "Darwin Day" (Reuters).

The peppered moth capture rates have been used as if they are evidence that Ketterwell's research was flawed.
This is soundly refuted by Matt Young's analysis of the original data.

First, due to popular demand, Alan Gishlick's acclaimed critique of Icons of Evolution, "ICONS OF EVOLUTION? Why much of what Jonathan Wells writes about evolution is wrong," is now available in PDF format on the NCSE web site:
Website Goes Online: Download Sample Chapters From “Darwinism, Design, and Public Education.”  


The Crossing of the Red Sea: Where was it?

Incan Counting System Decoded? Jan. 29, 2004
The Inca invented a powerful counting system that could be used to make complex calculations without the tiniest mistake, according to an Italian engineer who claims to have cracked the mathematics of this still mysterious ancient population.

German Archaeologist Throws Light on Pyramid Origin. CAIRO (Reuters)
Egypt's ancient pyramids are probably a byproduct of a decision to build walls around the tombs of kings, a leading expert on early Egyptian royal burials said Wednesday.


Healthy Spirit Cleans A Mars Rock; Opportunity Rolls. Pasadena (JPL) Feb 06, 2004
NASA's Spirit has returned to full health and resumed doing things never attempted on Mars before. "Our patient is healed, and we're very excited about that," said Jennifer Trosper of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., mission manager for Spirit.

Gravitational Lens Reveals Heart Of A Distant Galaxy. Boston - Feb 11, 2004
Many examples are known where a galaxy acts as a gravitational lens, producing multiple images on the sky of a more distant object like a bright quasar hidden behind it. But there has been a persistent mystery for over 20 years: Einstein's general theory of relativity predicts there should be an odd number of images, yet almost all observed lenses have only 2 or 4 known images.

Counting Atoms That Aren't There, In Stars That No Longer Exist. Argonne - Feb 06, 2004
Argonne scientists, in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Chicago, Washington University and the Universita di Torino in Italy, examined stardust from a meteorite and found remnants of now-extinct technetium atoms made in stars long ago.

Supernova Blast Brings Forth Star Birth In Nearby Galaxy. Baltimore - Feb 09, 2004
The nearby dwarf galaxy NGC 1569 is a hotbed of vigorous star birth activity which blows huge bubbles that riddle the main body of the galaxy. The galaxy's "star factories" are also manufacturing brilliant blue star clusters. This galaxy had a sudden and relatively recent onset of star birth about 25 million years ago, which subsided about the time the very earliest human ancestors appeared on Earth.

Galactic Building Blocks Seen Swarming Around Andromeda.

An Abrasive Collision Gives One Galaxy A "Black Eye" Baltimore - Feb 09, 2004
A collision of two galaxies has left a merged star system with an unusual appearance as well as bizarre internal motions. Messier 64 (M64) has a spectacular dark band of absorbing dust in front of the galaxy's bright nucleus, giving rise to its nicknames of the "Black Eye" or "Evil Eye" galaxy.

The universe is riddled with inexplicable forces. Something strange is tearing space apart. Something unknown holds spinning galaxies together. And at the beginning of time something made the whole cosmos go bang. Cosmologists call these three somethings dark energy, dark matter and inflation, and to a large extent they are all abiding mysteries. But recently, while exploring Einstein’s equations of relativity, a group of physicists noticed something peculiar: all three forces could be one and the same. Their theory claims they all stem from one omnipresent fluid called the ghost condensate. See latest issue of the New Scientist.

"Heavy Metal" Snow On Blazing Venus Is Lead Sulfide. St. Louis - Feb 11, 2004
Lead sulfide — also known by its mineral name, galena — is a naturally occurring mineral found in Missouri, other parts of the world, and now. . .other parts of the solar system. That's because recent thermodynamic calculations by researchers at Washington University in St. Louis provide plausible evidence that "heavy metal snow," which blankets the surface of upper altitude Venusian rocks, is composed of both lead and bismuth sulfides.

Comets Spread Earth-Life Around Galaxy, Say Scientists. Cardiff - Feb 11, 2004
If comets hitting the Earth could cause ecological disasters, including extinctions of species and climate change, they could also disperse Earth-life to the most distant parts of the Galaxy.

