I have always been rather proud of my post comparing Richard Dawkins’ and David Berlinski’s respective views of the other. It remains one of the highest rated posts in terms of views and comments on this blog.
However, the greatest compliment that anyone could have paid me came a couple of years ago when I noticed that it had been linked on a discussion thread of “What evolution cannot explain”. The user “lexiluvr” posted a series of videos from the ‘Tube featuring Berlinski questioning evolution, to which another user countered by kindly posting my piece on what a pseudo-intellectual and a hack Berlinski really is: “Richard Dawkins, a scientist who (unlike Berlinski, it seems) has submitted writings to peer-reviewed journals, discusses Berlinski”.
Compliment enough to be cited as an authority in anyone’s discussion. But the subsequent reply by “lexiluvr” well and truly took the biscuit:
I read that article but I fail to see the relevancy of it regarding the current topic being discussed. It looks and reads like a blog post from a drug addled intellectual.
Well, only one of those statements is true, but I won’t give away which one…
PLEASANT, NC—Outraged community members are mounting an aggressive public protest campaign this week in response to an X-rated videotape available at Pleasant’s Video Villa video store, claiming that the tape does not contain the “Spectacular All-Anal Action” promised on its cover.
“Are we as citizens expected to just sit back and allow this sort of garbage to go on?” said Pleasant school board president Edwin Thistlewaite, during a protest this morning at City Hall. “I paid to see chicks getting fucked in the ass, and that’s what I want. I think I speak for all decent Americans in saying so.”
Pleasant resident Charlotte Kendall voiced her concerns at a town meeting held Monday night in the basement of Holy Christ Almighty Lutheran Church. “If we can’t trust the manufacturers of hardcore pornography to tell us truthfully what kind of explicit sex we can honestly expect to see, then who can we trust?” Kendall said.
WINNETKA, IL—A local man’s ironic purchase of a humorously titled hardcore-porn video Saturday led to a sincere, earnest ejaculation devoid of any irony whatsoever.
According to reports, Josh Farmer, 27, accompanied by friends Brad Werner and Mike Tedesco, entered the Pine Street Adult Bookstore at approximately 3 p.m. to purchase an inflatable-woman doll as a light-hearted gift for friend Marshall Bloch, whose 23rd birthday party was to be celebrated later that evening at Farmer’s house. While at the store, Farmer also purchased Terrors From The Clit, which he would later use as ejaculatory fodder in a wholly unironic session of vigorous masturbation.
I forwarded this to the groom at a wedding who said he was considering putting a Peter Andre track on the playlist “ironically”…
There are many people who have tried to judge my actions, to label me as disgraceful or unethical. Time and again, I’ve had to endure the harassment of the media and the average sports fan, who act as though I’ve done something so outside the bounds of human decency as to defy logic or explanation. Yet I think, if we are all honest we each other, we could agree this is far from the case. For, really, haven’t we all, each and every one of us, ritually abused steroids, in a sense?
I ask again: Is there a single person among us who has not, in one way or another, become obscenely rich and successful through the repeated use of performance-enhancing drugs?
I have read some heartfelt apologies in my time, but this…
WASHINGTON—According to Beltway sources, confused White House staffers arrived at their desks Wednesday to find a meticulously researched, entirely unrequested report from the Interior Department assessing dry humping as a suitable sex alternative for teenagers.
The uncomfortably in-depth 900-page document, which outlines the benefits of clothed genital stimulation versus fully penetrative sex, reportedly baffled administration officials, who confirmed they generally associate the department with its role in managing natural resources and administering programs for Native Americans.
Something tells me that the staff at the Department of Interior need to put away the Kleenex and go out into the Big Wide World before they go blind.
PRINCETON, NJ—Contraceptive manufacturer Trojan unveiled its new line of “No One’s Pleasure” condoms Wednesday, the first prophylactic specifically designed to intensify sexual dissatisfaction among bitter and resentful couples.
“We’ve always offered consumers a choice when it comes to protection, and we wanted to give emotionally distant partners an option that suits their lack of intimacy,” said Jim Daniels, vice president of marketing at Trojan. “That’s why we’ve developed the only condoms clinically proven to exploit performance anxiety, heighten discomfort levels, and prolong the petty arguments that allow couples to bicker needlessly all night long.”
CHICAGO—With campaign rhetoric becoming increasingly heated and both presidential nominees releasing more attack ads, a new 30-second spot from the Obama campaign this week accuses his opponent Mitt Romney of committing the 1996 murder of 6-year-old beauty pageant queen JonBenét Ramsey.
Titled “He Did It,” the advertisement asks if anyone can truly remember where Romney was the night of the child’s murder, and whether the U.S. populace wants a president capable of strangling a little girl and dumping her body in her parents’ basement.
President Obama appears at the end of the advertisement to approve the message.
“I think this is a fair ad, and I think Mitt Romney owes an explanation to the American people as to why he murdered JonBenét Ramsey,” said Obama campaign manager Jim Messina, who called the commercial’s black-and-white reenactment of Mitt Romney carrying a kicking and screaming child to her death “accurate.” “Ultimately, voters need to know who they’re getting with Mitt Romney: a job- and child-killing businessman who is so deceitful he won’t release his tax returns or admit to a senseless murder that shook the nation to its core.”
It can’t be too long before political campaigns stoop to this level.
LOUISVILLE, KY—At first glance, high school senior Lucas Faber, 18, seems like any ordinary gay teen. He’s a member of his school’s swing choir, enjoys shopping at the mall, and has sex with other males his age. But lately, a growing worry has begun to plague this young gay man. A gnawing feeling that, deep down, he may be a fundamentalist, right-wing Christian.
“I don’t know what’s happening to me,” Faber admitted to reporters Monday. “It’s like I get these weird urges sometimes, and suddenly I’m tempted to go behind my friends’ backs and attend a megachurch service, or censor books in the school library in some way. Even just the thought of organizing a CD-burning turns me on.”
Added Faber, “I feel so confused.”
