Did Religion Evolve to… Divide Humanity?

August 1, 2008

That’s what two scientists from University of New Mexico are claiming in a recently published study. The gist is that people seem to do better against infectious diseases when they are fractured and isolated into various societies and sects. Thus, we would expect to see a far greater diversity of religious sects in tropical areas with many dangerous infectious diseases. And, apparently, we do.

“Why does Cote d’Ivoire have 76 religions while Norway has 13, and why does Brazil have 159 religions while Canada has 15 even though in both comparisons the countries are similar in size?” they ask.

The reason is that religion helps to divide people and reduce the spread of diseases, which are more common the hotter the country, the research suggests.

Any society that increased its coherence by adopting a religion, and dealt less with local groups with other beliefs as a result of cultural isolation, gained an advantage in being less likely to pick up diseases from its neighbors, and in the longer term to have a slightly different genetic makeup that may offer protective effects, for instance by making them less susceptible to a virus.

Unless there’s more to it, this strikes me as a remarkably weak argument. I can think of a heck of a lot of other factors that set tropical areas apart from, say, Norway, in ways that seem much more relevant to the development of religious sects. Poverty is a huge one. Lack of education. Lack of, well, health care to deal with the misery of disease. Maybe the researchers have controlled for all these other, more plausible effects, but I don’t see any discussion of this critical methodological challenge in the article.

And, of course, there’s always the alternative model of causation: it’s religious differences that cause disease, as the one-true God smites those who try to get too creative in their worship!

Off topic, but can anyone explain what the final sentence of the article means? Is it just a editing oversight? Because it doesn’t seem to make much sense:
In earlier work, the team linked the rise in the numbers of women who worked with left wing and liberal politics.
Linked them… with what? If they just mean that they tracked the rise of women on the left, that would make sense, but “linked” implies some sort of further correlation, no?

Wafer Desecrated: PZ Myers Makes Good on His Threat & More Besides

July 24, 2008

Well, for better, and probably for worse, PZ Myers has done as he promised and treated a communion wafer in a manner unbecoming of the sacred, all to definitively demonstrate that, indeed, he doesn’t think these things are sacred. For good measure, he trashed not only the wafer, but also some torn pages of the Koran, and even torn pages of Dawkins’ writings.

This is one of those odd situations in which I know what other people will likely think far better than I know what to think.

Read the rest of this entry »

Anti-Evolution Doc Expelled Really Is Trying for a Theatrical Comeback!

July 19, 2008

Looks like those vague hints and rumors were indeed authentic: Ben Stein’s anti-science opus Expelled is going to be re-released later this summer.

The rationale, however, strikes be as pure hype:

“We had many individuals and groups who had planned to see the film, but decided not to because the cloud of doubt this lawsuit brought to the film,” noted one of the film’s producers, John Sullivan.

Riiiiight. Because an obscure lawsuit based on copyright claims that few people outside of nuts like myself that follow these things ever heard about had a chilling effect on ordinary moviegoers.

Now, it might have been reasonable for Sullivan to note that the Ono lawsuit hurt the distribution efforts of the film, which it almost certainly did, and that this hurt their momentum.

But this production has always favored incoherently overwrought rhetoric over honest appraisal. Does Sullivan really expect anyone to seriously believe that any moviegoers at all avoided the film because of the lawsuit? Were they afraid that Ono would have thugs stationed outside the theaters threatening anyone who dared to watch it? Conflicted fans of both the Beatles and Ben Stein that held off declaring their allegiances until the legal issues were resolved?

“We came out of the gate with strong momentum only to have our integrity questioned by this frivolous lawsuit. While we’re thrilled with the film’s having earned nearly $8 million during its first run; we’ve heard from enough people and groups who want to see it in their theaters that we’ve agreed to re-release it this time without an undeserved cloud over its head.”

Because, of course, the only “cloud” over the film’s head was an obscure copyright lawsuit and not, well, you know, most critics panning it, sciencebloggers raking it over the coals for its distortions and slander, the ADL condemning it, and so on.

And this paragraph makes the “cloud” reasoning even more ridiculous. People obsessive enough to demand the immediate re-screening of a film which will likely be out on DVD in a few months are not the sort of people who would have stayed away the first time… based on the mere existence of a copyright lawsuit against the film.

