Posts Tagged ‘Creationism’

Debate on Evolution –v- Creationism: The Science Guy Bill Nye –v- Ken Ham of Answers In Genesis. Is it too late for Nye to back out?

19/01/2014

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American television’s “The Science Guy”, Bill Nye, is scheduled to debate Evolution versus Creationism Ken Ham, the head of the World’s largest Young Earth Creationist organisation, Answers In Genesis, on Evolution versus Creationism at Ham’s Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky in the US of A on 4 February 2014.  A few years ago, in March 2008, I had the ordeal of sitting through one of Ham’s lectures at the University of Liverpool and recounted the experience just over a year later on Ophelia Benson’s Butterflies & Wheels website:

It was an appalling experience for an atheist to sit through.  My blood boiled, my teeth gnashed and my choice as a non-believer was very much confirmed.  It wasn’t just the scientific ignorance that this man was peddling; he was also selling something far more sinister: right-wing religious bigotry of a distinctly Falwell variety.

In a nutshell, Ham’s line is that the Bible is the unalterable, infallible, unquestionable, literal Word of God. Everything in the Bible happened exactly as it is described, ifs, not buts, no metaphors, no allegories. Seven days means seven days, not a Hebrew term for a long period of time. People must choose between the Bible and human reason.  Clearly Ham is a devotee of Martin Luther, the founder of Protestantism, who recommended that tearing out your eyes of reason was a prerequisite to being a Christian.

Where scientific evidence and the Bible conflict, the Bible is always to be preferred and evidence must be massaged in order to fit it. According to Ham, we all start with “presuppositions”.  Atheist scientists such as Richard Dawkins and Eugenie Scott start on the presupposition that God does not exist and the Bible is wrong; creationist scientists such as Kurt Wise start with the presupposition that God does exist and the Bible is correct.  The differing conclusions result purely from differing interpretations of the same evidence.

(…)

The truly sinister side to Ham’s theology is that he believes in the cruel Old Testament God (so brilliantly summarised by Richard Dawkins at the beginning of Chapter 2 of The God Delusion) which became apparent in his explanation as to why God allows so much pain and suffering.  Forget theodicy, none of Richard Swinburne’s logical gymnastics for this guy, the reason why there is so much evil in the World is because God is angry with us all.

No, God does not allow evil for its eventual good to the human race.  No, we shouldn’t all have faith and hope for a better future.  Instead, we are all paying for the original sin of Adam and Eve eating that damn apple.  We all instinctively reject God and have been paying for it ever since. We are lucky even to be here in the first place since we are not worthy of our very existence. The only way of saving our miserable souls is to accept good old JC into our hearts. Cue slide of Hitler and Auschwitz victims: this was OUR fault!

Even as I copy and paste those words, I can still summon the rage that I felt in that lecture theatre all those years ago.  Naturally, my heart sank at the news of Bill Nye’s debate against Ham.  Richard Dawkins has stated categorically that he refuses to debate against Creationists as it would give the lay-public the erroneous impression that the scientific fact of evolution was in doubt and there was an issue worth debating.  It would be like a respectable 20th Century historian such Martin Gilbert or Ian Kershaw sharing a platform with David Irving to discuss in earnest whether the Holocaust happened to the nature and extent described by the victims, perpetrators and rescuers, or at all:

Some time in the 1980s when I was on a visit to the United States, a television station wanted to stage a debate between me and a prominent creationist called, I think, Duane P Gish.  I telephoned Stephen Gould for advice.  He was friendly and decisive: “Don’t do it.”  The point is not, he said, whether or not you would ‘win’ the debate.  Winning is not what the creationists realistically aspire to.  For them, it is sufficient that the debate happens at all.  They need the publicity.  We don’t.  To the gullible public which is their natural constituency, it is enough that their man is seen sharing a platform with a real scientist.  “There must be something in creationism, or Dr So-and-So would not have agreed to debate it on equal terms.”  Inevitably, when you turn down the invitation you will be accused of cowardice, or of inability to defend your own beliefs.  But that is better than supplying the creationists with what they crave: the oxygen of respectability in the world of real science.

The creationists’ tactic – which, for that matter, runs right across the religious apologetic board – is to duck their responsibility to provide any evidence for their claims and do their worst to discredit atheist scientists personally so their flock has a (wholly arbitrary) reason to discount their opinion and not worry about what they have said against religious faith.  I seriously think that “Ad Hominem” and “Dirty Debating Tactics” are taught as core modules on theology and apologetics courses the World over, from Sunday school to Christian universities.

