You Pay, They Pray: National Day of Exploiting the Government to Promote Sectarian Christianity

May 1, 2008

Today is the National Day of Prayer, in which our country seems to assume that religious people are incapable of deciding on their own when and how and with whom to pray without the direction and support of a worldly government.

Via Pz Myers comes word of exactly the sort of thing that happens when secular power gets involved in the promotion of religion: inevitably, only certain religions need apply:

They are also required to only allow Christians to run the show: “I commit that [National Day of Prayer] activities I serve with will be conducted solely by Christians while those with differing beliefs are welcome to attend.”

Auldrich has remained true to her pledge. “It’s a Judeo-Christian observance, and people of other faiths who ask about participating are encouraged to set aside their own day of prayer,” Auldrich told This Week Online in 2006. In other words, if you are not an evangelical, you can go hold your worship somewhere else.

Somehow, religion in our country managed to limp along until President Truman officially declared a National Day of Prayer. Phew! But it seemed that religion was still in such bad shape that it eventually also needed legislative action in the form of Ronald Reagan’s more permanent Day of Prayer solution.

Happily, this must alleviated the problem for most religions. But, apparently, evangelical Christianity is still in such dire straits that it needs some extra-special head-patting attention from Caesar in order to get on with its faith business.

Jews on First says the true meaning of the Day of Prayer has been lost. “What began as President Truman’s declaration of a National Prayer Day for all Americans is now excluding and dividing us on religious lines,” the group said.

Seriously though: why would anyone have ever expected anything different from anything involving the political process? As the founders realized, the practice of government is all about factions fighting for worldly power. It is a process that is both inevitably corrupting and rather obviously unnecessary to the free exercise of religion.

Congressional nonsense on the order of things like National Broccoli Week is silly enough (as the first President Bush rightly realized) without the government presuming to have any role to play in religious matters as well.


Finally: My Own Expelled Review Extravaganza

April 27, 2008

So, I went to see Premise Media’s Expelled. I paid my way (though matinée), sat alone in an empty theater, and took notes. And now it’s finally time to parse things for your pleasure.

Just as a framing device, I’ll pose some questions as a way to setup and organize my thoughts about various aspects of the film.

I should also clarify at the outset that I’m going to be treating figures who speak unopposed throughout the movie, people like Steven Meyer, David Berlinski, and so on, as if they speak for the film. I think, given how the film played out, this is perfectly fair. They are in some ways more the voice of the film than Stein, who basically is there to nod along and agree with them, or prompt them with leading questions. Indeed, aside from the bookend footage of Stein traveling to meet them or speaking at Pepperdine, I could just as easily imagine the film’s credits listing Berlinski, Meyer, Sternberg, and others as the opinionated hosts interviewing Ben Stein and trying to convince him of their position.

Anyhow, off we go:

Read the rest of this entry »


More Wisdom That Kevin D. At Dean’s World Learned From Expelled

April 22, 2008

Dean’s world blogger Kevin D, fresh from his weekend viewing of Expelled, has been busy putting what he learned from the film to good use. First there was his screed about the importance of free debate, after which, without any apparent sense of irony or self-parody, he immediately disabled commenting and response.

In his latest post, he tosses in a generous helping of the endlessly tiresome “see, I told you you’d all disagree with me, and the fact that you did just goes to show I’m right!” followed by one of the central fallacies of the film: that we could have any sort of sensible debate over whether ID is mistreated in academia… without ever seriously exploring the actual scientific merits of ID itself.

No no, says Kevin: if anyone tries to debate that issue, game over. Apparently, in order to critique the same arguments ID proponents have been making for decades, we now must all first pay 10$ to an evangelical film outfit for the privilege of listening to them repeat these very same accusations on screen. Then we may sensibly comment on the controversy and claims again, or respond to the claims made by the producers and reviewers such as Kevin.

But the best part of his latest is when he deploys one of the kookiest arguments I’ve encountered in a long time: basically, ‘how dare you try to respond to my assertions about the film’s claims without having seen the film: don’t you know how potentially unreliable I am?

