Expelled! Coming to a TV Near You: Southern Baptists to Air 30-Min Promotion for Creationist Documentary

March 31, 2008

According to Blue Collar Scientist and HJ Live a half hour Expelled! infomercial is now slotted for FAMNET, the cable television ministry of the Southern Baptist Convention.

If you’re prepared to tune in at approximately 3:30am EST, I’m sure you’ll be in for a whirlwind of conclusive scientific evidence stock footage of Nazis.

Roving Bands of Eunuchs Seek to Steal Your Johnson: We Thought We Had it Bad With “Gay Panic”

March 31, 2008

I didn’t understand half the cultural concepts mentioned when I first read this article: why there are roving bands of eunuchs in India at all, what a “male issue” is (an elaborate term for baby boy?), and why, exactly a group of eunuchs would forcibly chop off some poor kids’ private parts. To be honest, it sounded much like yet another element of the so-called “penis panics” that have from time to time erupted in some Asian cultures.

But from this news of the weird tidbit I stumbled onto yet another intriguing wrinkle in culture and sexuality I’d been completely ignorant of.

Read the rest of this entry »

I’m Done With Hillary Clinton: Two Unavoidable Unacceptables for a Democratic 2008

March 31, 2008

I’m a Democrat. I give money. I’ve work campaigns, both as a volunteer and as paid staff. I’m realistic and critical of my party (and open to criticism in return) but when it comes to fellow Democrats, candidates and activists, loyalty still matters a great deal to me. The party doesn’t reflect everything I believe in the way I believe, but it is the direction I want the country to head, and that’s what it comes down to. I have no apologies.

No matter what, I will vote for a Democrat this November: Clinton, Obama, whatever. I began this political season almost irritated that I had to make a choice between two candidates that rated about even in my book in nearly every way. Both have unique strengths and correspondingly worrisome weaknesses. I could have staked a claim on either one of them.

But at this point, I’m simply done with the Clintons. Not just for this race, but period. No matter what happens from here on forward, I’ve just had enough. I have friends who are dedicated to her, and whose political careers are linked to her fate. And it’s been truly difficult to get to this point.

Read the rest of this entry »

Why Ben Stein’s Expelled! Documentary is a Waste of Your Time: A Christian Anti-Review

March 31, 2008

The producers of Expelled! have done a masterful job of insisting that their film speaks dangerous and important truths that have been silenced. They all but imply that unless you shill out 10$ to see their film, you’re part of the conspiracy, or scared to face their challenge.

It’s easy to forget that this stance is, simply, ridiculous. The film doesn’t contain even a single allegation or argument that hasn’t already been debated to death elsewhere. It certainly, in 90 minutes of running time, cannot present ANY side of any issue issue in anywhere near the amount of depth found in books or blogs: even purely pro-Intelligent Design websites contain more detailed content in a single days’ posting than the film can squeeze in alongside its “edgy” (i.e. inexpensive padding) deployment of stock footage and musical montages.

The only thing particularly unique about Expelled! is that it is bizarrely oblivious to the devastating objections already raised against its core arguments, in some cases decades ago. It’s as if none of these arguments (the vast majority of which, coincidentally scientists won pretty decisively) ever happened. The producers have even had, in the face of the movie’s selectively enforced ignorance, the incredible gall to brag that no one had responded to their substantive arguments… before yet again scrambling in fear when someone actually tried to respond.

So why should anyone bother paying to see the film? Henry Neufeld, who calls himself a moderate Christian, makes the best case Ive seen so far as to why most people should not, utterly regardless of whether they are interested in its subject matter or what side they support. In doing so, I think he sums up the core problems with the film better than any anti-Expelled blogger I’ve yet seen, including myself (I’ve been struggling unsuccessfully to boil it all down into a nice press primer for some time). Here’s the overview of his basic objections, each of which is well argued in more detail on his blog, and any of which are damning flaws.