Dawkins was the victim of covert creationist propaganda in when 1997 he unwittingly allowed an Australian creationist film crew into his Oxford home.  The interviewer’s question, “Can you give an example of a genetic mutation, or an evolutionary process, which can be seen to increase the information in the genome?” was a question that only a creationist would ask.  Dawkins tumbled to the fact that they were creationists, paused to think about how to deal with the situation and then asked them to stop filming.  He eventually continued with the interview after they pleaded with him on the basis that they had come from the other side of the World.

When the tape was published, Dawkins eventually discovered that the creationists had spliced the tape together to make it look like his was stumped by their question, asked them to stop filming while he considered his answer and then ducked the question and answered a completely different question.  Dawkins gave his own account of the interview and why he paused and asked them to stop filming within the pages of A Devil’s Chaplin.  Australian writer for The Skeptic, Barry Williams, published this exposé of the episode after Dawkins contacted the magazine to investigate the incident in a bid to protect his professional reputation.

The evolution side have been pretty unanimous in their condemnation of the Nye/Ham debate.  American biologist, blogger and author of Why Evolution Is True, Jerry Coyne, has commented on the debate here and here (the second post contains this useful interview with Nye on CNN giving his reasons for taking part in the debate) predicting that “it might not end well.”

Dan Arel writing on Richard Dawkins Foundation has summed up the situation rather well:

I honestly think it would be fantastic to see Nye destroy Ham, but will that do any good?  Suddenly a little known figure outside of his circles, Ham will be thrust into the spotlight, reaching impressionable youths around the world, and as great as it would be to see him taken down, the risks of him winning are greater.

The American people are not going to dissect Nye’s credentials to accept such a debate and if he goes down, he will take down a lot of hard work in science with him.  If the American people, who are already weary of science and already disown the idea of evolution as quickly as possible, see who in their minds is a top scientist lose to a creationist, we will have taken steps backwards in time.

The risk versus reward in this scenario is not worth it. Nye is putting a lot at risk and he is not the man to do so.

Creationism is a worthless and uneducated position to hold in our modern society and Nye is about to treat it as an equal, debatable “controversy”.

I hope Nye proves us all wrong on the 4th of February.  But eternal-pessimist-glass-is-always-half-empty-atheist that I am, I am bracing myself for the worst.

More of my favourite videos and articles from The Onion

18/08/2013

OnionLogoHow could I have forgotten these?

Joe Biden Hitchhikes To Democrat National Convention

The Onion has a been poking fun at “The President Of Vice” for a long time, but this one is my favourite.

You should also witness their editor’s straight-faced promotion of their mock-biography on CNN.

Ambassador Stages UN Coup, Issues Long List Of Non-Binding Resolution

The main clip mocking the pointless talk-shop that is the UN is very funny, but stick around till the end where a new study reveals the shocking truth about how Americans are pleasuring themselves.

Trekkies Bash New Star Trek Film As ‘Fun, Watchable’

“If I wanted to see young, attractive people doing cool, exciting things, I’d go watch sports.”

Kim Jung-Un Named The Onion’s Sexiest Man Alive For 2012

With his devastatingly handsome, round face, his boyish charm, and his strong, sturdy frame, this Pyongyang-bred heartthrob is every woman’s dream come true.  Blessed with an air of power that masks an unmistakable cute, cuddly side, Kim made this newspaper’s editorial board swoon with his impeccable fashion sense, chic short hairstyle, and, of course, that famous smile.

This piece was taken seriously by Chinese state media!

Planned Parenthood Opens $8 Billion Abortionplex

TOPEKA, KS—Planned Parenthood announced Tuesday the grand opening of its long-planned $8 billion Abortionplex, a sprawling abortion facility that will allow the organization to terminate unborn lives with an efficiency never before thought possible.

During a press conference, Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards told reporters that the new state-of-the-art fetus-killing facility located in the nation’s heartland offers quick, easy, in-and-out abortions to all women, and represents a bold reinvention of the group’s long-standing mission and values.

“Although we’ve traditionally dedicated 97 percent of our resources to other important services such as contraception distribution, cancer screening, and STD testing, this new complex allows us to devote our full attention to what has always been our true passion: abortion,” said Richards, standing under a banner emblazoned with Planned Parenthood’s new slogan, “No Life Is Sacred.”  “And since Congress voted to retain our federal funding, it’s going to be that much easier for us to maximize the number of tiny, beating hearts we stop every day.”

