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A War on Science - War Science

When Charles Darwin published his theory of evolution nearly 150 years ago, he shattered the dominant belief of his day – that humans were the product of divine creation. Through his observations of nature, Darwin proposed the theory of evolution by natural selection. This caused uproar. After all, if the story of creation could be doubted, so too could the existence of the creator. Ever since its proposal, this cornerstone of biology has sustained wave after wave of attack. Now some scientists fear it is facing the most formidable challenge yet: a controversial new theory called intelligent design.

In the late 1980s Phillip Johnson, a renowned lawyer and born-again Christian, began to develop a strategy to challenge Darwin. To Johnson, the evidence for natural selection was poor. He also believed that by explaining the world only through material processes was inherently atheistic. If there was a god, science would never be able to discover it.

Johnson recruited other Darwin doubters, including biochemist Professor Michael Behe, mathematician Dr William Dembski, and philosopher of science Dr Stephen Meyer. These scientists developed the theory of intelligent design (ID) which claims that certain features of the natural world are best explained as the result of an intelligent being. To him, the presence of miniature machines and digital information found in living cells are evidence of a supernatural creator. Throughout the 90s, the ID movement took to disseminating articles, books and DVDs and organising conferences all over the world.

To its supporters, intelligent design heralds a revolution in science and the movement is fast gaining political clout. Not only does it have the support of the President of the United States, it is on the verge of being introduced to science classes across the nation. However, its many critics, including Professor Richard Dawkins and Sir David Attenborough, fear that it cloaks a religious motive – to replace science with god.

Throughout the 20th century Christian groups resisted the theory of evolution. Many US states did not teach it until 1968 when the Supreme Court ruled that banning the teaching of evolution contravened the first amendment of the constitution of America, the separation of church and state. It was however still legal to teach religion as part of science class until the Edwards vs. Aguillard case in 1987, where mentioning a theory called 'creation science' in biology lessons was also deemed unconstitutional. This left evolution as the only theory of biological origin that science teachers were allowed to teach.
In 2005, the school board of Dover, a small farming community in western Pennsylvania, became the first in America to adopt the theory of intelligent design. The move divided the community and the small town became the centre of national attention. The school board voted to teach the ninth grade biology class that there are gaps and problems with the theory of evolution and to present intelligent design as an alternative.

Dover science teacher Bryan Rehm and his wife Christy believed that this new policy was not only anti-science, but religious and therefore unconstitutional. By promoting religion it was a violation of the law passed in 1987. The Rehms and nine other parents and teachers filed a law suit against the school board. Neighbour was pitted against neighbour in the first legal challenge to intelligent design.

After 40 days of trial, Judge John E Jones III ruled against the school board, stating: "We have addressed the seminal question of whether ID is science. We have concluded that it is not, and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents."

Evolution supporters heralded this victory as the damning blow to the intelligent design movement. However, as history shows, law suits have little effect on the support for creationism in a country where over 50% of citizens believe that God created humans in their present form, the way the bible describes it.

*Gallup national poll September 2005

Why Gauging Sexiness Is Sophisticated - Valentine Science

That's the conclusion of recent brain scan studies, which are starting to reveal that deciding who we find attractive—even on a purely superficial level—is a much more complex process than an instinctual reaction.

For years neuroscientist Stephanie Ortigue of Syracuse University and Francesco Bianchi-Demicheli of Geneva University Psychiatric Center have been examining the brain's role in sexual experiences.

Most recently, the pair found that people making quick judgments about others' sexiness are using regions of the brain associated with higher functions, such as understanding the intentions of others and self-awareness.

In fact, higher brain regions seem to activate before they receive information from the visual cortex or the brain's emotional centers, Ortigue said.

Previous theories had suggested the brain first acquires information about sexual attractiveness from visual cues, which are then sent upward through the emotional centers and finally on to regions of more complex thought.

But Ortigue's study shows that the sophisticated mind may be first sending information downward, providing the visual cortex with a blueprint for who is attractive while prepping our emotional centers with prejudged responses.