Faber’s father… [commented].
“No son of mine is going to try to get intelligent design into school textbooks,” Geoffrey Faber said. “And I absolutely refuse to pay his tuition if he decides to go to one of those colleges like Oral Roberts University where they’re just going to fill his head with a lot of crazy conservative ideas.”
He added, “I just want my normal gay son back.”
Poor child! I hope he gets in touch with the Gay Ex-Christian Movement.
SUGAR LAND, TX—Shortly after reports surfaced today that the Boy Scouts of America had voted to lift its ban on gay youths, local homosexual child Max Lovell, 14, told reporters that he was looking forward to joining the organization and finally being ridiculed for another thing.
SCHAUMBURG, IL—In an ultimately futile act some have described as courageous and others have called a mere postponing of the inevitable, existentialist firefighter James Farber delayed three deaths Monday.
“I’m no hero,” Farber said after rescuing the family from a house fire on the 2500 block of West Thacker Street, and prolonging for the time being their slow march toward oblivion. “Like any other man, I am thrown into this world, alone and terrified, to play a meaningless role in an empty life. In my case, that role happens to involve charging through towering blazes to pull helpless individuals from a sea of flames before they suffocate or are burnt alive.”
Added Farber, “That hardly makes me a paragon of virtue.”
“The family has thanked me repeatedly, especially for saving the life of their only child, but their gratitude ignores the full, crushing weight of reality,” said Farber, his brow furrowed. “The world may have all kinds of torture in store for that kid, misery that could have been avoided if not for me.”
Members of the earth’s earliest known civilization, the Sumerians, looked on in shock and confusion some 6,000 years ago as God, the Lord Almighty, created Heaven and Earth.
According to recently excavated clay tablets inscribed with cuneiform script, thousands of Sumerians—the first humans to establish systems of writing, agriculture, and government—were working on their sophisticated irrigation systems when the Father of All Creation reached down from the ether and blew the divine spirit of life into their thriving civilization.
According to the cuneiform tablets, Sumerians found God’s most puzzling act to be the creation from dust of the first two human beings.
“These two people made in his image do not know how to communicate, lack skills in both mathematics and farming, and have the intellectual capacity of an infant,” one Sumerian philosopher wrote. “They must be the creation of a complete idiot.”
Palestinian Omar Abdel-Malik, a resident of the Gaza Strip town of Khan Younis, credits his Islamic beliefs for preserving his sanity.
“The Israelis have fired missile upon missile on my neighborhood, but it has only made my trust in Allah that much stronger,” Abdel-Malik said. “I cringe to think where the people of the Middle East would be right now if it weren’t for our steadfast belief in one true, merciful, and loving Supreme Being.”
Palestinian widow and mother of three Dareen Idriss agreed, citing the healing power of prayer as a way to cope with the relentless slaughter she and her family witness every day.
“When the children cannot stop crying because of the bombs, we all gather our families in the rubble of the mosque to pray for justice,” Idriss said. “During this calm meditation, we also pray for the annihilation of the Hebrew race.”
What Is Your Amateur Porn Telling Future Employers About You?
Americans Observing 9/11 By Trying Not To Masturbate
With all the tragedies unfolding around the World and thanks to modern 24 hour media, when is a good time to choke the bishop or stroke the budgie’s tongue?
I know that I probably shouldn’t masturbate today. But, I dunno. Should I not masturbate on Pearl Harbour Day too?
Right on, brother!
DNA Evidence Frees Black Man Convicted of Bear Attack
Issues of racial discrimination in the United States have clearly progressed so far since the abolition of slavery that the difference between a brutal killing carried out by an African-American and a grizzly bear is a distinction without a difference.
Live From Congress: Representative Wants To See, Meet More Kids Online
Rep. Gelinas proposes an educational bill to increase the number of young people he meets in under-13 chat rooms.
Eewwwwooooh. I mean, just… Eewwwwoooh!
Prague’s Kafka International Named Most Alienating Airport
Up there with Camus’ The Outsider as one the best potted existentialist nightmares.
Prison Economy Spirals As Price Of Pack Of Cigarettes Surpasses Two Hand Jobs
If there is a funnier, more succinct demonstration of how humans are natural capitalists, I would like to see it.
Police Say That School Shooter Had History Of School Shootings
With America’s approach to gun laws clearly not fucking working, they may as well let the perpetrators roam free to commit further massacres.
Victim In Fatal Car Accident Tragically Not Glenn Beck
Fox News hard-right reactionary hack gets the epitaph he deserves.
Justin Bieber Found To Be Cleverly Disguised 51 Year Old Pedophile
The Onion predicts Operation Yewtree two years early and 30 years younger.
Pedophiles Upset at Girls Field Hockey Team Uniform Change
Best read alongside this missive from the head of a local paedophile action group:
So please. Speak up. Pedophiles alone cannot change the tide of pedophile-unfriendly behavior at girl’s field hockey and girl’s diving and co-ed wrestling and boys fencing. Call up your school board and demand change, or else call, breathe heavily into the phone and emit a high-pitched cackle. Together we can make a difference.
Together, we are all pedophiles
Scientists Find Skeleton Of Nature’s First Sexual Predator
Hello again the blogosphere! It has been a good few months since my last post ruminating on my blogging burnout, but the manicstreetpreacher has psychologically recovered more or less and the iconoclastic fire is beginning to burn again in his soul.
I have been tempted to blog on a number of topics in my time away, but after 119 posts and innumerable hours on other blogs and debate forums, I was beginning run out of topics to write about and nothing was exciting me anymore. However, one area that has escaped my net thus far is the question of religious education of children. With this post, I kill two birds with one stone by blogging on a previously untouched topic and taking a pop at an old adversary.
During my sabbatical I have been following Robertson’s own blog and in particular his “Fleabytes” series of YouTube videos in reply to Dawkins’ Channel 4 series, Root of All Evil? (Google Video links: Part I / Part II).