And this one was taken seriously by a Republican congressman.

Dead Teenager Remembered For Great Hand Jobs

GOLDSBORO, NC—Friends, classmates, and loved ones gathered last night at a memorial service in the Westside High School gymnasium to celebrate the life of 17-year-old Brooke Belzer, who, before she died tragically in a car accident last week, was beloved for her bright personality and for giving easily the best hand jobs in the school.

The untimely passing of Belzer, whom mourners remembered as a smart, accommodating teen who loved to laugh, watch movies with friends, and bring male friends to sexual climax with her hand, has left many in the Goldsboro community in a state of shock.

“I can’t believe she’s gone,” said Brian Jennings, a longtime classmate and neighbor.  “It’s just so shocking to think that someone as vibrant and full of life as Brooke is gone, and I’ll never see her again.  How can that be?”

Added Jennings, “She just rubbed me off in the Hardee’s parking lot last week.”

Belzer, a passenger in the single-car accident, was killed when driver Keith Foley, who survived the wreck with only minor injuries, became distracted and lost control of the vehicle.  Belzer was not wearing a seat belt at the time.

Pope Forgives Molested Children

VATICAN CITY—Calling forgiveness “one of the highest virtues taught to us by Jesus,” Pope John Paul II issued a papal decree Monday absolving priest-molested children of all sin.

“Though grave and terrible sins have been committed, our Lord teaches us to turn the other cheek and forgive those who sin against us,” said the pope, reading a prepared statement from a balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square.

“That is why, despite the terrible wrongs they have committed, the church must move on and forgive these children for their misdeeds.”

“As Jesus said, ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,’” the pope continued. “We must send a clear message to these hundreds—perhaps thousands—of children whose sinful ways have tempted so many of the church’s servants into lustful violation of their holy vows of celibacy.  The church forgives them for their transgressions and looks upon them not with intolerance, but compassion.”

(…)

“What kind of a message is the pope sending today’s children?  That it’s okay to seduce priests?” said one concerned Baltimore priest who asked to remain anonymous due to a pending court case.  “With the pope’s announcement, the church is essentially telling its youngest members, ‘Go ahead and let Father So-And-So reach into your swim trunks at the church-youth-group pool party.  It’s okay, the pope will forgive you in the end.’  Without fear of eternal damnation, how are these provocative young lotharios ever going to learn?”

Pope Vows To Get Pedophilia Down To Acceptable Levels

VATICAN CITY—Calling the behavior shameful, sinful, and much more frequent than the Vatican was comfortable with, Pope Benedict XVI vowed this week to bring the widespread pedophilia within the Roman Catholic Church down to a more manageable level.

Addressing thousands gathered at St. Peter’s Square on Easter Sunday, the pontiff offered his “most humble apologies” to abuse victims, and pledged to reduce the total number of molestations by 60 percent over the next five years.

“This is absolutely unacceptable,” Pope Benedict said. “It seems a weakening of faith in God has prevented our priests from exercising moderation when sexually abusing helpless minors.”

“And let me remind our clergy of the holy vows they all took when they entered the priesthood,” he continued.  “They should know that they’re only allowed one small child every other month.”

The pope said he was deeply disappointed to learn that the number of children sexually abused by priests was almost 10 times beyond the allowable limit clearly outlined in church doctrine.  Admitting for the first time in public that the overindulgent touching of “tender, tender young flesh” had become a full-blown crisis, the Holy Father vowed to implement new reforms to bring the pedophilia rate back down to five children per 1,000 clergy.

“The truth is there will always be a little bit of molestation—it’s simply unavoidable,” Vatican spokesperson Rev. Federico Lombardi said.  “But the fact that young boys have gotten much more attractive over the past few decades is no excuse for the blatant defiance of church limits that have been in place for centuries.”

Vatican Quickly Performs Damage Control On Pope’s Tolerant Remarks

VATICAN CITY—Following Pope Francis’ tolerant remarks Sunday about homosexuals and the Catholic Church, Vatican officials reportedly went into crisis mode, announcing that the Pope’s thoughtful message of understanding was clearly taken out of context.  “It is not the official stance of the Pope or the Catholic Church that all people of good will who seek the Lord, especially gay people, should be accepted by Christ,” a visibly nervous Vatican spokesman told reporters, adding that the Holy Father was clearly tired after his long trip to Brazil and never meant for his comments to sound caring or realistic.  “Homosexuality is a disorder.  And this in no way means that, going forward, the Catholic Church will be an open-minded, more sensible organization.  I assure you we are just as prejudiced and backward today as we were yesterday.  Thank you.”  According to an anonymous source close to the Vatican, the Pope is currently being yelled at by Church officials, who are telling him, “You don’t just go off script like that.  Who the fuck do you think you are?”

