Archive for the ‘Films’ Category

Farewell, Philip Seymour Hoffman

03/02/2014

One of my favourite actors of all time, Philip Seymour Hoffman has died aged 46 of a drug overdose, BBC News reports here, here, here, and here.  I have not seen all of Hoffman’s films, but in all those that I have, he lit up the screen with his unique persona and made an indelible impression, whether in a lead or a supporting role.

The above video is a quintessential Hoffman scene/performance from Todd Solondz’s indie black comedy, Happiness (think American Beauty a thousand times darker and more fucked up!), with Hoffman playing Allen; a sexually repressed, emotionally stunted pervert who (quite literally) gets off by calling women at random from his phone book and a man so boring that even his own shrink zones out on him.  As Empire magazine commented in their review of Red Dragon where Hoffman played doomed journalist Freddy Lounds “no-one plays snivelling and enfeebled like Philip Seymour Hoffman.”

Hoffman’s greatest performance, and the one that deservedly earned him an Oscar for Best Actor was as Truman Capote in Bennett Miller’s 2005 film, Capote, documenting the eccentric New York writer’s researching of his masterpiece “non-fiction novel”, In Cold Blood: an account of the brutal murders of Herbert Clutter and his family by Richard “Dick” Hickock and Perry Edward Smith in Holcomb, Kansas in the penultimate month of the 1950s.  Hoffman brilliantly portrayed both the good and the bad sides of Capote’s charismatic genius, presenting him as a sympathetic and compassionate man, while at the same time being manipulative and deceitful in his quest to obtain the truth from the two killers in a project that ultimately would leave the writer mentally scarred for the rest of his life.

Hoffman is the latest in a long line of truly great artists whose tragically early demise has secured their legendary status.

BBC News’ Obituary / In Pictures

Philip Seymour Hoffman 1967 – 2014

Philip Seymour Hoffman
1967 – 2014

Advertisements

‘1492: Conquest of Paradise’ – An Exhumation

15/09/2013

1492PosterWhenever anyone asks me what my favourite film of all time is, I find it impossible to give a single definitive answer.  However, I usually mention Ridley Scott’s forgotten Columbus epic, 1492: Conquest of Paradise.  Released in October 1992 as part of the 500th Anniversary of the Genoese navigator making landfall in the Caribbean, it was dismissed by most critics and tanked at the US box office, making a measly $7million against a production budget of approximately $40million.  It eventually recovered roughly $50million on its worldwide release, but the producers would still have been left with large black hole in their accounts after marketing costs.

The film well and truly had the wind taken out of its sails right from the beginning.  There was a public backlash against the Columbus 500th Anniversary celebration, particularly from the Native American community who saw him as the instigator of the next 400 years of genocide against them.  Two other Columbus films were released around the same time: a dismally unfunny and puerile Carry On Columbus, which nailed the lid on the Carry On series’ coffin for good, and the just plain dismissal Christopher Columbus: The Discovery, which was produced by the Salkind family and has rightly earned a place as one of the most universally awful films of all time.

My personal voyage with 1492

I first saw 1492 on television a few years after its cinema release when I was about 15 with my father.  It received a glowing review in our household’s television guide, Radio Times, (although I seem to remember it was given the full five stars, not the four in the linked review).  Aside from that, I came to the film with no preconceptions or baggage whatsoever and was able to enjoy it for what it truly is.  I had always loved watching films but took no deeper interest in them once the end credits rolled.  However, 1492 changed all that for me.

I had learned about Columbus in school, but never taken any special interest in him.  I had never seen a film adaptation of his life, but considered the tale to be relatively straightforward.  The Radio Times review rightly warns viewers “looking for an old-style adventure to look elsewhere, for this is a dark and brooding piece about colonial exploitation.”

“Dark, bloody and brooding” describes it perfectly.  The horrors of the Spanish Inquisition are portrayed in full and while all other film versions have ended with Columbus’ triumphant return from his first voyage, 1492 continues to show the next ten years of his life with his attempts to set up a colony on Hispaniola resulting in the slaughter of the native Indians, civil war and natural disaster.