And no, I’m not making that last one up:

You’ve not seen the documentary but feel compelled to tell us all how it’s wrong. Or, in Mr. Kirwin’s case, how Ben Stein is wrong about connecting Nazism to Darwinsim but not taking into consideration that perhaps I misunderstood Mr. Stein. Instead he chides Ben Stein anyway rather than doing the responsible thing, seeing the film for himself, and then writing his opinion. So, Scott Kirwin doesn’t correct something stated in the documentary he heard for himself, but goes off half-cocked based upon the very definition of hearsay. If this is the way Scott treats people he claims to like I’d hate to see how he treats people he doesn’t like. (emphasis added)

Kevin’s not always the clearest of writers (a sin I’m all too familiar with myself), but if I’m following his logic correctly, I’m pretty sure that he’s implying that it’s irresponsible to listen to what he [Kevin] has to say.

Point taken, I guess?


Expelled’s First Weekend: Was Ben Stein Hot or Not?

April 21, 2008

So Expelled has had its first big opening weekend: huge success? Crushing disappointment? I really have no way to tell, though it certainly doesn’t seem to have done what the producers were promising.

Deadline Hollywood Daily suggests that the film has underperformed so far, and despite the huge influx of recent viewers I’ve had gloating about how the film really stuck it to those dastardly evolutionists, it doesn’t look like the film opened big enough to match the major marketing mojo spent on promoting it. Nor does the free publicity of the pro-science side’s harsh response to the film seem to have amounted for much.

Still, if i had to guess, the film is likely to be a slow burner in the theaters (i.e. stick around for a while, albeit on a smaller scale) and ultimately make huge backend bank on DVD sales.

Me, despite being a pretty unabashed critic, I’m happy whether it does well or not. While less widely celebrated propaganda is probably a good thing, I think by and large more attention given to a subject like evolution balances out the bad information that gets people excited. The film also drives a pretty nice nail into the coffin of the “the ID movement has no religious agenda” argument, and the claim that evolution, in contrast, is a similarly atheist enterprise is so weakly and selectively supported by the film that its not likely to hold up in the places it would matter.

I’ll hopefully get a chance to catch it sometime this week, and I won’t feel in the least bad about handing the producers some extra money. They can have all the cash they want to make as big of a fuss as they want.

Meanwhile, Randy Olson, producer of the “wake up scientists, creationists are better at mass communication than you” film Flock of Dodos, is bemoaning the lack of similar projects on the mainstream science side. I’m not sure I disagree with any of his points, quite, but I’m just not sure I see where he thinks such efforts would come from, how they would be organized, and so on.

It’s quite true that creationists have lots of money and media strategies and PR firms and so forth on their side, whereas most scientists and science advocates have little money for PR and even less interest in the debate. But I’m just not sure what it buys creationists over scientists other than a lot of confused, ranting fans. Broader public support could certainly create a lot of headaches for biologists and educators, but when it comes down to brass tacks a whole lot of perception still isn’t going to recreate scientific reality.

Update: The second weekend’s estimated results are in. It doesn’t look like most theaters will have much to specially justify keeping Expelled in past the standard two weeks, but honestly, this is pretty much the standard trajectory for most documentaries (few of which ever open this wide to begin with). While it came nowhere close to the official hype, this certainly seems like a modest, not tanking, take for a documentary on its own terms. For the producers, it really all comes down to how much they spent on promoting and marketing the film (apparently quite a lot: national ad buys on some of the top rated cable shows?).


Anti-Evolutionary Doc Expelled to be Turned into 8 hour TV Miniseries? Anti-Abortion Sequel?

April 18, 2008

I somehow missed this bit of news, but apparently that’s what someone was told at a recent screening.

HT to Turn the Clock Forward.


Sternberg Was Not Expelled By Big Science: More on Ben Stein’s Movie Misrepresentations

April 18, 2008

In honor of Expelled’s release, it’s really worth taking another long hard look at one of its key cases: the supposed destruction that rained down upon Dr. Richard Sternberg for publishing an article supporting Intelligent Design in a systematics journal. Since the crux of the film’s case (and the claims that even movie reviewers which hated the film bought into, is the idea that academics are wrongly persecuted merely for being open-minded) is that we’re living in another dogmatic Inquisition where merely questioning the scientific orthodoxy is career suicide, you’d think a little more attention would be given to seeing whether these claims really hold up to scrutiny.

Ed Brayton over at Dispatches on the Culture Wars has written a phenomenal article covering the controversy over at eSkeptic. The content covers much of what Expelled Exposed’s section on Sternberg does, but in much more detail.