I registered for a user account with the St Peter’s Church website under my usual Internet moniker so that I could post replies to these videos, but my application was not approved. I was not provided with an explanation, despite emailing the site’s administrator, copying in Robertson himself to that email.
Since I have not been allowed to post on Robertson’s website directly, below is a copy of the reply I had intended to post:
I have been watching these instalments with fascination. If you really believe that Christian faith is based on evidence and – as you state quite categorically in your book – the moment that evidence is disproved you will cease to believe, then I take it you must teach the young members of your congregation to think about the things that ought to make them stop believing in Christianity.
Some religious people claim that trust in science and particular Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection is as much a faith claim as belief in a personal creator God. I must point out to you that science is self-validating and scientists are constantly striving to prove each other wrong, and even themselves wrong. Stephen Hawking jokes that he became famous for proving that the universe and space time began with a singularity known as the “Big Bang” and then he became famous again for proving that the universe and space time didn’t begin with the Big Bang.
While I appreciate that you “don’t know and don’t care” about the scientific truth of evolution (while still ridiculing Richard Dawkins’ main argument in The God Delusion as amounting to nothing more than “evolution is true, therefore God does not exist” and asserting that Darwin’s idea of “favoured races” inspired Hitler’s eugenics and Stalin’s atrocities with the other side of your face), Darwin in fact dedicated an entire chapter in The Origins of Species discussing the potential problems with his theory and stated in no uncertain terms what would be required to disprove it:
If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down. But I can find out no such case.
As you can see, Darwin is explicating laying down the gauntlet to his opponents and saying “Come and have a go if you think you’re smart enough”, and even providing them with the weapons to defeat him. Over 150 years later, no one has managed to do so.
Continuing is this vein of self-scrutiny and the constant quest for falsification, I expect you provide the children in your congregation with the tools to examine critically their Christian faith. For example, they ought to consider whether:
an all-good, all-loving God would be so intent on remaining hidden from his treasured creations. After all, it has been said that the invisible and the non-existent look very similar.
there is any more evidence to support the Gospels’ account of Christ’s resurrection than Almighty Zeus sending his only begotten son Perseus to Earth to wield his big, strong weapon to slay Medusa and rid humanity of the Kraken. If you can’t believe what you saw this morning on a bastion of daily journalism such as Sky News, how can you accept something that was written two-three thousand years ago by people who were primitive by our standards, decades after the events they purport to describe and copied and recopied by scribes who were careless or grinding their own theological axes?
all New Testament scholars see the basic Gospel narratives as an accurate depiction of history. For example, Robin Lane Fox’s The Unauthorized Version describes Luke’s nativity as “historically impossible and internally incoherent”, particularly in relation to the apparent fabrication of a Roman census that had the onerous requirement for the population to return to their town of origin.
the miracles of Jesus reported in a two thousand year old text are any more believable than those allegedly performed by today’s charlatan gurus and mystics that are testified as authentic by thousands upon thousands of devoted followers – including many Western educated people – and available to view on the modern miracle of YouTube.
there is any evidence outside the text to confirm the events of the Old Testament, in particular the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt. Biblical “maximalists” such as James Hoffmeier and Kenneth Kitchen are satisfied that the stories of Moses and Joshua are historically accurate, however, “minimalists” such Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman have declared that there is no corroborating evidence whatsoever for these stories and have consigned them to the same mythical status as Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. How come we do not see such disagreements in relation to other historical characters such as Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan?
double-blind controlled experiments on the effectiveness of intercessory prayer show that Christian prayers have an objectively higher success rate than those of other religions.
one child being plucked from the sea following a plane crash that killed 153 really constitutes a divine miracle as the girl’s family claimed.
if there is a divine link between morality and metrology, as the then Bishop of Carlisle pronounced in July 2007 blaming the recent floods in Northern Yorkshire on gay marriage, then why don’t we see a few more tidal waves crashing down the centre of Manchester’s Canal Street during Pride?
regardless of whether the resurrection is an historical fact, the Pope is morally right to go to sub-Saharan Africa, where 2 – 3 million people die of HIV/AIDS in any one year and actually say words to the effect, “AIDS might be bad, but condoms might be worse”.
they ought to view programmes like Root of All Evil? and read books like The God Delusion for themselves without any prior input from your good self, their religious parents or school teachers.
Please understand that I am not claiming that I hold the correct view on any of these issues; I am merely advocating them as food for thought for you and your flock. I therefore look forward to the fly-on-wall episode showing one of your Sunday school classes discussing these very points.
With best wishes for Christmas and 2011 to you, your family and your congregation
manicstreetpreacher presents the sole example of Young Earth Creationists talking sense.
Ken Ham, the head of global Young Earth Creationist racket, Answer in Genesis, is not my favourite person in the World and you can witness me lambast him in print and on the air. However, perhaps he deserves some credit for the section of his website dedicated to forewarning his flock against certain arguments that are so patently false and discredited that their very use seriously harms the YEC case. For example:
If humans evolved from apes, how come apes still exist?
In an evolutionary worldview, mankind did not evolve from apes but from an apelike ancestor, from which both humans and apes of today supposedly evolved.
Keep in mind that beneficial, information-gaining mutations are a necessary mechanism of molecules-to-man evolution, so focusing on any potential for this is essential for evolutionists. What doesn’t seem to be often addressed is the vast amount of data to the contrary. But even if there were a clearly beneficial mutation, this would by no means “prove” the mechanism for evolution (for one thing, beneficial, information-gaining mutations would have to be a regularly occurring phenomenon and would have to “build” on previous mutations so as not to be “undone” and to keep the evolution going “uphill”), nor negate the truth of God’s revelation of His Creation in Genesis.
Beyond these denials, if the tale were true, why did Darwin’s wife Emma not rejoice in this? She was always troubled by what she perceived as the godless nature of his views. If he indeed repented, why did she not make this known? Also, if the story were credible, why did Lady Hope wait 33 years before relating it, and even then, relating it in a country across the ocean?