“We will not be silenced. In fact it will have the opposite effect: we will re-release it and allow millions of Americans to go to the box office and register their vote against Ms. Ono and her attempt to keep them from watching our film.”

As John Pieret has pointed out, something is funky with the math here. Given that Expelled made about 7.5 million during its run, and ticket prices were generally in the range of 8 dollars and up, then at best the film got about a million viewers (not counting the fact that some percentage of people would have been repeats). The odds are astronomically low that any hypothetical second run would match that, let alone exceed it.

And indeed, despite all the hype, it looks like the producers know that, and that the “re-release” is not quite akin to a remastered Star Wars. At the end of the article, they note that they have 1000 prints of the film ready to go. Which is a rather far cry from “1000 different theaters already booked to show the film”: the sort of thing you might expect from an announcement about an impending re-release. As far as I can tell, this is all just hyperbolic way of announcing that the producers, free from the injunction, are now willing to lease out old prints to anyone who wants them.

Which all strikes me as sort of pathetic coming from an outfit that once seemed to sincerely believe that they would be sparking off a vast nationwide movement. We still don’t know whether the filmmakers actually broke even after their production and marketing costs.

The Best Book on Atheism Out Today

May 24, 2008

No, it’s not from Dawkins, or Hitchens, or even Harris.  It’s David Ramsay Steele’s “Atheism Explained: From Folly to Philosophy.”   Presented as a sort of primer on all the common atheist responses to theist claims, Steele’s book bears far more in common with George Smith’s classic “Atheism: The Case Against God” (which itself used to be the token atheist work in Barnes & Noble philosophy bookshelves long before Dawkins came along) than anything else.

Steele is clean, concise, and straight to the point, with a refreshing minimum of rhetoric and diverting character assaults.  The result is a nice, nearly encyclopedic compendium of atheistic responses that is well worth a place on the bookshelf, and far better than most slapdash internet sources.

While much of his material might be old hat to old hands at these sorts of philosophical matters (the relatively perfunctory discussion of evolution in my case), this is a weakness borne of the need to be fairly comprehensive in a relatively short work.  There is still a pleasure in seeing the same arguments explained well, particularly when some of his strongest objections to things like the “free will” defense of evil, or the “improbability” of existence, are also some of the rarest encountered in these sorts of debates.  He also includes a much-needed discussion of some of the core belief claims specific to Islam.

Of course, theists now often complain that the philosophical objections that atheists have to god beliefs never change: that the new atheists have little to offer over the old.  But I think there is a far more plausible alternative: it is theists who merely repeat the same arguments, and arguments that are false or unconvincing one day will continue to be for the same reasons tomorrow.  All that matters is the strength of these arguments, and whether critics can really deal with them, as opposed to merely finding ways to dismiss them.

Whether his arguments are old or new, Steele leaves very little wiggle room for apologists, even in the small amount of space he’s allowed himself.  Certainly a single book can never anticipate and respond to every possible objection, and critics of atheism are bound to have plenty.  But what he has down on paper gives me every reason to suspect who’d dominate further rounds of debate as well.

Even More Journalists Review Stein’s Expelled! Movie …And Pan it

April 4, 2008

This latest pan comes from Felix Salmon at Condé Nast Portfolio (a relatively new business magazine). He notes yet another “martyr” story that turns out to fall apart rather quickly when you look past what the movie tells you:

My favorite bit, unsurprisingly, was when the film quoted Pamela Winnick thusly:

If you give any credence at all to Intelligent Design, you are just finished as a journalist.

Not at the New York Times you’re not, clearly.

Winnick is presented in the film for all the world as a diligent journalist – a Jewish journalist, no less – who just happened to mention Intelligent Design, en passant, in one of her columns, and ended up getting fired.

Omitted from the film: any indication that Winnick is the author of “A Jealous God: Science’s Crusade Against Religion,” published in 2005 by Thomas Nelson. Or that in her journalism for the newspaper from which she was fired she talked of Darwin’s influence on eugenics and Hitler, and “the serious people –scientists included — who continue to challenge his theories.”

That’s actually even understating it a bit: Winnick is something of a polemicist who took a fellowship grant from a conservative think-tank to write about “why there seems to be little tolerance for teaching creationism in America.” Her repetition of creationist talking points throughout her writing is not exactly subtle (she calls evolution a “secular religion”), and she’s apparently an avid quote miner. As with Carolyn Crocker, the “just one tiny little mention” implication is simply ridiculous when you start to look into the facts.