Evangelical Scientists Refute Gravity With New ‘Intelligent Falling’ Theory

KANSAS CITY, KS—As the debate over the teaching of evolution in public schools continues, a new controversy over the science curriculum arose Monday in this embattled Midwestern state.  Scientists from the Evangelical Center For Faith-Based Reasoning are now asserting that the long-held “theory of gravity” is flawed, and they have responded to it with a new theory of Intelligent Falling.

Answers in Genesis: Creationist arguments not to use

28/05/2010

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.

There are no beneficial mutations:

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.

Darwin recanted on his deathbed:

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.

Old Testament stories have been confirmed by modern day archaeology:

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.

No new species have been produced:

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?

Richard Dawkins on David Berlinski

09/04/2010

DawkinsBerlinski

manicstreetpreacher presents the damning verdict on a pseudo-intellectual by a genuine one.

Further to my recent series of posts on the Intelligent Design creationist propaganda piece Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, Mike Godfrey over at God3’s Blog quotes one of the film’s participants, David Berlinski.  In his response to the New Atheism, The Devil’s Delusion, Berlinski, a supposedly secular Jew, writes on the crimes of so-called atheist totalitarianisms in the 20th century:

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.

Premier Christian Media’s screening of ‘Expelled’: From Darwin to Hitler?

21/03/2010

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.

P Z Myers couldn’t have phrased it any better:

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.

Premier Christian Media’s screening of ‘Expelled’: Arguing from ignorance

21/03/2010

Part Three of my analysis of Premier Christian Media’s screening and debate of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed examines whether Intelligent Design has any genuine merit.

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:

  1. If humans are descent from apes, why are there still gorillas and monkeys alive today?
  2. Why have no transitional fossils been found?
  3. Why don’t we see apes giving birth to humans?
  4. Evolution is just a theory.
  5. Darwin inspired Hitler!

The fourth and final post of my analysis examines whether the last point has any credibility.

Premier Christian Media’s screening of ‘Expelled': Conspiracy? Cover-up? Expulsion?

21/03/2010

Part Two of my analysis of Premier Christian Media’s screening and debate of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed examines whether “Big Science” is suppressing the theory of Intelligent Design.

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.

Amen.

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.

Premier Christian Media’s screening of ‘Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed’ – A Review

21/03/2010

manicstreetpreacher is dismayed to announce the arrival in the UK of the Intelligent Design racket.

As previewed, a few weeks ago, I attended the first screening and debate by Premier Christian Media of the Intelligent Design propaganda piece Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed at Imperial College London on 27 February 2010.  Accompanying me were a friend who happens to be a secondary school science teacher and Evil Burnee, Paul S Jenkins, who has also posted a write-up of the event.

The Saturday, 20 March 2010 edition of Premier Christian Radio’s Unbelievable? airs the first post-screening debates and broadcasts extracts.  Speaking for ID was Dr Alastair Noble, former schools inspector and lay Christian preacher Steve Fuller, Professor of sociology at the University of Warwick.  Speaking against ID were Keith Fox, Professor of Biology at Southampton University and Chair of Christians in Science and Susan Blackmore, Visiting Professor of Psychology & Memetics, University of Plymouth.

My question to the panel about Expelled’s claim that Darwin’s ideas influenced Hitler’s ideology is at 43 minutes on the podcast.

The second post-screening debate can be downloaded from the Unbelievable? features page. The speakers were Dr Alastair Noble and Dr Vij Sodera, Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons advocating Intelligent Design and Prof Keith Fox, Biology, Southampton University and Dr Thomas Dixon, History of Science, Queen Mary London University who advocate Darwinian evolution.

My treatment of the film and debate will be divided in four separate posts:

  1. Expelled overview – The remainder of this post will give some general thoughts about the film and post-screening debate.
  2. Conspiracy?  Cover-up?  Expulsion? – Are atheistic evolutionary scientists aka “Big Science” deliberately suppressing a fledgling theory that has genuine merit?
  3. Arguing from ignorance – This post answers whether ID is a credible scientific theory in the resoundingly negative.
  4. From Darwin to Hitler? – My fourth and final post counters Expelled’s claim that there is a link between Origins and Dachau.