  1. Misrepresentation of evolution
  2. First amendment issues are badly confused
  3. Academic freedom doesn’t guarantee you a job or tenure
  4. The problem for intelligent design is not that it hasn’t been considered
  5. The connection of evolution with Hitler
  6. The lie that accepting the theory of evolution is the equivalent of atheism

Back when the film was first announced, the producers scoffed at all the early criticism they received, making fun of folks that would dare characterize a film they had yet to see. And yet, now that the film has been seen and reviewed several times over, there seems to be little reason to question our original low expectations. All of our predictions were, if anything, too generous.

Personally, as a student of political pushback and as someone that wants to be able to pick apart the film’s claims in detail for others, I’ll be seeing the movie. As a good capitalist, I’ll even pay for the odious privilege. But unless you have my bizarre collections of interests and ambitions, save your money.

The movie is nothing more than the real life version of a messageboard troll. And what’s the cardinal rule of dealing with trolls? Do. not. feed.

Science Is Unspeakably Cruel!

March 31, 2008

Curse you, science.

PZ Myers Finds an Expelled! Party He Can Crash: Gonzo Creationist Call Outs

March 28, 2008

What if you held an on-message conference call to promote your movie, and everybody came?

Well, the producers of Expelled did just that, and amongst everybody was the last person they wanted to hear from: PZ Myers. Myers listened to them go on and on, but when they started claiming that no one had ever “addressed the content of the movie,” he couldn’t let that stand, and he spoke up and jumped all over them.

Now, this sort of thing isn’t quite my MO, but in this case, I’m with Myers all the way. The Expelled producers have been presenting themselves as brave truth-tellers just looking for a debate, but in reality they’ve been hiding in a tightly controlled bubble of evangelical adoration and press releases. They deserve to get called out on this hypocrisy. I’ve been trying to call them out on this cowardice for some time.

Anyone who’s been reading this blog, or nearly ANY science-friendly blog that’s covered this movie has seen countless posts addressing the claims Stein and his cohorts make in this movie. We’ve covered all of their subjects in FAR far more detail than they have. And we’ve seen almost nothing in return. It’s the standard creationist crackup: they throw out a huge list of plausible sounding but ultimately cynically false claims and then can’t be bothered to stick around and seriously defend them. Instead, they just rush on to the next venue and repeat the same stuff all over again as if no one had ever pointed out their duplicity.

For a concrete example, just compare and contrast something for me. Here’s PZ Myers objecting to the film’s Darwin = Hitler hokum and one of Stein’s rambling anti-Darwin blogs. Here’s the response from the producers.

Who is dodging “substance” here? Myers takes their arguments to pieces, specifically and directly. He’s certainly not nice about it, but he doesn’t dodge their claims, he cuts right into them. Their response? Not to address his points. Not to defend their arguments. Instead they spend thousands of words hinting about the “thought police” and making fun of Myers for actually spending time responding to their harmless little posts!

We’ll see how long they can keep up this little game. We’ll see how long they can keep ignoring the arguments of their critics and hopping from one right-wing think-tank ego-strokefest to another. We’re waiting.

Update: Rebecca over at SkepChick has the audio of the conference call in question.

Best Review of Intelligent Design Film Expelled! Yet

March 27, 2008

Quidam, over at the deceptively named Antievolution messageboards, has decided to review the gallantly Godwinizing creationist film Expelled! in the form of interpretive photoshop:

My next movie will take on the pernicious influence of Sauerkraut!

Brilliant, boyo.

Totally Made Up, Unilateral Blog Carnival! (And a Tiny Bit on Expelled!)

March 27, 2008

It’s time for another survey of stuff worth reading on the internet, so let’s pretend that I’m hosting some sort of esoteric Blog Carnival. Topic? ME! (And for those readers who are getting sick of Expelled musings, good news: I’ve exiled them to the end of this post)

Anyway, let’s get this thing started with a review of the home-birth-homage film “The Business of Being Born” from someone who might know a little about the subject: family practice doc Harriet Hall. Personally, I think she’s nuts to worry about all the hospital-hate in the film. Doctors are dangerous! That’s why I’m planning on going for an “all-natural” coronary artery bypass when my time comes.