Columbus’ life ends in poverty and obscurity with fellow-Italian voyager Amerigo Vespucci, who discovered the American mainland c. 1500, taking credit for the new continent’s entire discovery; lock, stock and barrel.  The final screen crawl provides a glimmer of optimism as it informs us that Columbus’ final voyage in 1502 with his son, Fernando, saw them land in Panama where the Indians revealed to them the existence of the Pacific Ocean (thus dispelling the myth that Columbus went to his grave believing that the land he had discovered was the east coast of Asia) and Fernando’s biography of his father restored the name of Columbus to its place in history.

Gérard Depardieu plays the lead role of Columbus.  Although he seems like an odd choice of casting in terms of his thick French accent (some additional voice coaching and post production dialogue rerecording would have helped), but as Empire’s review puts it, “he’s the stand-out – loping around like a particularly charismatic sore-headed bear, and playing triumph, passion and crushing disappointment with equal Gallic aplomb.”

Adrian Biddle’s cinematography (in what looks like natural lighting as per Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon) gives the film a European Art House look while Scott uses even more smoke and wind machines than usual, and emphasises key moments with languid slow-motion and zoom shots.

Canadian rent-a-bad-guy Michael Wincott plays Don Adrian de Moxica (probably based on the real-life Adrian de Mojica who did lead a revolt against Columbus on Hispaniola) and gives the most memorable performance of his career.  Previously starring as Guy of Gisborne in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, he is slimmed down to skeletal proportions, his famous raspy-60-Malboro-Reds-a-day voice has an authentic Spanish accent to it and he turns in a brilliant performance showing contempt both for the commoner Columbus and racist hatred of the Indians, conveying insane evil while staying the right side of hyperbole and ham.  Look out for his almost as dastardly sidekick, Guevara, played by a pre-Mummy/baldness Arnold Vosloo.

The most outstanding element of the film though is Vangelis’ score.  The first time I watched the film, the music did not register with me at all.  I have my father to thank for rewinding the tape so we could listen to the final theme that accompanies the end credits again.  The triumphant “Conquest of Paradise” is quite simply one of the best pieces of music I have ever heard (and that includes all output by Manic Street Preachers, Joy Division and The Verve!) and I can (quite literally) listen to it all day.  The Spanish chants and tribal drums on “Hispanola” make it as good a track as any to wage war and the jungle murmurs of “Moxica And The Horse” (which makes a surprise appearance in Michael Mann’s 2004 thriller, Collateral) is as good a track as any to stalk your foe.

Only half the tracks on the official soundtrack feature in the film and “Hispanola” lurches into a dreadful rock-out organ solo halfway through which was mercifully exercised from the film.  If you search Google, you should be able to find “The Complete Score” which restore gems such as “Porto Palos”, “Departure” and “Return”, albeit with less than perfect sound quality and inclusive of Foley sound effects and snippets of dialogue.  I hope one day an official complete soundtrack album is released.

I had never heard of Ridley Scott nor seen any of his other films; although I was later to learn that he helmed the bona-fide cinematic classics Alien, Blade Runner and Thelma & Louise.  After seeing these three films following 1492, Scott became my favourite director of all time and I was really rooting for him prior to the release of Gladiator in 2000 after nearly a decade of critical and commercial flops with 1492, White Squall and G. I. Jane; the first two getting far less critical praise and box office receipts than they deserved.

1492 was a life-changing film for me because it presents a familiar subject in a very unusual way and does not pander to audience expectations.  Whether this is historically accurate or not, Columbus is portrayed as a man who is all too human with strengths as well as weakness, but essentially of good intentions.

Reaction

When I researched the reaction to the film on the Internet, I discovered what a critical and commercial disaster it had been when it was first released.  It currently holds a score of 39% on Rotten Tomatoes, although the public have been slightly kinder and it averages 6.3 on IMDb.

While reviews were mixed-to-negative, between them, the critics seemed to disagree on practically every element of the film as to whether it was a strength or weakness: the casting of Depardieu and his performance, Biddle’s photography, Wincott as the bad guy, Vangelis’ score; everything.  Scott since commented following a viewing of 1492 on Laser Disc that he thought it was “a pretty good film, but not what people were expecting.”