Film review

Judging by the laughter and applause from the audience, the screening was attended mainly by religious believers.  In my personal experience, religious people will laugh and applaud anything and there was a depressing level of laughter and applause for this piece of creationist trash.

At 90 odd minutes, it’s not overly long.  But at least half the running time is taken up by constant cuts to other images as if to help the audience understand the points being made: Western gunfights, people being beaten up and, most insultingly, images of concentration camps and the Berlin Wall, which Richard Dawkins dubbed a “Lord Privy Seal” (LPS).  These grew extremely tedious before the halfway mark.

In the post-screening debate, American-born Warwick University sociologist, Steve Fuller, tried to justify the LPS as being no different to a Michael Moore film.  Faint praise indeed.  But since, Fuller then went on to take a cheap shot at David Attenborough as having such a clear evolution bias he was ruining TV science programming, I don’t hold the man’s opinion in a very high regard.

There was also the utterly ham-fisted presentation of atheist scientists and commentators.  Dan Dennett, P Z Myers, Christopher Hitchens (who has one line) and Peter Atkins came off reasonably well.  However, Michael Shermer and Michael Ruse’s interviews were butchered in a manner that would embarrass YouTube’s cassetteboy.

For example, Ruse attempts to explain that one of the theories of the origins of life is the theory proposed by the Scottish chemist, Graham Cairns-Smith, that organic life was preceded by a strange and intriguing world of replicating patterns on the surfaces of crystals in inorganic clays.  This cuts to a voiceover of the film’s host, Ben Stein, incredulously asking whether we have abandoned science fact and have strayed into science fiction, and there is an irritating LPS of a wild-eyed fortune teller exclaiming, “Crystals!”  As with all creationist debates, the object of the exercise is not to prove anything scientific whatsoever, but to discredit the evolutionary scientist in front of the cameras.

Similarly, when a representative from one of the academic institutions is interviewed trying to explain why one of the “expelled” lost their position, Stein colours the mood against him in narration by saying, “We couldn’t get him away from his script”.

Richard Dawkins’ interview is the worst.  He is made up to look like a mad scientist with his normally neat hair looking like Doc Brown from Back to the Future.  While Stein is stepping out of his black cab en route to the interview, Dawkins is shown being powdered by the film’s production team (Dawkins’ web and recording guru, Josh Timonen wrote afterwards that Dawkins never wears make up for public appearances) and is then made to wait as Stein turns up late.  He is shot in dim light.  In his appearances before the main interview he is accompanied by ominous music.  Sadly, there is worse to come.

After Dawkins reads out the (in)famous passage at the start of Chapter 2 of The God Delusion (“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all of fiction…”), Stein asks him if that’s what he really thinks of God.  Dawkins gives a suspiciously curtailed, “Yep”.  I wonder what they left on the cutting room floor.

Dawkins then attempts to explain the circumstances he would consider an intelligent designer being responsible for the creation of life on Earth.  In an attempt to give ID its best hypothetical shot, Dawkins answers that it could have been an extra-terrestrial intelligence, but of course we would then have to ask where that intelligence came from and so on; the infinite regress would continue until an evolution-type natural process explained how the first alien intelligent designer arose.

Naturally, the interview is cut so as to make Dawkins look as stupid as possible; as if he is seriously suggesting that an alien spaceship landed on Earth and planted the first seed of life.  Stein says in narration that Dawkins is bending over backwards to avoid bringing God into the equation: he would rather it be little green men than the Almighty.

Dawkins gave the true story behind the interview at his address to the American Atheists Conference 2009, the relevant extract of which is below.  For the video, the scene from the film itself is replaced by dialogue cards so as not to risk a copyright action from the producers.

For about two-thirds of the film, Expelled maintains a straight face that ID is a scientific proposition and a credible alternative to evolution.  However, for the last 10 minutes, the curtain is well and truly raised to reveal the film’s true agenda to the sound of The Killers’ gospel-tinged “All These Things That I’ve Done”: to bring God into science classrooms so we can all praise him for his wondrous creation.  Permit me just this one LPS:

Following the debate, Expelled’s UK DVD distributer, Mark Haville (who incidentally has posted a 5 star review of the Expelled DVD on Amazon UK without stating his interest!), of NPN Videos read out a prepared statement which hinted at a campaign in the coming weeks and months to lobby and legislate in order to bring Intelligent Design to the fore.  May [Spinoza’s] God have mercy on us all.