Given the weight of evidence, it must be concluded that Lady Hope’s story is unsupportable, even if she did actually visit Darwin. He never became a Christian, and he never renounced evolution. As much as we would like to believe that he died with a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, it is much more likely that he didn’t. It is unfortunate that the story continues to be promoted by many sincere people who use this in an effort to discredit evolution when many other great arguments exist, including the greatest: the Bible.
There is little doubt that the genuine discovery of certain objects would be both exciting and a powerful witness to the truth of the biblical record. However, we need to be careful not to become like some medieval pilgrims, keen to have relics to supplement (or supplant) the worship of the living God. Christ actually taught that if people did not listen to ‘Moses and the prophets,’ then neither would something as spectacular as someone rising from the dead convince them (Luke 16).
No doubt such fanciful claims as discussed here will always be with us, made by those seeking either [sic] profit, fame, the fulfilment of some deep psychological needs, or any combination of these. The ‘discoverers’ will often appear completely sincere, saying all the ‘right Christian things.’ Perhaps at some point they have even persuaded themselves.
The Bible does not say we should ‘believe all things,’ but rather that we should ‘prove all things’ (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Neither does it encourage a gullible approach toward those claiming the name of Christ. Rather, it warns about wolves among the flock, and also teaches that the heart of man is deceitful and depraved (Jeremiah 17:9).
As in other areas, extraordinary claims carry an extraordinary burden of proof. There is already a huge amount of archaeological and other evidence consistent with the truth of the Bible. Bible-believing experts exist in many fields, such as the archaeologist author of our article on Jericho (The walls of Jericho). They are always glad to assess and publicise actual evidence of genuine finds (there have been many over the years) supporting the historicity of the Bible.
All of these animals’ ancestors – horses, donkey, zebras, tigers, lions, whales, and dolphins – were created with genetic diversity. Through time the processes of natural selection, mutation, and other mechanisms have altered that original information (decreased or degenerated) to give us even more variation within a kind. Great variety can be observed in the offspring of animals of the same kind, just as the same cake recipe can be used to make many different cakes with various flavours and colours. Hybrids have a portion of the same genetic information as their parents but combined in a unique way to give a very unique looking animal. What an amazing diversity of life God has created for us to enjoy!
While it’s a pity that AiG don’t examine all of their claims in such an objective and sober light (then again, I supposed they’d be putting themselves out of business!), this is a breath of fresh air from an unexpected source. However, I am still dismayed that I continue to encounter many of these arguments both online and in public debate. What does it say about the “rationality” of religious faith when its adherents still use arguments that one of the most notorious fundamentalist organisations on the planet has consigned to the third circle of hell?
Dawkins is prepared to acknowledge the facts while denying their significance. Neither the Nazis nor the Communists, he affirms, acted because of their atheism. They were simply keen to kill a great many people. Atheism had nothing to do with it. They might well have been Christian Scientists.
In the early days of the German advance into Eastern Europe, before the possibility of Soviet retribution even entered their untroubled imagination, Nazi extermination squads would sweep into villages, and after forcing the villagers to dig their own graves, murder their victims with machine guns. On one such occasion somewhere in Eastern Europe, an SS officer watched languidly, his machine gun cradled, as an elderly and bearded Hasidic Jew laboriously dug what he knew to be his grave.
Standing up straight, he addressed his executioner. “God is watching what you are doing,” he said.
And then he was shot dead.
What Hitler did not believe and what Stalin did not believe and what Mao did not believe and what the SS did not believe and what the Gestapo did not believe and what the NKVD did not believe and what the commissars, functionaries, swaggering executioners, Nazi doctors, Communist Party theoreticians, intellectuals, Brown Shirts, Black Shirts, gauleiters, and a thousand party hacks did not believe was that God was watching what they were doing.
And as far as we can tell, very few of those carrying out the horrors of the twentieth century worried overmuch that God was watching what they were doing either.
That is, after all, the meaning of a secular society.
I can only assume that Berlinski had forgotten about the events of September 11, 2001 when he was writing this passage. This was an outrage carried out by people who were thinking only too much of what heaven would think of them. Hopefully, the more recent events on the Moscow tube will jog his memory.
Appealing to authority and credential inflation are common tactics of creationists and Intelligent Design proponents. Expelled’s host, Ben Stein, went to great lengths to hold out Berlinski as an example of a smart guy who believed in Intelligent Design in order to give it some credibility. However, all Berlinski succeeded in doing was to be a particularly obnoxious and unlikeable character, saying that Richard Dawkins is “a crummy philosopher” and “a little bit of a reptile”.
In an article reminiscing on an infamous book review for The New York Times in 1989 where he wrote, “It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that),” Dawkins had this to say about Berlinski:
Are there, then, any examples of anti-evolution poseurs who are not ignorant, stupid or insane, and who might be genuine candidates for the wicked category? I once shared a platform with someone called David Berlinski, who is certainly not ignorant, stupid or insane. He denies that he is a creationist, but claims strong scientific arguments against evolution (which disappointingly turn out to be the same old creationist arguments). Together with the great John Maynard Smith and others, he and I were guest speakers at a debate organized by a prominent Oxford rabbi. Maynard Smith spoke after Berlinski and, not surprisingly, he soon had the audience roaring with laughter as he lampooned Berlinski’s bad arguments. But what amused me was Berlinski’s tactic for dealing with this mocking laughter. He sprang to his feet, held up a reproachful open palm towards the audience, and said (approximately of course, I can’t remember the exact words): “No no! Don’t laugh. Let Maynard Smith have his say! It’s only fair!” Happily, the Oxford audience saw through this tactic of pretending to think the audience were laughing at Maynard Smith rather than with him. And the rabbi, himself a devout creationist, afterwards told me he had been shocked at Berlinski’s duplicity. By itself, this is too trivial an example to deserve the name wicked. But it did make me wonder about Berlinski’s motives. As I said, he is certainly not ignorant, stupid or insane.
After witnessing his performance in Expelled, Dawkins’ assessment of Berlinski is borne out all too well.