Another charge levelled at the film is that it was heavily cut prior to release.  While Scott has mentioned that in hindsight his initial three hour cut was his preferred version, if you take the time to read an early draft of Roselyn Bosch’s script as I have, it is clear that charges of “pre-release panic cutting” are nonsense.  The largest removal from the script to the final film is the portrayal of Columbus’ final voyage to the New World with Fernando and even then some of the scenes have clearly been merged into the final shooting script so they occur earlier in Columbus’ life.  They are also a number of sensible omissions where the violence lurches into bad taste or the character beats wander into cliché.

Following the success of Gladiator, 1492 was given a DVD release in 2001, predictably containing the marketing line, “From the director of Gladiator”.  When I saw the film on DVD on my father’s then-state-of-the-art Toshiba widescreen, I fell in love with it all over again.  Aside from a few “nicks and cuts” on the film, the picture and sound transfer was superb and the film “flowed” better than ever before.

So far, a Blu Ray version has not been released in the US or the UK, but French and German editions exist.  I recently watched the German edition.  The picture quality is amazing: all imperfections present on the VHS and DVD releases have been removed and the beauty of the cinematography and art direction can shine through.  The sound quality is generally good, although there is some distortion in some of the sound effects, particularly the sea waves.  The original English audio is in place, the text of the opening and end credits are in English, as is the opening screen crawl.  Rather annoyingly, however, the end credit crawl is in German with no English subtitles!

A New Life

The critics’ reviews have not improved significantly with 1492‘s DVD and Blu Ray releases; one reviewer writing in a UK national online newspaper about three years ago published a rather scornful review mocking the historicity and the tone of the film.  (I’m not linking to the review because quite simply I do not want you to read it since it is chocked full of factual errors and childish comments from a critic who clearly does not like to watch films so much as deliberately poke holes in them!)

However, as I recently posted about Michael Cimino’s epic Western Heaven’s Gate – a critical and commercial disaster on its initial release in 1980 – the passage of time can be kind to films previous considered box office poison, and with the baggage removed the film’s true merits can be reassessed and properly appreciated

So with this in mind, I am going to forward this post to the director, the producer, the studio and the score composer’s record company and suggest that the film be given a fully restored and re-cut Blu Ray edition for film’s 25th Anniversary.

Sir Ridley Scott
Scott Free Productions (UK)

42 – 44 Beak Street
London
W1F 9RH

Ilan Goldman
Légende

5 rue Lincoln
75008 Paris
France
Email: legende@legende.fr

Paramount Studio
Contact Form

Warner Music Group
Contact Form

Final Cut: The Making and Unmaking of ‘Heaven’s Gate’

06/09/2013

Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4 / Part 5 / Part 6 / Part 7 / Part 8

I post the videos for Michael Epstein’s superb documentary from 2004, Final Cut: The Making and Unmaking of ‘Heaven’s Gate’, which is based on former United Artists studio executive Steven Bach’s book, Final Cut: Art, Money and EGO in the Making of ‘Heaven’s Gate’, the Film That Sank United Artists.

Production

Upon release and for thirty years afterwards, Michael Cimino’s epic western Heaven’s Gate has been shorthand for “cinematic disaster of the very first, second and third orders”.  Following the enormous critical and commercial success of The Deer Hunter, which won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, United Artists handed Cimino an $11.5million cheque and allowed him to make his dream picture.

Heaven’s Gate is an epic Western loosely based on the Johnson County War of 1892, with a plot that takes its protagonists Jim Averill (Kris Kristofferson) and Billy Irvine (John Hurt) from their Harvard graduation to the untamed wilderness of Wyoming to fight a cartel of ruthless cattle barons lead by Frank Canton (Sam Waterson), who have hired ruthless bounty hunter Nathan Champion (Christopher Walken), and are determined to wipe out every male Russian immigrant in the county for cattle rustling.  Meanwhile Averill and Champion vie for the affections of French prostitute Ella Watson (Isabelle Huppert) who runs a bordello in barrens.

What followed has gone down in Hollywood folklore for all the wrong reasons.  Cimino spent the next two years engaging in what the critic Leslie Halliwell described as “self abuse” and the production spiralled out of control, making Francis Ford Coppola’s experiences on Apocalypse Now seem like a low-key art house project.