In the meantime, I can only recommend sites like Expelled Exposed, which was set up by Eugenie Scott of the American National Center for Science Education to refute the film’s claims and protect the reputations of the people and institutions misrepresented in the film.  There are also plenty of “alternative versions” knocking around the torrent pages with voiceover narrations and subtitles correcting the lies.

The next post examines whether there is any truth behind Expelled’s claim that “Big Science” is unjustly suppressing ID.

Preview: Premier Christian Media screens and debates ‘Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed’, 27 February 2010

21/02/2010

manicstreetpreacher gears up for attending his next live debate on religion.

Next weekend I will be attending Premier Christian Media’s screening of the loathsome piece of creationist propaganda, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.  Details are as follows:

Saturday, 27 February 2010, 2:30pm

Sir Alexander Fleming Lecture Theatre
Imperial College London
South Kensington Campus
Exhibition Road
London
SW7 2AZ

Phone: 08456 52 52 52

Google Maps
Imperial College South Kensington Campus Map (download PDF)

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.

Richard Dawkins:

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.

Michael Shermer:

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.

Post-screening debate

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 are Prof 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!

Be sure to read Fuller’s hilarious exchanges with British atheist philosopher A C Grayling over Grayling’s damning review of Fuller’s Dissent Over Descent.  Grayling’s counter-reply to Fuller’s indignant response to his review contained this all-time classic which I have quoted myself on at least one occasion:

Steve Fuller complains, as do all authors whose books are panned, that I did not read his book properly (or at all).  Alas, I did.

Speaking against ID are Keith Fox, Professor of Biology at Southampton University and Chair of Christians in Science and Susan Blackmore, Visiting Professor of Psychology & Memetics, University of Plymouth.

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
Exhibition Road
London
SW7 2AZ

Phone: 08456 52 52 52

Google Maps
Imperial College South Kensington Campus Map (download PDF)

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…

Recent Unbelievable? debates on Intelligent Design

DJ Justin Brierley has done a few shows on ID over the past few months.

Steve Fuller -v- Thomas Dixon: “Do we need God to do Science?” 5 February 2010

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?

Stephen C Meyer -v- Peter Atkins: “Expelled The Movie” 16 January 2010

Meyer can’t mention the title of his new piece of ID propaganda, Signature in the Cell, enough.  Canadian computer science professor Jeffrey Shallit skilfully deals with Myers’ “bogus information theory” as well as the “dishonesty factor”.  Akins is his usual gleeful belligerent-bordering-on-sheer-rude self!

William Dembski -v- Lewis Wolpert: “Intelligent Design” 2 January 2010

I wound up ID proponent William Dembski whose blog Uncommon Descent posted two responses 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?

Intelligent Design: Dembski responds to MSP

16/01/2010

manicstreetpreacher just needs to clear something up.

ID proponent William Dembski continues to give me a free readership on his Uncommon Common Descent blog by attacking my post on his appearance on Premier Christian Radio’s Unbelievable? (700 views and counting!  :o  ).  Firstly, Denyse O’ Leary vilified me for my take on the importance (or lack!) of probabilities in biology.  Now, Dembski himself has posted a response denying that Darwin knew about the complexities of the cell, accusing your humble servant of “re-writing history”:

A blogger who goes by “Manic Street Preacher” sent me three unsolicited emails about his reaction to the debate, which was not positive…

I finally had a look at what this blogger wrote. I can’t say I was impressed with the argumentation or erudition, but I do have to credit him for chutzpah…

I don’t mean to be argumentative, but the insides of the cells depicted here do look to me like blobs.  But qualitative interpretations like this aside, the fact is that Darwin had no conception of molecular biology or the intricate nano-engineering that Michael Behe, for instance, describes in the cell.  Moreover, it’s straightforward to examine the actual history of the scientific understanding of the cell to realize that the cell in Darwin’s time was conceived as simple, indeed so simple that it could spontaneously generate.  Jonathan Wells and I describe some of this in HOW TO BE AN INTELLECTUALLY FULFILLED ATHEIST.

But perhaps the easiest way to see that “Manic Street Preacher” is blowing smoke is to do a search on “Bathybius Haeckelii” – slime dredged up from the ocean floor thought to be the primordial living matter.  This proved to be a big embarrassment to Huxley and Haeckel.  The details here are unimportant.  What is important is that biologist of Huxley’s and Haeckel’s stature thought that life could be so simple as to be the result of this slime.