Part Four of my analysis of Premier Christian Media’s screening and debate of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed examines the film’s claim that Darwin’s theory directly inspired Hitler and 20th century eugenics.
The final quarter of the film makes the outrageous allegation that Darwin’s work directly inspired Hitler and eugenics. The host, Ben Stein, visits Darwin’s former home of Down House in Kent and his memorial at the London Natural History Museum. He visits the Dachau concentration camp and Hadamar Clinic where he interviews the tour guide Uta George and Richard Weikart, Discovery Institute research fellow and author of From Darwin to Hitler.
I haven’t read Weikart’s book, but I listened to this lecture and was distinctly underwhelmed by the tenuous links made between the ancient idea of eugenics and Darwin’s theory. Darwinism describes a scientific process for which there is ample evidence. Whether we like its moral implication is irrelevant and Weikart is guilty of the naturalistic fallacy; confusing “what is” with “what ought to be”. Weikart’s arguments rely heavily on some disgraceful quote-mining of Darwin’s work, more of which below.
Weikart also ignores a wealth of other social, economic and indeed religious factors that resulted in the rise of Nazism. For excellent refutations of his thesis, I came across his radio debate against atheist Professor of Religious Studies at Iowa State University, Hector Avalos, as well as Avalos’ extensive blog posts on Debunking Christianity here and here.
Towards the end of Expelled, Stein reads out the following passage which is often quoted by creationists from The Descent of Man, first published in 1871:
With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated. We civilised men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination. We build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed and the sick, thus the weak members of civilised societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. Hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.
However, the passage in full shows that Darwin was deeply compassionate to the handicapped and was not in favour of any euthanasia programme:
With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilised men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilised societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.
The aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy, which was originally acquired as part of the social instincts, but subsequently rendered, in the manner previously indicated, more tender and more widely diffused. Nor could we check our sympathy, if so urged by hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature. The surgeon may harden himself whilst performing an operation, for he knows that he is acting for the good of his patient; but if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with a certain and great present evil.
There are several other passages from Darwin that creationists mine in their attempts to show that he was immoral, but reveal quite the opposite when read in their true context. In the post-screening debate (at 43 minutes on the podcast) I asked the panel a question that drew their attention to this distortion, adding that while Darwin was about as racist as anyone else in Victorian England, he was a passionate abolitionist of the slave trade. Surprisingly, my comments drew nods of agreement from Steve Fuller. I also added that I have read Hitler’s Mein Kampf for myself. It contains not one reference of Darwin, evolution or natural selection, but talks rather a lot about his faith in Heaven and the Almighty as well as his theological hero, Martin Luther.
Alastair Noble made noises about how Darwin influenced Stalin. This claim is straight off the Answers in Genesis website and was repeated by David Robertson in our second debate on Premier’s Unbelievable? last year. The truth is that Stalin rejected Darwinism in favour of Lamarckism which lead to Lysenko’s insane programme to grow giant vegetables and deliver multiple harvests in one year, leading to the starvation of millions:
Mendeleyev’s “periodic system of elements” clearly shows how very important in the history of nature is the emergence of qualitative changes out of quantitative changes. The same thing is shown in biology by the theory of neo-Lamarckism, to which neo-Darwinism is yielding place.
- Stalin 1906, 304
Steve Fuller replied that Mein Kampf discussed “selection”. However, Hitler was referring to artificial selection which humans have known about for centuries. Dog breeding and pigeon fancying have more responsibility for Hitler than On the Origin of the Species.
There is widespread confusion over Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection and “Social Darwinism”, which was coined by the Protestant anthropologist Herbert Spencer, who also came up with the term “survival of the fittest”. Although still tarring Darwin’s good name, Hitler’s ethic is better described as “Social Darwinist”.
Irritatingly, many respectable scientists and historians have linked Darwin to Nazi Germany. Sir Arthur Keith is often quoted by creationists as writing in Evolution & Ethics (1946) that Hitler was an evolutionist and was trying to create Darwin’s utopia based on the principles of eugenics, though Keith never showed which parts of Origins inspired Hitler. Laurence Rees’ otherwise excellent study of the Final Solution, Auschwitz, was tarnished somewhat with the assertion that the Nazis’ ideology was “expressly Darwinian”, again without citing any primary sources in support.
The full original title of On the Origin of Species is infamously “Or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life”. Again, creationists have argued that this is clear evidence that Darwin was in favour of a brutal struggle for survival where the strong would crush the weak. However, as Richard Dawkins explained following the film’s release in an “Open Letter to a victim of Ben Stein’s lying propaganda”:
Darwin was using the word “race” in a very different sense from ours. It is totally clear, if you read past the title to the book itself, that a “favoured race” meant something like “that set of individuals who possess a certain favoured genetic mutation” (although Darwin would not have used that language because he did not have our modern concept of a genetic mutation).
The Anti-Defamation League, an American Jewish pressure group dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism, issued the following statement against Expelled which is the first and last word against anyone claiming that Darwinism is in any way a link to eugenics or Social Darwinism:
The film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed misappropriates the Holocaust and its imagery as a part of its political effort to discredit the scientific community which rejects so-called intelligent design theory.
Hitler did not need Darwin to devise his heinous plan to exterminate the Jewish people and Darwin and evolutionary theory cannot explain Hitler’s genocidal madness.
Using the Holocaust in order to tarnish those who promote the theory of evolution is outrageous and trivializes the complex factors that led to the mass extermination of European Jewry.
Steve Fuller also argued that people who support the teaching of evolution also support abortion and euthanasia on the grounds that it will lead to a better version of humanity. Again, I found this claim deeply offensive. I have recently written that I am pro-choice on the grounds that the alternative is worse. Abortion should be the last option. Prevention is better than cure. The answer is increased access to contraception and education as to its proper use. I am not in favour of abortion because it is a quick and convenient method of wiping out Down’s Syndrome.