Life could be tough on acid Europa
Far from being a haven of ice and water and an ideal spot for the search for alien life, Jupiter's moon may be a corrosive hotbed of acid and peroxide.


US researchers losing edge in stem cell work
For American biologists, accustomed to being research leaders in so many areas, the announcement this week that South Koreans were the first to successfully clone a human embryo was humbling—and a call to arms (The Boston Globe)

Clot-busting corkscrew aids stroke patients
New technique may help reverse paralysis. 6 February 2004

Bird flu sweeps through Asia
Fear of a human pandemic grows as avian influenza spreads. 5 February 2004

Designer mice make heart-friendly nutrients
Genetic advance could put healthier eggs and meat on supermarket shelves. 5 February 2004

Super-sniffer mice smell good
Rodents missing a single protein can detect the weakest scents. 5 February 2004

Earth Science

Oldest insect hints at dawn of flight
The specimen, found lurking in a fossil-filled museum vault, pushes back the origins of winged insects by 80 million years.

Team Excavating Mammoth On Gulf Coast. COLLEGE STATION, Feb. 10, 2004
Excavation of what is believed to be remains of the first-dated mammoth discovered on the Texas Gulf Coast is in its initial phases but living up to the expectations of its researchers, a team of students and archaeologists from Texas A&M University's Center for the Study of the First Americans. The mammoth was found buried in a sand pit just outside Lake Jackson, Texas in the town of Clute by a backhoe operator for Vernor Material & Equipment Co. who uncovered a pair of tusks. Further examination revealed skull remains and miscellaneous bones. The mammoth, which could be about 38,000 years old, judging from the age of logs recovered near the site, is believed to be a Columbian mammoth. These mammoths were slightly larger and less hairy than their famous cousin, the wooly. In addition, fossil logs and remains of bison, horse, deer and turtle are present, providing a glimpse of a unique Ice Age environment buried 35' below the surface, said Robson Bonnichsen, director of the Center for the Study of the First Americans.

Astronomers Unravel A Mystery From The Dark Ages. Cardiff - Feb 11, 2004
Scientists at Cardiff University, UK, believe they have discovered the cause of crop failures and summer frosts some 1,500 years ago – a comet colliding with Earth. The team has been studying evidence from tree rings, which suggests that the Earth underwent a series of very cold summers around 536-540 AD, indicating an effect rather like a nuclear winter.


The Addicted Brain
New research indicates that chronic drug use induces changes in the structure and function of the system's neurons that last for weeks, months or years after the last fix. These adaptations, perversely, dampen the pleasurable effects of a chronically abused substance yet also increase the cravings that trap the addict in a destructive spiral of escalating use and increased fallout at work and at home. Improved understanding of these neural alterations should help provide better interventions for addiction, so that people who have fallen prey to habit-forming drugs can reclaim their brains and their lives. 

Living Together No Guarantee of Marriage. WEDNESDAY, Feb. 11 (HealthDayNews)
People who live together before marriage are less likely to say "I do" than was previously believed.


Nano Patterning
Self-assembly has become a critical implement in the toolbox of nanotechnologists. Scientists and engineers who explore the nano realm posit that the same types of forces that construct a snowflake--the natural attractions and repulsions that prompt molecules to form intricate patterns--can build useful structures--say, medical implants or components in electronic chips.

Los Alamos Hopes To Lead New Era Of Nuclear Powered Space Exploration. Albuquerque - Feb 11, 2004
A planned U.S. mission to investigate three ice-covered moons of Jupiter will demand fast-paced research, fabrication and realistic non-nuclear testing of a prototype nuclear reactor within two years, says a Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist.

How Plants Split Water Could Provide Key To Our Future Energy Needs. London - Feb 11, 2004
The possibility of using the Earth's abundant supply of water as a cheap source of hydrogen is a step closer thanks to researchers from Imperial College London. By mimicking the method plants use to split water, researchers say that a highly energy efficient way to form cheap supplies of hydrogen fuel may be possible in the future.


Four-armed jellyfish found
Bumpy sea creature is new species. 9 February 2004

Where'd I Put That?
Maybe it takes a bird brain to find the car keys. Birds that hide and recover thousands of separate caches of seeds have become a model for investigating how animals' minds work.