“Manic Street Preacher” reminds me of Joey Bishop in the movie A GUIDE FOR THE MARRIED MAN [IMDB].  Bishop, caught in flagrante delictu with another woman by his wife, denies all wrong doing (and, if he were a Darwinist, would accuse his wife of infidelity).  Eventually, the wife, suitably cowed, accepts the denials and agrees that nothing happened. Well, here at UD we don’t let Darwinists get away with such nonsense.  Darwin and his contemporaries didn’t have a clue about the complexity of the cell.  History bears this out, Darwinian revisionism notwithstanding.

Aside from being somewhat bemused at being compared to a member of the Rat Pack and an email spammer, I have two retorts to this.  Firstly, Dembski ought to have scrolled down to the comments section, where he would have seen that I had linked to this page on zoologist and theistic evolutionist Wesley R Elsberry’s blog which contains excellent references both to creationist and IDiots’ claims that Darwin knew nothing about that complexity of the cell:

Antievolutionists make lots of claims about Charles Darwin, seeking to impeach the authority of someone born 199 years ago today.  Given that science moves on and leaves no one’s ideas untouched, one would think that they would stick to negative claims that would stand up to some scrutiny.  Again and again, though, we find that they continue to espouse negative claims that are just plain silly, at least to those with even the slightest familiarity with the actual record that Darwin left.

[A] common antievolution claim about Darwin, simply put, [is] that Darwin considered the contents of cells to be “black boxes”, comprised of a simple or homogeneous protoplasm.  This is expressed in similar ways by a number of antievolutionists.  The following is just a sampling of the available instances.

Michael Behe:

To Darwin, then, as to every other scientist of the time, the cell was a black box.

And again:

Scientists use the term “black box” for a system whose inner workings are unknown.  To Charles Darwin and his contemporaries, the living cell was a black box because its fundamental mechanisms were completely obscure.  We now know that, far from being formed from a kind of simple, uniform protoplasm (as many nineteenth-century scientists believed), every living cell contains many ultrasophisticated molecular machines.

Casey Luskin:

There were other things that Darwin did not know.  For example, Darwin assumed that the cell was like a primitive blob of protoplasm that could easily evolve new biological functions.  As Behe explains, “To Darwin, then, as to every other scientist of the time, the cell was a black box…  The question of how life works was not one that Darwin or his contemporaries could answer.”

Nancy Pearcey:

To be fair to Darwin, he proposed his theory when scientists knew next to nothing about biochemistry.  Living things were “black boxes,” their inside workings a mystery.  The cell itself was thought to be nothing more than a blob of jellylike protoplasm.  It was easy to draw large-scale scenarios about fins gradually turning into legs, or legs into wings, since no one had a clue how limbs and organs work from the inside.  As Behe writes, it is as though we asked how a stereo system is made and someone answered, “by plugging a set of speakers into an amplifier and adding a CD player, radio receiver, and tape deck.”

That’s pretty rich, that “be fair to Darwin” phrase.  As Jeffrey Shallit, Professor of Computer Science at University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, commenting on Stephen Meyer’s recent book, Signature in the Cell points out, “This claim has been repeated again and again by creationists, but it is not true.  Fergodsake, the nucleus was discovered in 1833.”

Elsberry continues with the opinions of Jay Richards:

In addition, biochemists and biologists have discovered a microscopic world of mesmerizing complexity belying the simple blobs of protoplasm that Darwin imagined.

Elsberry frames matters bluntly:

Antievolutionists don’t go looking at the primary sources to come up with these nuggets; one of them creates a “magic bullet”, and the rest pass it around like a game of “telephone”, sometimes resulting in a garbled mess.  As Casey Luskin’s contribution here indicates, the likely source of the BS in this case is Michael Behe.

Why call it BS?  Because anybody can disconfirm the claim in seconds with a modern Internet search, and only moderately longer using the past technology scholars have long relied upon for substantiating claims about prior work.

Wesley correctly recommends the Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online website as an excellent resource:

One finds there Darwin’s work on pangenesis, his hypothesis that there existed small particles that he called gemmules, each of which contained the heritable information for some particular trait, and which would combine, somehow, into the gametes.  His continued advocacy of this wrong idea was a major failing on his part, but along the way we can see that even though Darwin was wrong about gemmules, he did hold an antithetical view to the claim that everything was simple at the most basic levels of life’s organization:

Notwithstanding the astounding complexity of the processes implied by this hypothesis of pangenesis, yet it seems to me to comprehend the several leading facts better than any other view.  On this hypothesis we may fancifully look at each animal and plant as being compounded of many beings, in the same manner as a tree or coral is compounded of many similar beings; but in neither case have these so-called beings had a separate existence.  Each of these beings, or parts, is supposed to be capable of throwing off gemmules, which whilst within the organism are capable of self-increase, and which can be separately developed at the part or organ whence they were derived, and can be united, as in the case of hybrids, with other gemmules into a single germ or bud, which reproduces the complete parent form.  On this view, each organic being may be looked at as a little universe, formed of a host of different self-propagating organisms, almost as numerous as the stars in heaven, and as minute as they are immense.