I can think of no better way to end these posts than with this compilation by YouTube auteur, Thunderf00t, that features Stein on a Christian TV network shortly after Expelled’s release making the appalling claim that “science leads to killing people”, juxtaposed with his own delusional fantasies about America needing to start World War Three in order to protect itself against Iran and North Korea.
What a vile little man. I sincerely hope that his career is dead now … and that the rest of his life will be spent eking out speaking fees at Christian fundamentalist conventions, before audiences who will cheer him while dreaming of the day the Jews are exterminated or converted, bringing on Armageddon.
Right on, brother.
Now, a “call to arms” (in the strictly metaphorical, non-jihadist sense of the term) to all atheists, rationalists, humanists, secularists and everyone else who cares about truth in science and a proper education of school children which is free from religious dogma and presupposition: Let’s go to work.
The film never sets out a definition of Intelligent Design. The host, Ben Stein, makes noises about how teaching it to school children might be like teaching them the alternative theory of history that the Holocaust never happened, which is not what he wants. But he fails to explain why ID is any more viable than Flat Earthery.
The closest the film comes to genuine science is some CGI sequences (which were were the subject of an unsuccessful copyright action by XVIVO having been lifted from the Harvard University DVD, The Inner Life of the Cell!) showing the mindboggling complexity of the cellular “machinery” at work. OK, what does that prove? That molecular biology is enormously complex. Cells wouldn’t always have been like that; they had to evolve from scratch the same as the larger organisms they comprise.
Atheist evolutionary biologist and blogwit par excellence P Z Myers explained during his lecture at the American Atheist International Conference 2009 (which I posted in my castigation of William Dembski’s Unbelievable? debate against Lewis Wolpert), that IDers and creationists falsely claim that Victorian scientists knew nothing about the inner workings of the cell: the sheer mind boggling complexity of the cell is a relatively recent discovery. IDers are adamant that it will just take a few more years for the rest of the scientific community to catch up with their way of thinking and evolutionary theory as we know it will be no more. As Myers pithily explained, “Dembski said that the bottom would fall out of Darwinism within five years… seven years ago!”
In the post-screening debate, former schools inspector and lay Christian preacher, Alastair Noble, speaking in favour of ID was a thoroughly unpleasant character, shouting down the evolutionist members of the panel and making cheap, erm, “jokes”, which played well with the clap-happy God squadders in the audience. I can understand why evolutionists refuse to share a platform with creationists after witnessing Noble’s attempts to put off the other members of the panel.
It really does worry me that people like Noble overtaken by their religious prejudices may ensure that junk-science will be taught to school children in the near future. Steve Fuller, who at least had the courage to admit that the school board in the 2005 Kitzmiller -v- Dover District PA “Intelligent Design trial” which he testified as an expert witness for the Intelligent Design side, were using ID to get creationism into the science classroom by the backdoor. They were really creationists who didn’t believe in ID; they just saw it as a convenient tool. I’m certain that Noble sees it that way as well.
Noble kept insisting (loudly) that only Intelligent Design could account for abiogenesis since the only known source of new information was an external designer. Intelligent Design, like the fine-tuning of the universe argument is simply Paley’s watchmaker analogy wrapped up in scientific jargon, usually ending with a whole lotta zeros after a decimal point. It explains nothing since it only leads to another stage back in the infinite regress and only begs the question of who designed the designer. It is a classic case of arguing by over-extended analogy. The very language of Intelligent Design screams “argument from personal incredulity”. Phrases like “irreducible complexity” are an inadvertent code for, “it’s too complex, we can’t understand it, therefore God did it”.
David Hume refuted the design argument 250 years ago on the grounds that we are taking our knowledge of how things for which we have direct personal experience are created, such as houses and watches, and applying this experience for things that we have no such equivalent personal experience, such as eyes and universes.
Intelligent Design is also fatally flawed in that it declares by fiat that a powerful but invisible designer is the only escape from staggering complexity and improbability. What ID proponents singularly fail to answer is what is the complexity and probability of such a designer itself, let alone being responsible for the natural phenomena we see around us. Surely this designer would have to be even more complex if it has the power to create all the things with which it is credited. Therefore its existence would have to be even more improbable than the objects and organisms it is supposed to have created.
While Sue Blackmore was giving her opening statement, a heckler in the audience asked why no “skeletons” had been found to verify evolution. I felt like bashing my head on the desk in front of me. Clearly, there are certain memes in creationist circles that simply will not go away no matter how often they are refuted. Such as:
If humans are descent from apes, why are there still gorillas and monkeys alive today?
The film presents six ID proponents who claim that they lost their jobs and/ or university tenure for entertaining thoughts that involved an intelligent creator due to the evil atheistic evolutionary science elite. However, this is a mere smoke and mirrors ploy by the ID crowd. Scratching below the propaganda shows that the supposedly expelled scientists either did not loss their positions at all, or lost them for legitimate reasons.
Expelled alleges that Richard Sternberg lost his position at the Smithsonian Institute and the National Institute of Health at the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NIH) after publishing a paper by Dr Stephen C Meyer of the Discovery Institute which mentioned Intelligent Design as a possible explanation of the origins of life on Earth in the peer-reviewed journal, Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. Stein says that Sternberg was “terrorised” and his life was “nearly ruined” following the incident that probed deeply into his religious views.
Nevertheless, this article from Skeptic magazine, as well as Sternberg’s page on Expelled Exposed, shows that Sternberg had in fact deliberately by-passed the publication process of the PBSW and went behind the backs of his colleagues by sneaking in Meyer’s shoddy paper which had previously been reviewed by scientists and had its claims firmly rejected.
Sternberg was in fact an unpaid associate – not an employee – at the Smithosian Institution (as opposed to “Institute”; Expelled doesn’t even get the names correct of those it libels!). After the Meyer incident, Sternberg remained an employee of NIH and his unpaid position at the Smithsonian was extended in 2006, although he has not shown up there in years. At no time was any aspect of his pay or working conditions at NIH affected. He was never even disciplined for legitimate violations of PBSW or Smithsonian policy. It is difficult to see how his life “was nearly ruined” when nothing serious happened to him.
