Intelligent Design Film Expelled! Gets a Positive Review

Of course, it’s from the American Spectator’s resident Intelligent Design author Tom Bethell, who is hardly one to bite his own hand, which feeds him. His review is the usual mantra of half-truths and bizarre characterizations. He even manages to slander religious scientists like Kenneth Miller by claiming that they put “diplomacy before truth” in their acceptance of evolution.

As we all suspected, this review confirms the use of Stein touring Holocaust death camps, pawning his Jewish heritage to pimp Intelligent Design:

In the movie there are somber moments, as when Stein visits World War II death camps and traces the Nazi philosophy back to the godless Darwinian world in which fitness must prevail and everything is permitted.

With statements this confused, it’s always difficult to know where to start.

What does Bethel mean by “in which fitness must prevail”? Must why? In the real world, whenever there is competition over limited resources, fitness does tend to prevail. In fact, Bethel, being something of an ultra-capitalist, precisely the sort of moral an adherent to this idea that he falsely accuses biologists of being! I doubt he appreciates the irony.

Of course, creationists always get this wrong in any case, echoing the core mistake of the eugenics movement (which, contrary to creationist myth, existed long before Darwin, and was never a direct overlap with evolutionary biology). In an evolutionary sense, fitness is always and only ever the particular traits that turn out to be well attuned to the demands of the competition. There is no “universal” fitness, no single standard one could artificially choose and declare to be objectively best.

Nor does anything about this natural reality morally mandate a competition in the first place, or really mandate anything at all. While there have been strains of thinkers who took observations from nature and suggested that human behavior should emulate them, most scientists have counseled the opposite, especially today. Indeed, the latter half of most Darwin quotes that creationists leave out contain Darwin’s defense of moral sentiments and explanations as to why vicious backbiting competition is neither what evolution always favors, nor what we as people do or should desire.

So you’d have a hard time finding a biologist today, or even in any era, who believed that nature was an exact guide to moral oughts. And Bethel and Stein are, it should go without saying, flat out lying when they imply that evolutionary biologists believe that “everything” should be permitted. I doubt they can name even one.

Bethel, does make one truly amazing admission in his diatribe, however:

The real question about the evolution of life by Darwinian means is not whether it is brutish or cruel or chilling or helpful to conservatism or harmful to it, but whether it is true.

Ah yes: so after endless historically hysterical argumentum ad Hitlerum now we find out that what really matters is the evidence. Somehow, I don’t detect a great deal of sincerity in this perfunctory dedication to evidence as an afterthought.

And like the rest of his peers, Bethel is deeply clueless when it comes to this eleventh hour attempt at understanding the science. Take this:

But fossils can’t reveal ancestry so in the end they don’t get us very far.

Wrong. Fossil morphology is, in fact, an extremely powerful tool for triangulating ancestral relationships, especially when combined with geological and genetic techniques. Don’t get us very far? They’ve gotten us a coherent tree of life that matches up to virtually every piece of subsequent evidence on the planet, in fine detail. Fossils aren’t, as many creationists seem to think, the be all and end all of demonstrating the reality of evolutionary change and common descent. But they have been wildly successful at helping us get a picture of the particulars of natural history as they happened on Earth.  Ancestry is exactly what they’re good for.

Bethel is likely mangling some misheard discussion of how fossils are usually not high enough in their fidelity to establish certain species to species rankings for strict systematics. Mangling, or, more likely just misrepresenting.

Because is Bethel is certainly not above just flat out lying. Here’s one of his National Review articles on intelligent design where he gives the usual bizarre creationist “account of the evidence for evolution” which consists of, for some reason, just a collection of paraphrased quotes and scattered creationist talking points, rather than anything approaching a comprehensive review of the subject.

Just to pick on a few of the nastier nits, Bethel includes a couple of quotes from paleontologist Colin Patterson, a common target of creationist quote-mining. Suffice to say that Bethel’s presentation of Patternsons comments, particularly their scope and implications, is grossly misleading.

And then there’s bats.

Bats, for example — the only mammals capable of powered flight — appear suddenly in the fossil record, with their sonar systems already fully developed. “There are no half bats,” as a world expert on bats once said.

As any decent scientists knows, the fact that we don’t have a good fossil example of something is hardly surprising, nor does it imply anything about the likelihood of the sort of ancestors Bethel is scoffing at. The fossil record is like a random but decidedly incomplete sample of past life on earth, and will always be. But unfortunately for folks like Bethel, it’s one that’s everyday giving up further secrets… all of which, coincidentally, conform to the evolutionary picture (an amazing convergence of evidence which Bethel makes no attempt to explain).

Because as it happens, a recent fossil discovery revealed exactly the sort of bat ancestor: Onychonycteris finneyi, a species which has features distinctive of primitive bats, which flew, but which did not have a developed “sonar” system.

And let’s be clear: Bethel wasn’t just accidentally wrong on this one case. He holds a deeply confused view of evolution and the nature of scientific evidence that makes such mistakes and failures are inevitable.

The best part is that he’ll never have to own up for it. Bats and flood geology and thermodynamics are so last year; why revisit inconveniently incorrect talking points? Insisting that your ideas aren’t religious, and then crying religious discrimination when they are criticized or held to account scientifically… that’s the new ID emo.


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