Next, Ed Darrell over at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub points us towards both Cracked list of 11 Movies Saved by Historical Inaccuracy (in which we learn that Mel Gibson’s Patriot hero was, in real life, a notorious slave rapist) and Yahoo’s own similar listing of Greatest Historical Goofups (in which we learn that Mel Gibson’s Braveheart hero would have had to have sex with a three year old to make any sense). Both lists need to apologize for the ridiculousness of calling 2001: A Space Odyssey “historically” inaccurate. It’s called Science-FICTION, guys.

Over at Exploring Our Matrix, religious religion prof James F. McGrath asks “Can (the story of) Noah’s Ark Be Saved?” I’m not sure if his answer is yes or no, exactly but I’m pretty sure that whatever it is, it’s the right answer. The stories of Noah and Job cannot be reconciled any better to modern morals than they can to modern science. That doesn’t mean that we cannot learn things from them (whether believers learning about God, or even non-believers learning about believers).

Then we have Hemant at Friendly Atheist who sees Jesus everywhere he looks. Fair warning though: be prepared to squint.

To pad out my fake Carnival, I’ll also note Bug Girl’s submission to the all-too-real 83rd Skeptic’s Circle/Carnival. The title is simply irresistible: Pubic Lice: “Sea monkeys in your pants” Speaks for itself, right?

Finally, if you want to know more about my sense of humor, here’s Exhibit A: new internet sensations FAIL blog and Stuff White People Like.

Oh, and in case you yourself had PHAILed to notice it, that big honking graphic over on the top right goes to Expelled Exposed, the soon-to-be official National Center for Science Education response to that expelled movie thingy everyone has been going on and on about. I highly recommend other bloggers doing something similarly prominent to get the word out: feel free to steal my graphic if you’re lazy.

It’s also worth noting that, for some unknown reason, this teensy blog is actually the or at least amongst the top results when you search for information on the film, which is pretty odd, because I almost never post about the darn thing. While I’m flattered, Internet, I can’t help but think that other science sites should be up there instead.

Finally, as I noted over at Skepchick, what is probably one of the most crucial Google search terms in this little PR war, “expelled movie,” didn’t have a single critical, pro-science site on the all-important first page of results. But then, lo and behold, the very day after I complain about it, Phil Plait and I break into the big time! Somehow, I have gained the power to move digital mountains.


More Detailed Expelled! Review/Overview & Lying About the Origins of Life

March 26, 2008

Probably the most in-depth account of the film yet: Josh Timonen has written up his basic summary of how the Intelligent Design film Expelled! tries to make its case.

There’s a lot to digest in his account, but in a way, not very much new to talk about. As I’ve noted, there just isn’t a heck of a lot that’s new to the science/creationism debate in this film: it’s like a recently released greatest hits album from a long-defunct 70s band… and they couldn’t even bother to slap together any unreleased tracks or a new cut or anything.

Just to hit on a single aspect while we’re at it: you can’t get much more pathetic than dragging out the Miller-Urey experiment and then claiming that:

  1. it was meant to create life
  2. nothing happened

Both claims are simply ludicrous. The whole point of the Miller-Urey experiment, the whole reason that it’s in textbooks, is that the result was, in fact, very surprising, especially considering the very modest expectations going into it. To not explain what that result was, or to paint the thing as if it were some sort of Frankenstein-switch-throwing-dud… it’s almost criminal.

As should be obvious, Miller and Urey never purported to be creating life, and no textbook claims that this is what they did. What they discovered were that the distinctive amino acid building blocks of carbon-based life as we know it were, in fact, not the universal rarity that scientists had previously assumed.

As it happens, Miller and Urey were working with what was a very preliminary model of what the early earth was like: a simulation that we now know was likely not representative of the general environment. But, also as it happens, this actually boosts the importance of their find, rather than diminishing it: it’s significant that they didn’t have to endlessly tinker and fine tune their experiment to produce these molecules. They got them even just with a very sloppy early attempt. And, as we now know, these molecules form under a very broad range of possible early earth conditions (including those that we now think are more accurate), as well as other key molecules found to form in the conditions of asteroids and other space debris that the early earth was constantly being pelted with (a simple scientific reality that Expelled! apparently tries to ridicule or avoid by lumping it under the decidedly more speculative and whimsical idea of panspermia).