This is a typical creationist tactic: to give the false impression that evolutionary scientists are dogmatically opposed to new ideas. The film sets up a false impression of two opposing viewpoints, when in fact there are many, many differing interpretations of the evidence. Just witness the heated disagreements between Richard Dawkins and Stephen Jay Gould over whether evolution happened gradually or in fits and starts.
During debate following the first screening Susan Blackmore, psychologist, atheist and expert on Meme Theory reminisced about when she was convinced that paranormal forces were real following her own “out of body” experience. She pursued the possibility obsessively in the face of her detractors, but had to accept that her experience was neurologically induced after many painful years of facing the evidence, or indeed the lack of evidence.
Keith Fox, a theistic evolutionary biologist from Southampton University also hauled the film up on its bogus portrayal of science as atheistic and that many devout Christians have no trouble reconciling their faith with Darwin.
Contrary to the impression of theists, scientists do not religiously adhere to Darwinian evolution. If you demanded fifty grand from the editor of Nature to pay for a peer-reviewed paper that falsified evolution or amended it significantly, he would probably give it to you in used twenties. Physicist Victor Stenger summed it up best during his debate against Christian apologist William Lane Craig in 2003:
Most scientists share my view. Are we being too sceptical? Are we being dogmatically unwilling to entertain the possibility of a personal creator God? I don’t think so.
There are many examples in the history of science that demonstrate its willingness accept ideas that challenge conventional wisdom. But the data must require it. In the early twentieth century the theories of relativity and quantum mechanics revolutionised some our most basic concepts about the nature of reality.
I think most scientists would be thrilled if evidence were founded for previously undetected materials and forces. Think of all the funding opportunities that would open up. I would come out of retirement.
But even if that were to happen, I doubt that the world that was then being uncovered would bear any resemblance to the fantasies from the childhood of humanity that constitute traditional religious belief.
For further edification regarding the true stories behind the other five “expelled”, see the following pages on Expelled Exposed:
Guillermo Gonzalez: The Discovery Institute co-author of The Privileged Planet didn’t have such a stellar career after all and his output in recent years fell short of the tough requirements for tenure at American Universities.
Caroline Crocker: Never mind “mentioning” Intelligent Design in one of her classes, Crocker received multiple complaints from students at George Mason University for teaching demonstrably false creationist material. But she was never even fired for clear breaches of academic and contractual obligations and there is no evidence that she was “blacklisted” from other institutions.
Robert Marks: Robert Marks’ “Evolutionary Informatics Laboratory” website – touting intelligent design – was originally hosted on a Baylor University server. Concerned that the material on the website misleadingly suggested a connection between the intelligent design material and Baylor, administrators temporarily shut the website down while discussing the issue with Marks and his lawyer. Baylor was willing to continue hosting the website subject to a number of conditions (including the inclusion of a disclaimer and the removal of the misleading term “laboratory”), but Marks and Baylor were unable to come to terms. The site is currently hosted by a third-party provider.
Pamela Winnick: No evidence was presented in Expelled that Winnick was blacklisted as a journalist, and there’s evidence to the contrary. She may have been criticised for her shoddy journalism or for advocating bad science – Jeffrey Shallit describes her book as “not a fair, reliable, or objective look at the battles between science and religion,” for example – but it is insupportable and absurd to characterise such criticism as blacklisting.
Michael Egnor: The Alliance for Science, a citizen’s group in Virginia, sponsored an essay contest for high school students on the topic “Why I would want my doctor to have studied evolution”, to highlight the important role of evolution in the medical sciences. Egnor posted an essay on an intelligent design blog in response, claiming that evolution was irrelevant to medicine. This was more a statement of Egnor’s ignorance about evolution than a reflection on evolution’s place in medicine.
The next post will ask whether Intelligent Design has any genuine merit as a scientific theory.
There are discussion threads on the Premier Christian Community Unbelievable?group page and forum where sceptics have vented their anger. I have actually witnessed this piece of trash before (praise be for torrent downloads!) and it’s not exactly an experience that I am looking forward to repeating…
Entire websites have been dedicated to deriding the film and refuting its bogus claims in relation to scientists losing their jobs over supporting Intelligent Design over Darwinism as well as its ridiculous assertion that Darwin was a direct influence in Hitler’s Germany. Eugenie Scott’s Expelled Exposed is probably the best I have come across.
There have even been alternative versions produced by sceptics with subtitles and/or voice over narration correcting the film!
Following the film’s release, some of the atheistic scientists claimed that they had been duped into giving interviews for a film called “Crossroads” which was to be a examination of the clash between science and religion and then had their interviews edited in such a way that would make YouTube’s cassetteboy raise an eyebrow.
What a shoddy, second-rate piece of work. A favourite joke among the film-making community is the ‘Lord Privy Seal’. Amateurs and novices in the making of documentaries can’t resist illustrating every significant word in the commentary by cutting to a picture of it. The Lord Privy Seal is an antiquated title in Britain’s heraldic tradition. The joke imagines a low-grade film director who illustrates it by cutting to a picture of a Lord, then a privy, and then a seal. Mathis’ film is positively barking with Lord Privy Seals. We get an otherwise pointless cut to Nikita Krushchev hammering the table (to illustrate something like ‘emotional outburst’). There are similarly clunking and artless cuts to a guillotine, fist fights, and above all to the Berlin Wall and Nazi gas chambers and concentration camps.
Ben Stein came to my office to interview me about what I was told was a film about “the intersection of science and religion” called Crossroads (yet another deception). I knew something was afoot when his first question to me was on whether or not I think someone should be fired for expressing dissenting views. I pressed Stein for specifics: Who is being fired for what, when and where? In my experience, people are usually fired for reasons having to do with budgetary constraints, incompetence or not fulfilling the terms of a contract. Stein finally asked my opinion on people being fired for endorsing intelligent design. I replied that I know of no instance where such a firing has happened.