The original $11.5million budget ballooned to between $35million and $50million and stories flooded the film press during production that Cimino had all but lost his mind by tearing down and rebuilding sets and shooting endless takes.  One story has it that he ordered the set of an entire town to be taken down and rebuilt because he wanted the main street to be six feet wider; he would not accept the crew’s suggestion simply to knock down one side of the set and rebuild it further away from the other.  And the scene where Jim Averill played by Kris Kristofferson is awoken from a drunken stupor by a group of townsfolk and angrily cracks his bullwhip at them took upwards of 50 takes before Cimino was happy.

There were also stories of widespread drug use on set by the cast and crew as well as cruelty to animals.  The American Humane Association has blacklisted the film and it is alleged that real horse and cattle entrails were used in certain scenes and the cockfight scene actually did result in two birds ripping each other apart on set with the cameras rolling.

After months of editing, Cimino finally delivered a cut to studio that was five and half hours long; one executive commented that the climatic shoot out at end between the cattle barons and the immigrants was longer than the entire running time of many “normal” films!

Reception

Cimino eventually had “final cut” on the film and a three and a half hour version was premiered in November 1980 so that it was eligible for nomination at the following year’s academy awards, but the New York critics panned it to smithereens.  Writing for The New York Times, the usually polite and restrained Vincent Canby described it as akin to “a forced, four hour walking tour of one’s own living room” and that “it fails so completely, you might suspect Mr Cimino sold his soul to the Devil in return for the success of The Deer Hunter, and the devil has just come around to collect” before sealing its fate as “an unqualified disaster”.

A story from the film’s New York premiere had it that Cimino wondered aloud why no one was drinking champagne during the interval.  “That’s because they hate the movie, Michael”, came the reply.

When audiences failed to turn up for the first week of release in New York, Cimino panicked.  In a rash move that conceded that the critics were right in their condemnation of the film, Cimino sent an open letter to UA President Andy Albeck by way of full-page adverts Variety and The Hollywood Reporter requesting that the film be pulled from release and re-edited before it went on nationwide release.  UA granted his request and there then followed another frantic five months of editing.  The film re-emerged a leaner, cleaner 165 minutes.  It was different, but it wasn’t better.  Along with the excess of the original version, Cimino had also removed much of its epic scope and character development while the plot made little sense.  The re-released version fared no better at the box office and died a high-profile death.  The domestic box office from its original theatrical run was a mere $3.5million.

Eventually, art director Tambi Larsen took the Heaven Gate’s sole Academy Award nomination, but the film featured prominently at the 1981 Golden Raspberry Awards being nominated for Worst Film, Director, Musical Score and Actor (Kristofferson); “winning” for Worst Director.

Post-Mortem

The film’s failure destroyed UA and it was bought out by MGM shortly afterwards.  Cimino’s career was left in tatters.  Since Heaven’s Gate he has directed a mere four feature-length films; all of them low budget thrillers and indie-pics, with the last one, The Sunchaser, released in 1996.  Although all were brought in on time and on budget, none of them made any money.  Cimino also managed to get himself fired from the helm of Kevin Bacon’s breakout hit, Footloose.  Go figure…

For many years, critics’ and audiences’ opinions remained steadfastly unchanged.  In a recent poll, readers of Empire voted Heaven’s Gate the sixth worst film of all time, while writing in The Guardian in 2008, film critic Joe Queenan had the following to say:

I am firmly in the camp that believes that Heaven’s Gate is the worst movie ever made.  For my money, none of these other films can hold a candle to Michael Cimino’s 1980 apocalyptic disaster.  This is a movie that destroyed the director’s career.  This is a movie that lost so much money it literally drove a major American studio out of business.  This is a movie about Harvard-educated gunslingers who face off against eastern European sodbusters in an epic struggle for the soul of America. This is a movie that stars Isabelle Huppert as a shotgun-toting cowgirl.  This is a movie in which Jeff Bridges pukes while mounted on roller skates.  This is a movie that has five minutes of uninterrupted fiddle-playing by a fiddler who is also mounted on roller skates.  This is a movie that defies belief.