The Discovery Institute makes a tepid response to the later, and you know what? It’s a good one for what it needs to do: which is simply to sound plausible at first. You read through it, and it sounds like it has some really strong points, and as long as you stop there, maybe you’ll think you’ve done your part, heard from both sides, and maybe split the difference.

Unfortunately, Ed Brayton is still around and kicking, and lays bare just how deceptive this additional defense of Sternberg’s ephemeral martyrdom is as well.


Expelled Exposed Goes Live With Response to Anti-Evolutionary Film

April 15, 2008

Expelled! is a movie promoting all the standard creationist canards, and Expelled Exposed is the answer to that movie. I don’t have time to review the site in detail until later today, but it looks nice, clean, and fairly comprehensive.

Link, read, and laugh at the idea that “debate” is silenced on these issues.


Why Christian scientists Were Expelled from “Pro-Religion” Expelled! Film

April 11, 2008

One of the glaring omissions from Expelled! is the existence of countless religious scientists who happen to support evolution and agree that Intelligent Design is not good science. Since a major thrust of the film is that evolution is not just science, but rather a particular (and distinctively atheistic) “worldview,” the fact that so many people all with very different metaphysical/theological worldviews can all accept evolution as sound science is a huge, huge problem.

How do the producers justify this omission? The implication seems to be that for the mostly evangelical crew that makes up expelled, these scientists, theologians, and everyday believers are all phonies. Producer Ruloff, for instance, claims that geneticist and evangelical Francis Collins is merely “toeing the party line” on evolution. The idea that he could be both a sincere believer and a scientist. What does Collins’ say?

That’s “just ludicrous,” Dr. Collins said in a telephone interview. While many of his scientific colleagues are not religious and some are “a bit puzzled” by his faith, he said, “they are generally very respectful.”

It’s worth fleshing that out a bit more: Dr. Collins certainly has seen his pro-faith arguments criticized by atheist scientists and scholars, which is a bit more than people being puzzled or even respectful. He, for his part, has responses to those criticism. But the point is that you can agree or disagree with either side of that debate without it having any real impact on the debate over evolutionary science. And even if you think that Collins arguments for faith are wrong, or his arguments for evolution are wrong, he’s still very relevant as an example of someone who endorses both.

Over at Higgaion, Christopher Heard transcribes a sit-down discussion between Mark Mathis and the editors of Scientific American. Scientific American editors point out that there are countless scientists who are also Christians who have no problem with evolution and oppose the motives and methods of the Intelligent Design movement. Then they ask why, for instance, one prominent biologist, Ken Miller, (who is also a believing Catholic) wasn’t featured or even mentioned in the film. Mathis replies:

Mathis: But I would tell you from a, my personal standpoint as somebody who’s worked on this project, that Ken Miller would have confused the film unnecessarily. I don’t agree with Ken Miller. I think that you, I think that when you look at this issue and this debate, that really there’s, there’s one side of the line or the other, and you, it’s, it’s hard to stay, I don’t think you can intellectually, honestly, honestly intellectually stand on a line that I don’t think exists—

Doesn’t agree with Ken Miller? On what? Believing in God in the way he does? And why does it matter that Mathis disagrees, whatever that means? Religious opponents of Intelligent Design, religious evolutionary scientists, right or “wrong” these people are all stark counter-factuals to the central dichotomy of the film: that evolution is purely an atheistic worldview, rather than a scientific explanation based on evidence which people of any worldview can appreciate. Mathis doesn’t want them recognized because “they would have confused the film unnecessarily.” On the contrary, these people are a simply reality. It’s thus a very necessary “confusion” (i.e. complication) for anyone trying to understand the debate.

It gets even more ridiculous from there: Mathis apparently isn’t a “theological expert” and thus has no idea until some Catholics inform him that most Catholics are not biblical literalists (Is Mathis? Why do the producers of the film so often seem to just assume that most Christians are?). This is kind of big deal, folks, because it just so happens that Catholics represent the bulk of the world’s Christians. And what’s the official position of Catholicism on evolution? That it’s a reasonable explanation for the diversity of life on earth and is based on the evidence. The Church, of course, requires a list of other additional beliefs (like God ensouling humans at some point, and so on) that all run outside the scope of science, but there is no hard and fast theological impossibility to be seen here.

