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The Baltimore Sun

Science endorses evolution

After reading "Scientists say evolution fits" (Jan. 5), I want to take issue with the statement, "Despite what the NAS says is incontrovertible scientific evidence, nearly 150 years after Charles Darwin first proposed his ideas in his paper, On the Origin of Species, a controversy still swirls."

There is absolutely no controversy among scientists that evolution by natural selection has in fact occurred and explains the diversity and complexity of life on Earth today.

The "theory" of evolution is as accepted by science as the "theory" that the Earth is round and the "theory" that the sun will rise tomorrow morning.

The scientific definition of a "theory" is different from the definition of the term in popular use.

A scientific theory is a logical explanation, or a testable model of a set of natural phenomena, which is capable of predicting future occurrences or observations of the same kind, and of being tested through experiment or falsified through empirical observation - not just a conjecture or speculation, as the common use of the term "theory" might suggest.

The theory of creation science and intelligent design has no place in the classroom because it is by no means scientific by any definition and is untestable and faith-based.

It is a travesty of American life that our electorate and some local school boards even consider letting faith-based non-science into our classrooms or electing politicians guided by beliefs in creation science and intelligent design.

Dr. Gregory Pokrywka

Towson

The writer is a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

As a scientist, I see that much of the "controversy" surrounding evolution arises because distinctions are not made between a scientific theory about something and the thing itself.

Science does not have a complete theory of gravity, but there is no controversy about whether gravity exists or not.

The same is true with evolution.

There is no scientific controversy about whether evolution takes place, even though the theory of evolution is not complete.

Students need to understand this fact.

Bradley Alger

Baltimore

The article "Scientists say evolution fits" is a refreshing resurrection of an old controversy. It misses a point, however, that all of the articles on this issue I have read over the years also miss - the idea that evolution could be not an alternative to an intelligent creation of the universe but a result enabled by an intelligently designed universe.

As an engineer, a physical scientist and a volunteer at the Maryland Science Center, I regularly deal with the undeniable evidence that evolution exists.

As time goes on, everything in the physical world is constantly changing. Animals change, plants change, the Earth changes, stars change, live and die. This is, without any question, an indication that everything in the universe is in a state of flux and therefore evolving into something different than it was last week or in the last millennia.

Some say that all these changes are a result of the actions of natural forces, of random collision of atoms or the natural selection of the survival of the fittest.

However, all of these explanations depend on the existence of orderly interactions of what are called laws of nature.

What I would like to see discussed - by people better able to do so than I am - is whether these laws of nature were designed by some unknowable superior intelligence in such a way that the evolution we observe all the time can exist.

Sidney Rankin

Baltimore

Loss of freedoms is happening here

Citizens should heed Leonard Pitts Jr.'s warning in his column "Imagine the worst: It can happen here" (Opinion

Commentary, Jan. 6).

The "it" is fascism.

The title should be changed, however, to "It is happening here."

The change from an open society to a fascist one is a process, and as the column points out, some of the foundations for American fascism are already in place.

Under the Military Commission Act of 2006, the president has sole authority to designate anyone an enemy combatant and to detain that person indefinitely without recourse to a habeas corpus review.

Put another way, under the law, the president can, acting arbitrarily, lock any American citizen away forever.

More recently, the House passed the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007. Senate action on this bill is pending.

If implemented, the law would establish a temporary commission to report on internal subversion in the United States and a permanent body to study political dissent as a potential threat.

Complacency in the face of such threats to liberty is akin to complicity.

John Bailey

Edgemere

How state calculates the sales tax owed

Speaking for myself only, and not as an official representative of the office of the comptroller, I feel compelled to defend the tax computations of the comptroller's office.

The tax schedules for the state are all based on a median number within a range.

This means that, in the example noted in a letter on Monday ("Fuzzy math inflates state tax increase," Jan. 7), the tax on the pack of chewing gum that falls in the range of 51 cents to 66 cents is calculated based on a number halfway between 51 cents and 66 cents.

The difference between 51 cents and 66 cents is 15 cents, and 15 cents divided in half is 7.5 cents.

Fifty-one cents plus 7.5 cents becomes (rounded up) 59 cents - and that is the figure on which the tax on the pack of chewing gum in question is calculated.

So the tax on the pack of gum is calculated as $0.59 times 0.06, or $0.0354. And because dollars use only two decimal positions, $0.0354 is rounded and becomes $0.04 - or 4 cents in sales tax.

Just so everyone is comfortable with this concept, remember that the same sorts of calculations were used for the 5 percent sales tax.

Michael Calo

Glen Burnie

The writer is a computer programmer and an analyst for the state comptroller's office.

City must protect historic train station

When a museum opens in a major American city, it's not supposed to shut down less than a decade later. And yet that's just what has happened to the Baltimore Civil War Museum and the Fells Point Maritime Museum under the stewardship of the Maryland Historical Society ("Save the station," editorial, Dec. 29).

Both institutions were the outgrowth of community efforts to create educational opportunities for residents and visitors alike. Those at the Maryland Historical Society responsible for the closings should hang their heads in shame for their failure to keep faith with this public trust.

The city now has the future of President Street station - the historic building that housed the Civil War Museum - in its hands. It should not compound the Historical Society's failure by giving in to the desires of commercial developers who see this as another potential real estate boondoggle.

It is shortsighted to view these properties only in terms of their potential to increase the city's tax base.

President Street station, in particular, is one of Baltimore's most prominent historic sights. It is America's oldest existing urban rail passenger station, having been built in 1849 on the site of an earlier station, some of which still exists only inches below ground.

It is a well-documented landmark of the Underground Railroad that is important to the African-American community.

And it was the sight of the beginning of the Battle of Pratt Street - also known as the Baltimore riot of April 1861 - which resulted in the first combat fatalities of the Civil War.

The city should seriously consider the B&O; Railroad Museum's offer of stewardship.

Heritage tourism is an important economic force in the area and will only increase with the coming 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

At the very least, a public-private partnership should be encouraged, with covenants on the properties to protect and promote the historic significance of the buildings and Baltimore's role in the growth of our nation.

Steve Bunker

Gray, Maine

The writer is president emeritus of the Friends of President Street Station.

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