Darwin clearly understood the complexity of the cell in this paper:

As, however, a cell is a complex structure, with its investing membrane, nucleus, and nucleolus, a gemmule, as Mr G H Lewes has remarked in his interesting discussion on this subject (Fortnightly Review, Nov. 1, 1868, p. 508), must, perhaps, be a compound one, so as to reproduce all the parts.

Two papers by Darwin published in 1882 demonstrate Darwin’s readiness to experiment in resolving sub-cellular processes, using chemistry and microscopy to aid in the work.

Darwin, C. R. 1882. The action of carbonate of ammonia on chlorophyll-bodies. [Read 6 March] Journal of the Linnean Society of London (Botany) 19: 262-284.

Darwin, C. R. 1882. The action of carbonate of ammonia on the roots of certain plants. [Read 16 March] Journal of the Linnean Society of London (Botany) 19: 239-261.

These papers in the primary literature demonstrate vividly that Charles Darwin not only was aware that protoplasm was not homogeneous, but was at the end of his life working toward elucidating exactly what differences within cells existed.  As Wesley concludes:

The antievolution “magic bullet” intended to dismiss Darwin is a dud.  Sub-cellular structure elucidation was another part of science in which Darwin was an active participant.  Darwin’s own preferred hypothesis of heredity, though now discredited, presumed the sort of immense complexity at small scales that antievolutionists falsely claim Darwin had no “imagination” for.  Many antievolutionists have willingly participated in passing along this falsehood and urging changes in public school curriculum policy based, in part, on their false and ignorant claims.  I find it significant that I have yet to encounter any instance of an antievolution advocate pointing out the actual facts of the case and remonstrating with their colleagues, even though the disconfirming evidence is easy to locate and describe.  I can only conclude that antievolutionists in general have no concern for the truth nor for fact-checking even the simplest of their claims.  Trusting antievolutionists to help guide policy and form curricula for public schools would be malfeasance, plain and simple…

Secondly, the charge that Darwin did not know anything about the inner workings of the cell is purely an academic point and I corrected Dembski mainly to preserve Darwin’s reputation and correct him on this bogus canard that he and his ilk keep trotting out.   There was a great deal that Darwin did not know about and/or where he was plain wrong.  Dembski is correct in pointing out that he had no idea about genetic mutations, DNA and molecular biology.  However, his theory has been revised, updated and indeed strengthened by the subsequent 150 years of scientific research, experimentation and peer-review by scientists who have had far greater knowledge and far more advanced technology at their disposal.

This is the science that has rid the world of smallpox and flown us to the moon.  Even if Dembski and Behe had their way and people accepted that there was an extraterrestrial intelligence behind the complexity we see in nature, even if the unthinkable happened and the designer actually revealed himself in the middle of an international event with the entire world watching and told us directly to be nice to each other, nothing whatsoever would change about the way we do science.  We could not even confront the designer and ask him to repair what he makes, like Roy Batty in Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi classic Blade Runner.

We would still have to search for cures to cancer and AIDS as well as updating our vaccinations against constantly evolving viruses (funny how you never hear creationists and IDers shout about the wonderful design of these particular organisms!).  Creationism and Intelligent Design contribute nothing to the advancement of science and medicine.  If an IDer has ever won the Nobel Prize, they must have hidden it from the judges.  If the Discovery Institute is leading the way in the fight against deadly diseases, they are keeping it awfully quiet.  Instead, they are concerned with preserving ancient myths in the vain hope that adhering to such beliefs sometimes makes people behave better, as the opening paragraph of the DI’s “Wedge Strategy” document (download PDF) well attests:

The proposition that humans beings are created in the image of God is one of the bedrock principles on which Western civilization was built.  Its influence can be detected in most, if not all, of the West’s greatest achievements, including representative democracy, human rights, free enterprise and progress in arts and science.

One piece of scripture that has stuck with this manic street preaching heretic is something St Paul said: “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.  For now we see through a glass, darkly.”  (1 Corinthians 13: 12 – 13).

Time to put away childish things, guys.


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