It’s one thing to note that life on earth is made up of the basic raw materials found in the universe and on planets like Earth (carbon, nitrogen, etc.) That’s interesting, but there’s little in the way of specific structure or organization implied there. What Miller and Urey demonstrated was that much of the distinctive core alphabet of molecules that all life on Earth is now composed of… are found forming naturally in the very times and places were we know life likely began. Not only that, but recently studies into the have found that, guess what, the sequences of modern DNA that seem most ancient contain substantially higher amounts of the very sections of the amino acid alphabet that experiments like Miller/Urey’s have shown most readily form in early Earth conditions.

Again: this isn’t the be all and end all of demonstrating that life began via chemical processes, or even answering the question of exactly how. We most certainly do not yet know how life began: no one does. But for those who are actually interested in someday having an explanation, rather than just an opaque theology, it’s incredibly significant: an extremely suggestive finding that, were it not to imply something about the origins of life, would otherwise have to be a pretty amazing coincidence.

There’s really no way for creationists to spin away the implications. So, as we will apparently see yet again in Expelled!, they simply lie about it.

Addendum: I probably should have linked to it in the original brouhaha over Myers’ expulsion, but his daughter Skatje also has her own write-up of the film available.

It’s Ok to Slap a Woman as Long as its Over a Baptism Dispute

March 25, 2008

Meet footballer (that’s AMERICAN footballer) Cedric Wilson: former wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Why former? Dude hit his girlfriend, apparently out at a bar. Fair enough. Not acceptable behavior on the Steelers.

Now meet linebacker James Harrison:

On March 8, Harrison was charged with assaulting his girlfriend, Beth Tibbot, in her Ohio Township home. According to a police affadavit, Harrison broke down a door, broke Tibbot’s cell phone in half as she attempted to call 911, then slapped her face with an open hand, knocking off her glasses. He was charged with simple assault and criminal mischief and faces an April 3 preliminary hearing before a magistrate in Bellevue.(emphasis added)

Sounds like some pretty messed up behavior, no? Well, according to the teams’ chairman, Harrison’s place on the team is secure, because he had a good reason. What reason? Here’s the chairman’s explanation:

“What Jimmy Harrison was doing and how the incident occurred, what he was trying to do was really well worth it,” Rooney said of Harrison’s initial intent with his son. “He was doing something that was good, wanted to take his son to get baptized where he lived and things like that. She said she didn’t want to do it.”

Now, I know believers have every reason to think that baptisms are good and important things to do to their children. But I hope everyone, believer or non, would still agree that baptisms are not exactly the sort of immediate emergency situation that would make it “really well worth it” to break through a door, destroy a cell phone being used by a frightened woman to dial the police, and slap that woman in the face.

HT: Feministing and Skepchick.

Expelled! Producers Scramble Over Bad PR from Myers/Dawkins Screening. Internet: Alerted

March 25, 2008

The folks responsible for Expelled!, our favorite feckless film project, are now busy celebrating the fact that they are being laughed at. Apparently borne of a bout of bitter vindictiveness, producer Mark Mathis’s decision to ban one of his interviewees (PZ Myers) from one of the film’s early showings has finally given them the sort of bad publicity that they’ve been craving. So it’s hard to feel too bad for them.

But the attempt to spin the story is now becoming something of a story in itself (which is good, because honestly, I think the otherwise fleeting incident has been getting more lasting attention at this point than it deserves). The film’s production company has now issued the usual unctuous defense-via-press-release, confusing getting lots of attention by via buffoonery as the same thing as being the most popular kid in school. PZ Myers, the amused anathema himself, picks its claims to pieces. It’s almost unnecessary. Just about every story they’ve put out on this incident has been different, and then all of those interpretations belied by the facts. They keep alleging that their critics are lying… but then failing to explain how and about what.