For Mathis, though, there is this line: “when you look at this issue and this debate, that really there’s, there’s one side of the line or the other.” What Mathis seems unwilling to concede is that there is more than one line. There is certainly a line between accepting evolution as good science or not. But then there is also a line between whether one believes in a god or not. Indeed, that latter line isn’t even a single line either: people can believe or not believe in all sorts of different religious ideas about gods.

The fact is: no position on any these lines directly determines you position on any other, and we have examples with nearly every combination. Logically, they are all distinct and cross-compatible (though, of course, any one specific religious belief may assert something that’s incompatible with evolutionary science… but then it could just as easily be incompatible with another religious belief as well).

Given all this, you can finally see how grossly misleading the core contentions of Expelled! are. It tries to make the case that evolutionary theory implies an ideology they call “Darwinism,” which turns both descriptive science into crude normative assertions as well as making atheism all but inevitable. But if this is the case, how can some of evolutionary theory’s best defenders, and some of Intelligent Design’s harshest critics, hold worldviews and values so radically different from “Darwinism?”

The filmmakers don’t seem interested in even bringing up the subject, and when pressed on it, their escape seems to be implying that these people are basically crazy, or not real Christians, or not really understanding what they, the producers, know evolutionary science is, at heart.

There’s no doubt that Expelled! is grossly insulting to non-believers: trying to imply that we must logically hold or lack all sorts of values. But by neglect and deliberate omission, it’s not much kinder to Christian scientists either.


Ben Stein’s Expelled! Can’t Face Critical Reviews from Scientific American And Michael Shermer

April 9, 2008

Let me just state at the outset that I’m really quite surprised at this point: as all these negative reviews roll in, defenders and promoters of this film seem amazingly scarce outside of their own protected websites and conclaves. They celebrate, instead, the few positive reviews, almost all coming from devoted creationists, and almost all simply parroting and celebrating the claims made in the film rather than analyzing them, as the critics do.

They talk a big game. Their rallying cry is supposedly for more debate and free speech (even if they badly misunderstand those principles). But I’ve seen next to nothing from either the producers nor their fans making any substantive response to these criticisms. Bragging about the existence of harsh criticism just isn’t the same thing as having a good response to it: it’s a means of quickly changing the subject. According to them, however, defenders of science are “scattering” in fear of their assault. And yet, here we are, front and center, taking all comers, with no sign that they have any serious responses to our arguments in turn.

That out of the way… Michael Shermer, one of the many hoodwinked interviewees from the film, has now written up his review of the picture.

Read the rest of this entry »


FoxNews Pans Intelligent Design Film Expelled!

April 9, 2008

Wesley R. Elsberry of the Austringer sends word that Fox News has reviewed Expelled!… and they were not impressed.

Directed by one Nathan Frankowski, “Expelled” is a sloppy, all-over-the-place, poorly made (and not just a little boring) “expose” of the scientific community. It’s not very exciting. But it does show that Stein, who’s carved out a career selling eye drops in commercials and amusing us on sitcoms, is either completely nuts or so avaricious that he’s abandoned all good sense to make a buck.

The reviewer even gets the basic larger strategy of the film of trying to troll up a national controversy:

What the producers of this film would love, love, love is a controversy. That’s because it’s being marketed by the same people who brought us “The Passion of the Christ.” They’re hoping someone will latch onto an anti-Semitism theme here, since there’s a visit to a concentration camp and the raised idea — apparently typical of the intelligent design community — that somehow the theory of evolution is so evil that it caused the Holocaust. Alas, this is such a warped premise that no one’s biting.

Let’s be fair here though, and dispense with the apparent idea that there’s something politically special about FoxNews giving a poor review to a conservative movie. Fox’s entertainment reporters, and especially Roger Friedman, are generally all over the map when it comes to liking or hating political event movies. Friedman even gave a decently positive review to Fahrenheit 9/11 and panned The Passion of the Christ.

If that didn’t hurt Friedman’s credibility enough though, it gets worse: he hates Rush, Poison, and Journey.

All this is not to say that Expelled! has never gotten rave reviews: WorldNetDaily loves the thing. But the trend, of course, is that these reviews simply parrot the claims made in the film and celebrate its conclusions: the negative reviews, in contrast, tend to be from people who are in on the scam and point out specific misrepresentations and problems with the films’ claims.