In a dreadful PR gaffe by Expelled’s producers, P Z Myers was “expelled” from the premier of the film whose end credits thank him for his participation!
I went to attend a screening of the creationist propaganda movie, Expelled, a few minutes ago. Well, I tried … but I was Expelled! It was kind of weird – I was standing in line, hadn’t even gotten to the point where I had to sign in and show ID, and a policeman pulled me out of line and told me I could not go in. I asked why, of course, and he said that a producer of the film had specifically instructed him that I was not to be allowed to attend. The officer also told me that if I tried to go in, I would be arrested. I assured him that I wasn’t going to cause any trouble.
Dawkins and Myers recorded this conversation immediately after the film’s premier, to which Dawkins successfully gained access.
Dawkins’ website and videotaping guru, Josh Timonen, spliced together this wonderful parody which plays upon Expelled’s bogus editing of presenter Ben Stein’s interview with Dawkins at the end of the film.
This is the main reason I am going and should make for good blog fodder. I have one or two awkward questions prepared to make the ID supporters sweat, although I’m not giving them away before the event!
Speaking in favour of ID areProf Steve Fuller and Dr Alastair Noble.
I am particularly looking forward to hearing what Alastair Noble has to say. The former Inspector of Schools recently posted an essay on The Guardian Comment is Free arguing that “Intelligent Design should not excluded [sic] from the study of origins” and that he was “disturbed that proposals for science education are based on near-complete ignorance of intelligent design.” The commenters on the original post ripped it to shreds as did those over at RichardDawkins.net. Evil Burnee Paul S Jenkins denounced it as “creationist twaddle”:
I am disturbed that a former science teacher and schools inspector should propose the teaching of non-science in a science class. “Near-complete ignorance” is pretty much the most anyone can know about intelligent design, because there’s nothing there. And scientific truth is not a matter of public popularity – even if every last British citizen thought creationism was true, that would not make it so.
Steve Fuller is an interesting character. Born in America, he now lectures in sociology at the University of Warwick this side of the pond. He claims to be a secularist but with “sympathies” towards Christian ideology. Fuller notoriously upped sticks to Dover, Pennsylvania to testify on behalf of the Intelligent Design side in the Kitzmiller –v- Dover District P A “Intelligent Design” trial in 2005 without telling his university. When parents and students found out what he was up to, the university was inundated with angry letters and emails demanding that Fuller not be allowed anywhere near the students!
I’m looking forward to seeing Susan Blackmore. I haven’t read any of her books yet, but I know she is strongly opposed to religion and pseudo-science. In her debate against Christian theologian Alister McGrath at Bristol University in 2007 she gives some insightful comments regarding her journey from earnest believer in the paranormal to die-hard sceptic. Her book on the topic is In Search of the Light: The Adventures of a Parapsychologist. I referenced her work on UFO encounters in my write-up of Prof Chris French’s lecture for The Merseyside Skeptics Society last year.
I also found this interesting talk on memes that Blackmore gave at TED a few years ago.
I’m also seeing Blackmore this Monday (22 February 2010) giving a lecture on “Are religions dangerous memes?” at Plymouth University. It may well get an epic MSP blog post of its own if it’s good!
Second screening and debate
Due to overwhelming demand, Premier have organised a second screening and debate of the film immediately after the first. At the time of publication, there were tickets still going. The details are as follows:
Saturday, 27 February 2010, 6:30pm
Sir Alexander Fleming Lecture Theatre
Imperial College London
South Kensington Campus
Guest speakers include Dr Alastair Noble (Former Inspector of Schools) and Dr Vij Sodera (Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons) who advocate Intelligent Design and Prof Keith Fox (Biology, Southampton University) and Dr Thomas Dixon (History of Science, Queen Mary London University) who advocate Darwinian Evolution.
I was sorely tempted to book in for round two, but I will have to pass since I will be accompanied by a non-militant atheist blogger friend who will no doubt be diverted by the call of the pub after round one. And Fuller and Noble are the two I’m really after…
Fuller rambles on about how ID deserves to be given a fair hearing as an “alternative theory” without ever explaining why it is any more credible than Flying Spaghetti Monsterism. He plays the sympathy card by portraying the IDers in the Dover trial as the underdogs struggling against the well-funded evil empire of evolutionary biology. OK, why don’t you join the fight of those brave Flat Earthers desperately attempting to have their “alternative theory” of the shape of the globe taught to the little darlings?
I wound up ID proponent William Dembski whose blog Uncommon Descent posted tworesponses to my piece deriding his debate against atheist embryologist Lewis Wolpert. See also my counter-response to Dembski’s accusations of being a member of the Rat Pack and Darwin not quite getting the “complexities” of the cell.
I’ll come clean and admit that I have read little if any original Intelligent Design material. Much of my knowledge of ID has come from reading it second or third hand from atheist scientists. NOVA’s documentary on the Kitzmiller –v- Dover P A “Intelligent Design” trial is well worth seeing.
Nevertheless, I listened with interest to all of Justin’s shows with an open mind and was decidedly underwhelmed by the ID proponents. I simply could not see a separate line of scientific reasoning emerge. All they were attempting to do was to pick holes in Darwinism and fill the gaps with ID, which of course explains nothing because you only put the explanation back another stage since you then have to ask how that from that intelligence arose and so on.
A depressing feature of the creationist movement is to distort scientific facts and misrepresent the true views of evolutionary scientists. In this sense, I found Intelligent Design to be very similar. It is creationism at the level of the cell, or as one commenter on Premier Christian Community eloquently put it: godofthegapswrappedupinaminoacids.
This may not be the question that I’ll ask the ID supporters on the debate panel, but since the screening and debate of Expelled is being held in a venue named after Sir Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of penicillin and a truly brilliant man whose work has saved the lives of countless millions and contributed immeasurably to the advancement of science, would humanity really be any worse off if the Intelligent Design movement disappeared tomorrow?