On the official Expelled! blog, the task of mustering a blustery defense apparently fell to the spacey “Deacon Blue.” This is the same mysterious Steely Dan fan who once posted a diatribe so strange and disjointed that it was actually scrubbed from the blog entirely. In it, Deacon expressed a devotion for Ben Stein’s own jumbled ranting that bordered on the psychotic:

And if we re-read Ben Stein’s words here again and again (as I have)…we may still not quite comprehend the full implications of his thoughts. But keep trying, if you misunderstood them…it’s worth it. (emphasis, amazingly, in the original)

Deacons’ non-defense of the conduct of the producers is of a piece with the rest of their effort: full of innuendo and sneering implications, but seemingly incapable of defending any substantive point or accusation. Instead, it’s all summed up with repeating hinting that because people are laughing at their clumsiness, that this means that their enemies are scared of them.

We’re all beginning to wonder: are striking these poser attitudes all creationists have left at this point? They’re hip rebels. They’re resolute victims. They’re selfless martyrs. Jazz hands!

Ok, but didn’t you guys used to claim that you had, you know, some good scientific arguments? I mean, you still say you do, but it seems almost as if you’re so embarrassed by them yourselves that you can’t do more than occasionally reference them in criticism free venues before quickly moving on to apparently deeper and serious matters like calling everyone Hitler and claiming to celebrate academic freedom without apparently understanding what the “academic” part means or requires.

If you don’t believe me, check out this account of another recent Expelled! screening’s Q&A session, in which security guards roving the crowd of questioners help deflect uncomfortable comments from any non-plant questioners.

Richard Dawkins Reviews Ben Stein’s Evolutionarily Ignorant “Expelled!”

March 23, 2008

The review pulls no punches, and all sound well deserved.

He does entirely too much of the “expulsion” of PZ Myers from the showing. He’s right on every point of course, but it’s too much of a trivial event rehashed when the film itself is the issue, and it seems to come at the expense of getting the sort of detailed summary of the film’s claims. Still, what is there does not disappoint:

Stein has no talent for comedy, as he demonstrates in a weird joke about scratching his back, which falls completely flat. But his attempt to do tragedy is even worse. He visits Dachau and, when informed by the guide that lots of Jews had been killed there, he buries his face in his hands as though this is the first time he has heard of it. Obviously it was not his intention, but I thought his rotten acting was an insult to the memory of the victims.

Indeed. I seriously can’t think of anything more sickening about this film than the flogging of Holocaust victims just to help beat the drum of Stein’s historically inept ideology. Real historians all snort in derision, at best, at the ludicrously simplistic and grossly selective connections Stein and Co. draw between Darwin and the Nazi gas chambers. But because Expelled! cannot seriously debate scientists on the evolutionary evidence for any length of time, little is left to do but to grab Godwin and run with it.

Dawkins explanation of the way the film mangles his discussion of alien designers (a hypothetical that Stein apparently asked him to speculate on in the first place) is also an excellent illustration of the sort of intellectual vacuity that pervades everything we’ve yet seen or heard from this production:

My concern here is that my science fiction thought experiment — however implausible — was designed to illustrate intelligent design’s closest approach to being plausible. I was most emphatically NOT saying that I believed the thought experiment. Quite the contrary. I do not believe it (and I don’t think Francis Crick believed it either). I was bending over backwards to make the best case I could for a form of intelligent design. And my clear implication was that the best case I could make was a very implausible case indeed. In other words, I was using the thought experiment as a way of demonstrating strong opposition to all theories of intelligent design.

Well, you will have guessed how Mathis/Stein handled this. I won’t get the exact words right (we were forbidden to bring in recording devices on pain of a $250,000 fine, chillingly announced by some unnamed Gauleiter before the film began), but Stein said something like this. “What? Richard Dawkins BELIEVES IN INTELLIGENT DESIGN.” “Richard Dawkins BELIEVES IN ALIENS FROM OUTER SPACE.”

This, along with Stein’s sarcastic shock over “mud crystals” as one of the abiogenetic theories proposed for the formation of self-reproducing molecules, really doesn’t speak well of the film’s intellectual depth. Ideas, even if hypothetical or speculative, are simply declared ludicrous without getting more than a few seconds summary of the issues involved.

One could very easily make a film about quantum mechanics that would have audiences rolling in the aisles with how ridiculous it all is. It wouldn’t be an honest film, though.