A friend of mine, now deceased, was working for the public relations company handling Heaven’s Gate when it was released.  He told me that when the 220-minute extravaganza debuted at the Toronto film festival, the reaction was so thermonuclear that the stars and the film-maker had to immediately be flown back to Hollywood, perhaps out of fear for their lives.  No one at the studio wanted to go out and greet them upon their return; no one wanted to be seen in that particular hearse.  My friend eventually agreed to man the limo that would meet the children of the damned on the airport tarmac and whisk them to safety, but only provided he was given free use of the vehicle for the next three days.  After he dropped off the halt and the lame at suitable safe houses and hiding places, he went to Mexico for the weekend.  Nothing like this ever happened when Showgirls or Gigli or Ishtar or Xanadu or Glitter or Cleopatra were released.  Nothing like this happened when The Hottie and the Nottie dropped dead the day it was released.  Heaven’s Gate was so bad that people literally had to be bribed to go meet the survivors. Proving that, in living memory, giants of bad taste once ruled the earth.  Giants.  By comparison with the titans who brought you Heaven’s Gate, Paris Hilton is a rank amateur.

Empire’s DVD review is rather more even-handed, awarding the film three stars out of five and stating:

The film itself… is gorgeous, tranquil, and terribly slow, with shades of Terrence Mallick’s floaty dreams.  For much of the endless running time, the narrative remains wispy and indistinct as Cimino searches for the melancholy vagueness of life.  It has the looks of a Western, but the naturalism of Euro-art.  There is no doubting the stunning creativity at work, including strong performances from unshowy talents like Kris Kristofferson, Isabelle Huppert and John Hurt, but it also frustrates with its languid disregard for story.  Cimino lacks Mallick’s ability to ignite images with meaning, here they remain just eloquent images, stark and beautiful like as the spinning wonder of the roller-skating rink, but over-priced sideshows in a little story.

The final eruption of violence, when the cattle-baron’s private-army push to eradicate the lowly farmers carries the chilling edge of tragedy, but it is an emotion not fully won.  This is an extraordinary piece of fateful art, but its imperfections are as loud as its reputation.

Opinion

I have seen both the full and edited versions of Heaven’s Gate on television and VHS some years ago and broadly agree with Empire’s DVD review as well as Michael Souter’s opinion in his excellent book The Worst Movies Of All Time: or, What Were They Thinking? There is no genuine example of incompetence on the screen that makes you stare in shock and disbelief as in a real turkey like Gigli or Christopher Columbus: The Discovery.  The performances are generally good (although Walken is miscast and Huppert makes for an improbable French madam in the American wilderness) and the scope and passion of Cimino’s vision is clear for all to see.

Yet the $50million price tag is simply not on screen due to Cimino’s gratuitous waste leaving most of the production on the cutting room floor (and indeed on the set’s rubbish heap!), while the vintage steam locomotive that was sourced and shipped at enormous cost is on screen for mere minutes.  The screenplay is reduced to a “motiveless mess” with the characters’ incentives and back stories are left untold.  Who are these people?  Why should we care about them?  Why does Averill only half-heartedly help the immigrants?  How did Irvine become such a lumbering drunk and why does he stay with the cattle barons even though he disagrees with their course of action?  As Souter comments, a few simple reminiscences would have helped; a voiceover would have worked wonders.

Particularly galling are the presence of some truly brilliant moments that suggest somewhere in this bloated dirge of film, there was a great film struggling to get out: an immigrant woman pulls a cart along a rocky road with the corpse of her husband on top; Walken explains to Hubbert that wallpapering his log cabin with newspaper “civilises the wilderness”; the bitterly ironic ending in the full version where Averill’s life finishes (quite literally) where it started.  The film also benefits greatly from David Mansfield’s wonderful score (surely the least deserving of the film’s Golden Raspberry nominations).

I agree with the opinions of many of cast and producers expressed in the Final Cut documentary that the disastrous critical response on first release was less a true reflection of the film’s artistic merits and entertainment value, but more an extreme and gratuitous reaction to the film’s torrid production history and “payback” to Cimino following the unprecedented success of The Deer Hunter.

If Heaven’s Gate is among the worst films ever made, then it probably the best bad film of all time.