"We've found the brain knows who we desire and when we desire before we are aware of it," she said. "It's very unconscious."

Self-Image Key to Attraction?

For their study, published in 2008 in the journal NeuroImage, Ortigue and Bianchi-Demicheli wired a group of 13 healthy adults so the scientists could record brain activity via a technique called high-density EEG neuroimaging.

The volunteers were asked to look at pictures of people in swimsuits and decide whether the subjects were hot or not. (Related: "Bikinis Make Men See Women as Objects, Scans Confirm.")

Most people made a decision in well under half a second, the study authors report. But during that short amount of time, several different regions of the brain lighted up electrical activity, including higher brain regions.

One of the areas most active in desire is intimately involved with people's self-awareness and self-image, the researchers found.

"Basically what that means is that people who have disorders of their self-image might also have disorders of sexual desire," Ortigue said.

In addition, test subjects took slightly longer to identify attractive people than they did to discount the unattractive—a finding that makes sense to evolutionary psychologist Donald Symons of the University of California, Santa Barbara.

"For a stimulus image to be highly attractive, all the observable attractiveness cues must fall into the highly desirable range," said Symons, who was not involved in the study. (Related: "Symmetrical Bodies Are More Beautiful to Humans.")

But just one unattractive quality, such as obesity or extreme acne, could be enough of a turnoff for someone to instantly judge a person as undesirable, he said.

"So detecting ugliness would be, on average, an easier perceptual problem, and one that could be made more quickly then detecting great beauty."

Evolution of Desire

Ultimately, Ortigue and Bianchi-Demicheli's research could provide new insight into why humans have evolved to desire others the way we do.

"What I would expect, and what Stephanie has begun to demonstrate, is that complex, specialized cortical adaptations exist that were designed to solve the problem of mate choice faced by our ancestors," Symons said.

(Related: "Ardi's Secret: Did Early Humans Start Walking for Sex?")

In other words, the brain's current wiring could be a product of the way ancient humans gathered information about a potential mate's value based on specific physical characteristics.

In the days before Proactiv and Oil of Olay, for example, skin condition might have been a good indicator of a person's age or larger health problems.

"Therefore," Symons said, "we'd expect natural selection to have created psychological mechanisms specialized to detect and use reliable information about mate value."

February Birthstone Amethyst

Birthstone Color: Purple

February birthstone If gazing into the sparkling purple depths of an Amethyst suffuses you with a sense of powerful well being, this is only to be expected. The ancient Greeks believed that this gemstone held many powers, among them protection against intoxication. In fact, the word Amethyst comes from the Greek word "amethystos," meaning sober. In ancient Greece, the gemstone was associated with the god of wine, and it was common practice to serve this beverage from Amethyst goblets in the belief that this would prevent overindulgence. Even today, Amethyst is considered a stabilizing force for those struggling to overcome addictive behaviors.

February's purple birthstone has been found among the possessions of royalty throughout the ages. The intense violet hue of Amethyst appealed to early monarchs, perhaps because they often wore this color. Purple dye was scarce and expensive at one time, and so it was reserved for the garments of kings and queens. Amethyst has been found in ruins dating as far back as the ninth century, adorning crowns, scepters, jewelry, and breastplates worn into battle. A large Amethyst is among the closely guarded gemstones in the British Crown Jewels.

Amethyst is also symbolic of spirituality and piety. It has been used to ornament churches and crosses used in religious ceremony, and worn in rings and on rosaries by bishops and priests.

Once considered more valuable than diamonds, Amethyst is a member of the quartz family, occurring naturally as crystals within rocks. Deposits of this gemstone are found in Brazil, Canada, Australia, India, Madagascar, Namibia, Russia, Sri Lanka; and in the United States.

The gift of Amethyst is symbolic of protection and the power to overcome difficulty. It is said to strengthen the bond in a love relationship, so it is an ideal anniversary or engagement gem. Whether or not Amethyst holds such power, it's stunning beauty will certainly make anyone who wears it feel like royalty!