After reading a lot of these sorts of reviews, it really seems the film is unlikely to break out of core demographic of evangelical Christians. It doesn’t seem to make any serious case against evolutionary theory: or even for Intelligent Design. It just assumes that its audience will buy accusations of witchhunts, gasp at atheists, and tearfully condemn “Darwinism” for making the Holocaust a reality, and just generally all nod in understanding, knowing intrinsically that evolution is ridiculous without having to have it demonstrated to them.

Mainstream journalists and movie-critics have almost universally cringed at the craven manipulation, particularly its exploitation of the Holocaust, and pretty much all of the glowing reviews have come from either right-wing talk show hosts or the very sorts of evangelical religious publications and organizations that have been on board and promoting the film from the start.

Which is not to say that even all conservative Christians are or will be convinced by it either.  It’s one thing to initially win over an audience that’s receptive to your overall message and accusations right from the start.  It’s quite another thing when viewers start digging deeper, beyond the big screen.

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.

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.

More Creationist Clips from Expelled!: These are the Horrible, Fire-Breathing Atheists?

March 23, 2008

Some more of the footage from the Intelligent Design film Expelled! is becoming available. In this case, it’s some of the footage that the producers bought from unwitting scientists like Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers, both of whom are, in addition to being scientist, are also proponents of atheism. That is, of course, no accident: the message of the film is that evolution is an ideology, not science, and trying to confuse scientific evidence with the personal opinions of atheists in particular is key to that strategy.

But geez: this is some pretty darn tame stuff:

No burning down the churches, no banning public expression of belief: just the hope that as people learn more, they will become less religious. This was the best they could get for their supposedly damning clips?

And really, this expression of secular hopes are not exactly the only view out there about how science affects religion and vice-versa. Though atheists like Dawkins and Myers are of course critical, there are plenty of other scientists like Francis Collins and Kenneth Miller who feel that their religious convictions were enhanced by their understanding of science, rather than hurt. As far as we know, based on the now numerous summaries of the films content (and honestly, there’s ultimately not too much of deep substance to begin with in any film), none of these sorts of voices receive honest recognition or expression as pretty obvious counter-examples against the “evolution is an atheist religion” accusation.

The fact that science makes some God some beliefs (like Young Earth Creationism) untenable and others (like more deistic beliefs) unnecessary is a consequence of the scientific evidence, not the cause of it. That the filmmakers went to such dishonest lengths just to spend hours filming scientists talking about atheism, rather than science, just goes to show how desperate they are to avoid confrontation with this reality.

Update: Somewhat late, but Rush Limbaugh apparently loved Expelled! Who could have seen that coming? Unfortunately, he doesn’t do much more than repeat, undefended, the same litany of accusations that the film pushes, and then somehow add all of this rambling ranting up to the conclusion that (the religious!) Democratic candidate for President, Barack Obama, is terrible for the country.

Expelled! Producers So Busy Expelling PZ Myers that They Missed Richard Dawkins

March 22, 2008

This is, indeed, downright hilarious.

The producers of the creationist fan-flick Expelled! have lately been shopping their movie to right-wing and religious outlets all over the country: screening it mostly for the rather bizarre purpose of trying to get activists on board to promote it when it opens.

At the very same time they’ve been bloviating about free speech and the merits of open discussion, they’ve been dodging any critical press questions, inventing new ways to completely avoid addressing substantive criticisms, and doing their best to make sure that critics are kicked out of their promotional film screenings.

They’ve screwed up on several occasions: accidentally inviting actual movie critics… who then refused to leave, refused to sign their “non-disclosure” gag orders, and then panned the film for its duplicity.

But now it seems like they’ve really slipped up: they apparently spent so much effort making sure that small-town scienceblogger PZ Myers would be screened out of a recent showing at the Mall of America that they completely missed none other than Richard Dawkins, coincidentally visiting from England.

Update: There are a just ridiculous number of resources discussing this event in more detail. PZ Myers has the best update, pointing out how Expelled! producer Mathis has been scrambling to come up with a plausible cover story for his behavior. He also refutes a bunch of fabrications from fans of the film about how he was supposedly being “disruptive” or that he and Dawkins were somehow gatecrashing the showing.