Resurrection

Having refused to give interviews about Heaven’s Gate since its final box office death in 1981 (with the exception of a few brief comments in 1990 while promoting Desperate Hours when he admirably took a JFK-on-The-Bay-of-Pigs-line and accepted full responsibility for what happened), Cimino was finally tempted to “go back to Golgotha” and re-cut and restore the film for a 2012 cinema and Blu Ray release.

The response was the diametrical opposite of its initial release in 1980: the film received a prolonged standing ovation at the 2012 Venice Film Festival, Empire awarded it the full five stars for its UK cinema release and The New York Times, while not exactly recanting the opinion of its original critic, Vincent Canby, still gave the film positive press.

Although it took much, much longer than many other films that failed critically and commercially on their initial release before taking their rightful place in cinematic history, such as Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi noir Blade Runner, perhaps time has healed the wounds of Heaven’s Gate and it has finally joined the elite of lost classics.

I have not yet seen the re-cut version of Heaven’s Gate; however, I will acquire a Blu Ray copy as soon as it is released in the UK and watch it with great interest and an open mind.

If my opinion of the film alters substantially, you will read it here first.

The all time greatest victory for men-kind

05/09/2013

The above clip is from the 1992 Whitney Houston popcorn-vehicle The Bodyguard starring Kevin Costner in the titular role as Frank Farmer, the grunt assigned to protect a young pop star who is receiving death threats from a deranged fan.

I have never been to America and have not met many American women in my time, however, I read in Christopher Hitchens’ memoir, Hitch-22, that they are far more open and forward than British women when it comes to stating how attractive they find men.

In the middle of a party, and concerned at the unsavoury character his client is about to lay, Farmer is approached by an attractive-if-slightly-past-her-sell-by-date lady who hits on him with the line, “I’ve been watching you all night from across the room.”  Whether out of a sense of duty towards his incautious employer or out of genuine revulsion at this latest sexual predator, Farmer retorts:

Why don’t go back there and keep watching.

Now, I believe that the overwhelming majority of women in this World are evil when it comes to their dealings with the opposite sex.  They clearly go to take secret classes at some point in their formative education as children in manipulation of men’s minds and maintaining the balance of power very much in their favour.

I think that any slim and classically attractive woman enters a roomful of people and knows that all the men there find her attractive and would want to have a romantic relationship and/or sexual encounter with her.  However, they keep their deck of cards hidden and let their hapless quarry pursue them.  If the relationship ends, then they know that all they have to do is appear in public and another luckless fool will come their way and allow the cycle to begin again.

As the song goes, “I’ll find another you in a minute / Matter fact, he’ll be here in a minute.”

So, from the entire male Homo sapiens sub-species: well done, Kevin!

The greatest put down of all time

04/09/2013

!!!SPOILER ALERT!!!

I recently watched Ridley Scott’s gem of a film debut The Duellists on DVD and was intrigued by the pay-off at the end.  Having fought a series of increasingly passionate and violent duels spanning two decades of the Napoleonic era by sword, pistol and horse, two French cavalry officers, Armand D’Hubert (played by Keith Carradine) and Gabriel Feraud (played by Harvey Keitel) meet for one last time after Waterloo has been fought, Bonaparte has been exiled and both have been retired from the army with vastly differing fortunes.

The final duel is fought around a ruined house near D’Hubert’s estate using pistols with both participants having two shots each and no chance to reload.  Feraud uses both of his shots on D’Hubert and misses.  D’Hubert, with one shot left and Feraud squarely in his sights at point blank range chooses an ingenious fate for his adversary; one far worse than killing him:

[last lines]

Armand D’Hubert:

You have kept me at your beck and call for fifteen years. I shall never again do what you demand of me.  By every rule of single combat, from this moment your life belongs to me.  Is that not correct?  Then I shall simply declare you dead.  In all of your dealings with me, you’ll do me the courtesy to conduct yourself as a dead man.  I have submitted to your notions of honour long enough.  You will now submit to mine.

This bitterly ironic resolution has an even greater relevance for me as I have had to face a betrayal by someone who I considered to be both a friend and an intellectual superior.  This person had own re-conversion back to Christian faith after being raised by their parents as a Christian before losing their faith and becoming a powerful voice opposing the Parties of God and advocating secularism and pluralism.