When the film’s own marketing company puts something like “YOUR NAME WILL BE ON A LIST AT THE DOOR. NO TICKET IS NEEDED. IDs WILL BE CHECKED” in their rsvp confirmation emails, you know that wild stories about how Myers was trying to break into the showing “without a ticket” when in fact he had registered like everyone else under his own name, are flatly phony.

Meanwhile, the same domain-name discrepancy I noted way back when with the producer’s claims to have innocently used “Crossroads” as a “working title” for the film is getting some new scrutiny from Wes Elsberry. To re-iterate, contrary to their protestations, the producers seem to have registered the Expelled! trademark (and, obviously, decided on the extremely one-sided message that title represents) months before they solicited interviews under the name “Crossroads.” And they even seem to have invented the “Rampant Films” company name and website to advance the deception further.

Update 2: Dawkins and PZ chat about their experience:

I’m inclined at this point to think that people are making a bit too much of this. It’s stupid and, as Dawkins said, inept on the part of the producers, but in the end not exactly front page news or even a particularly solid and unambiguous PR victory. It’s just one more example in a litany of examples of the bizarre, hypocritical, and dishonest nature of this production.

Update 3: Sean Carrol over at Cosmic Variance has a great post on the subsequent debate over whether Dawkins and PZ Myers are really helping or hurting “the cause” of advancing science and winning this debate over Intelligent Design in the public mind. Some real insight on what framers get wrong about the people they are trying to lecture into silence.

WorldNetDaily Gives Intelligent Design Flick Expelled! Two Thumbs Up

March 10, 2008

“Guest Lecturer” Jack Cahill, a regular columnist at the conservative crank rag WorldNetDaily, is the new feature on Expelled!’s promotional blog. Right off the bat, he stuns us: a handpicked audience of creationists (no outsiders allowed!) apparently loved the film, giving it a standing… well he doesn’t say “ovation” precisely… just that the film brought them to their feet at one point (perhaps during the part where it said “The End”?). Cahill isn’t quite so ambiguous in his own praise though:

Stein’s often funny, always engaging frontal assault on the oppressive neo-Darwinist establishment is arguably the smartest and most sophisticated documentary ever produced on the right side of the cultural divide, on any subject, ever.

We’ll have to see what that really says about conservative cinema. Then there’s this incredible claim:

Although the role Stein plays has been compared to the one Michael Moore plays in his film, the Stein persona is conspicuously brighter and more benign.

Nor do Stein and his producers resort to the kind of editing that make Moore movies something other than documentaries.

They don’t? So they’ll be releasing the full interview footage so we can see the truth of this claim for ourselves?

Stein resorts to no such tricks. He gives certain interview subjects all the time and all the rope they need to hang themselves, unedited.

We already know that this isn’t true: the preview footage of Dawkins very clearly cuts in and out of an ongoing line of thought, enough time for him to say that he’s “hostile to a rival doctrine” but not to explain which doctrine in specific or why (he’s apparently just hostile to all rivals, the batty madman is!) I’ll bet the farm that the rest of Dawkins’ full sentence is something along the lines of “I’m hostile to a rival [scientific] doctrine… that won’t play by the rules of the scientific method.”

As for Dawkins “admitting” that “Darwinism” has atheistic implications, it’s worth recalling that the lie the producers came up with to secure Dawkins’ participation was that they were making a film not on scientific evidence, but rather on the intersection of science and faith and getting Dawkin’s opinions about religion. Presenting Dawkins’ atheistic views and conclusions as the inevitable implications of evolutionary biology as a whole is thus pretty solidly of out context.

To Stein’s astonishment, Dawkins concedes that life might indeed have a designer but that designer almost assuredly was a more highly evolved being from another planet, not “God.”

Again, we already know that Dawkins did not concede any such thing: Dawkins has never ruled out the philosophical possibility of a designer: he’s argued that the evidence does not support it, and for most conceptions of a designer, is against it. Hardly the same thing at all. And as anyone who has read his writing on the subject would know that Dawkins is in this case musing over a particular speculative possibility given some set of assumptions, not making a claim that this is what he believes.