Now, this once great mind has not only abandoned everything they once stood for, but also everything that I thought our friendship was based.  The betrayal of trust I feel has been so complete that I have no way of knowing whether anything they have said or written about me or anyone else, positive or negative, was intended sincerely.

To this person I say, “Since you have already committed personal and intellectual suicide on every level, from this moment on, I shall never again do what you demand of me, but simply declare you dead.  In all of your dealings with me, you’ll do me the courtesy to conduct yourself as a dead man.  I have submitted to your notions of intelligent discourse for long enough.  You will now submit to mine.”

If anyone hurts and betrays you beyond repair, then declare them dead and request that they conduct themselves in future towards you as a corpse.

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.

New biopic on Charles Darwin fails to find a distributor in religious America

20/09/2009

BettanyDarwin

manicstreetpreacher reports on how creationist lunacy is still very alive and well in the Land of the Free.

I was stunned when I came across this article in on The Daily Telegraph website a few days ago about the soon-to-be-released biopic of the author of The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin, Creation (homepage / IMDB), directed by Jon Amiel and starring Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly.

The film, which is due to be released in the UK on 25 September 2009, appears to have been warmly received by critics in Europe.  Richard Dawkins, who has recently published his defence of the evidence for evolution, The Greatest Show On Earth, sat on a Newsnight Review panel with other religious and atheist intellectuals, praised the film overall with a few reservations in regard to “storytelling licence” over Darwin’s tortured character and the pressure he received from T H Huxley as portrayed in the film.

The film has been eagerly snapped up by film distributors from Europe to Australia, however, The Daily Telegraph reports that it has failed to find one in the USA due to anti-Darwin sentiments which are still rife over 150 years after the books was published.

The article ramifies the unbelievable ignorance and bigotry on display in a country where only 39% of population actually believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection.

The film has sparked fierce debate on US Christian websites, with a typical comment dismissing evolution as “a silly theory with a serious lack of evidence to support it despite over a century of trying”.

Jeremy Thomas, the Oscar-winning producer of Creation, said he was astonished that such attitudes exist 150 years after On The Origin of Species was published:

That’s what we’re up against.  In 2009.  It’s amazing.

The film has no distributor in America.  It has got a deal everywhere else in the world but in the US, and it’s because of what the film is about.  People have been saying this is the best film they’ve seen all year, yet nobody in the US has picked it up.

It is unbelievable to us that this is still a really hot potato in America.  There’s still a great belief that He made the world in six days.  It’s quite difficult for we in the UK to imagine religion in America.  We live in a country which is no longer so religious.  But in the US, outside of New York and LA, religion rules.

Charles Darwin is, I suppose, the hero of the film. But we tried to make the film in a very even-handed way. Darwin wasn’t saying ‘kill all religion’, he never said such a thing, but he is a totem for people.

Movieguide.org, an influential website which reviews films from a Christian perspective, recently reviewed a book called Darwin’s Racists by Sharon Sebastian and Raymond G Bohlin and described Darwin as the father of eugenics and denounced him as “a racist, a bigot and an 1800s naturalist whose legacy is mass murder”.  His “half-baked theory” directly influenced Adolf Hitler and led to “atrocities, crimes against humanity, cloning and genetic engineering”, the site stated.

I have refuted at length these prejudices relating to Darwin’s theory here and here on this blog, so I am not going to expend the energy in doing so again in this article.  There would be little point. If I haven’t convinced anyone by now, then I’m not going to.

I just think that it is incredibly worrying that in the 21st century over half the population of the most affluent country in the world are so blinded by their religious dogmas that they fail to recognise the beauty, simplicity and above all the truth of a theory that has directly lead to advances in science and medicine of the kind that have eradicated smallpox from the globe.

Are Americans really so uncomfortable with the thought of being related to a monkey?  Yet again, John Allen Paulos in Irreligion puts matters into their proper perspective when he asks which is worse; having evolved from a puddle of slime over billions of years as Darwin’s ideas have us, or the Genesis account of being created from a lump of dirt…