And… well, wait a minute, but that’s pretty much it. Aside from marveling at Stein hobnobbing with two other Jewish creationists at the Berlin wall and a bunch of clumsy swipes at other random issues, that’s the entire substance of the “review.” No explanation of what evidence the film provides demonstrating that Intelligent Design has scientific merit. No justification for any of the film’s accusations about unjustified persecution or presentation evidence contradicting evolution. Just that Stein is portrayed on film as getting the better of Dawkins (who from the perspective of biology as a field, is just some random zoologist, not the King of Biologists that Cahill seems to believe he is) in a misleading interview, which apparently makes Cahill gleeful, along with a whole lot of the usual posturing about how people have dared, dared, to criticize the film.

Cahill is, of course, not some random neutral observer: he’s been part of the Intelligent Design PR campaign for years now, most famously with his extensively debunked misrepresentations of the Richard Sternberg “discrimination” case featured in the film. Unfortunately, as seems to be the norm for this next generation of ID promoters, Cahill’s response to someone pointing out his manifold errors and misrepresentations was just as lacking in substance as this latest review: 90% whining about being called a hack, 10% just claiming that he was misrepresented, and 0% actually documenting any misrepresentation.

At least previous generations of ID proponents such as Michael Behe actually tried to make substantive arguments, even if they were misleading and ultimately unsuccessful. This new crop of cranks apparently can’t even keep up with that low standard.

Expelled Producers Expell More Intelligent Design Slime: Lies and Nonsense A’hoy

February 16, 2008

Marking “Darwin Day” (and also the original release date of their film), the producers of Expelled have penned yet another smirkingly amateur tirade against evolution on their official blog. They seemed to have discovered that Darwin’s Origin of the Species has a sub-title that includes the word “races” though they bizarrely then seem to agree that this word had nothing to do with human races, but was the 18th century term for “varieties.” Nevertheless, they include this as if it were some sort of shocking hidden secret in biology, despite the fact that every scientific or historical minded person on the planet already knows about it, and most have discussed it at length. And then it’s into a sanctimonious tirade about how they like Lincoln more than Darwin.

PZ Myers calls it a solid wall of lies and nonsense and gives it a pretty darn thorough debunking.

The gist is that highlighting the fact that Darwin was a man of his time, and shared the same racial prejudices as everyone else, is irrelevant to the validity of his science (which rests on the evidence for or against), irrelevant to the validity of evolution today (what Darwin thought is irrelevant except as historical and biographical interest), and deeply misleading to boot, at least as a comparison to Lincoln. Darwin and Lincoln BOTH shared the same racial prejudices (and not only them, but everyone of their era, including most of the African-American leaders of the nascent civil-rights movement like W.E.B. Du Bois). Myers quotes Lincoln to drive the point home, and it’s really worth a full read:

I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in anyway the social and political equality of the white and black races – that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race. I say upon this occasion I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position the negro should be denied everything.

The important thing for both Darwin and Lincoln is that while they both held these prejudices, and were lesser men for it, they were also far more progressive on race than most everyone else of their era, including many of the ancestors of the very religious right that’s behind Expelled. Darwin, in fact, may have been more progressive than Lincoln, in that he opposed slavery far more bluntly and directly, and did believe in some measure of political racial equality.

Of course, all of this, in this day and age, is pure posturing. Both men are dead. Both had ideas that were historically important to the development of our nation and our science, respectively, but neither is any sort of final or even current authority on anything. And no one pretends that they are… except for creationists.

The other big goof the Expelled Producers make is in trying to slam Dawkins as a supposed “hypocrite”

In his “The Ancestor’s Tale,” he posed the Welfare State as a challenge to Darwinism. When asked by an Austrian journalist in an interview (Die Presse -July 30, 2005) how he would justify that challenge?

Dawkins: “No self-respecting person would want to live in a Society that operates according to Darwinian laws. I am a passionate Darwinist, when it involves explaining the development of life. However, I am a passionate anti-Darwinist when it involves the kind of society in which we want to live. A Darwinian State would be a Fascist state.”

Or, in other words, “I really don’t want to think about it!”

Nonsense. There is a crucial and unavoidable distinction between describing what is, and proscribing what ought to be. It is the producers of Expelled that seem utterly blind to this distinction. What they see as someone like Dawkins not following through on “true” evolution is simply someone not following through on a deeply confused caricature. The argument here is as profoundly stupid as claiming that since physicists do not oppose the use of airplanes or hot air balloons, then they haven’t “really” thought about the theory of gravity.

The only question that remains is whether this movie will succeed in spreading these sorts of profoundly silly misconceptions far and wide, or whether viewers will reason right through them.