Posts Tagged ‘Paul S Jenkins’

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.

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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?

TheIDIOCY

19/01/2010

manicstreetpreacher assesses the latest pathetic attempts by believers at squaring the ultimate circle.

Further to my recent post on Pat Robertson’s theory behind the Haitian earthquake, I notice that the world’s more “moderate” believers are trying to make sense of how an all-powerful, all-good, all-loving, omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent God would allow all this to happen.  Evil Burnee, Paul S Jenkins, has posted to some well and truly dire attempts by the faithful to dream up excuses for their imaginary God, such as on Thought for the Day when “theodicy’s guilty vacuity was brought to a new low” by Giles Fraser:

…at a moment like this, I prefer to leave the arguments to others.  For me this is a time quietly to light a candle for the people of Haiti, and to offer them up to God in my prayers.  May the souls of the departed rest in peace.

Christopher Hitchens, as always, can be relied on to inject a piece of rationalism into the situation with this piece on Slate (also posted on RichardDawkins.net):

The Earth’s thin shell was quaking and cracking millions of years before human sinners evolved, and it will still be wrenched and convulsed long after we are gone.  These geological dislocations have no human-behavioural cause.  The believers should relax; no educated person is going to ask their numerous gods “why” such disasters occur.  A fault is not the same as a sin.

However, the believers can resist anything except temptation.  Where would they be if such important and frightening things had natural and rational explanations? They want the gods to be blamed.  After the titanic eruption of Krakatoa in 1883, the Muslims of Indonesia launched a hugely successful campaign to recruit terrified local people to Islamic repentance.  Following the more recent Asian tsunami of 2004, religious figures jostled to provide every possible “explanation” of tectonic events in terms of mere human conduct.

It reminds me of the time that ultraconservative Catholic hack (and seemingly now a human punch bag for the Hitch!) Dinesh D’Souza attempted to make religious capital out of the Virginia Tech massacre of April 2007 with this god-awful post on his AOL blog:

Notice something interesting about the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shootings?  Atheists are nowhere to be found. Every time there is a public gathering there is talk of God and divine mercy and spiritual healing.  Even secular people like the poet Nikki Giovanni use language that is heavily drenched with religious symbolism and meaning…

To no one’s surprise, [Richard] Dawkins has not been invited to speak to the grieving Virginia Tech community.  What this tells me is that if it’s difficult to know where God is when bad things happen, it is even more difficult for atheism to deal with the problem of evil.  The reason is that in a purely materialist universe, immaterial things like good and evil and souls simply do not exist.  For scientific atheists like Dawkins, Cho’s shooting of all those people can be understood in this way – molecules acting upon molecules.

If this is the best that modern science has to offer us, I think we need something more than modern science.

Have no fear by visiting the piece itself: it’s well worth reading virtually every commenter tear D’Souza a new one!  The post also found its way onto RichardDawkins.net where the responses there were not exactly complimentary either…

One good thing that did come out of D’Souza’s reprehensible piece of trash was this beautiful response by an atheist professor at Virginia tech:

We atheists do not believe in gods, or angels, or demons, or souls that endure, or a meeting place after all is said and done where more can be said and done and the point of it all revealed.  We don’t believe in the possibility of redemption after our lives, but the necessity of compassion in our lives.  We believe in people, in their joys and pains, in their good ideas and their wit and wisdom.  We believe in human rights and dignity, and we know what it is for those to be trampled on by brutes and vandals.  We may believe that the universe is pitilessly indifferent but we know that friends and strangers alike most certainly are not.  We despise atrocity, not because a god tells us that it is wrong, but because if not massacre then nothing could be wrong…

I am to be found on the drillfield with a candle in my hand.  “Amazing Grace” is a beautiful song, and I can sing it for its beauty and its peacefulness.  I don’t believe in any god, but I do believe in those people who have struggled through pain and found beauty and peace in their religion.  I am not at odds with them any more than I am at odds with Americans when we sing the “Star-Spangled Banner” just because I am not American.  I can sing “Lean on Me” and chant for the Hokies in just the same way and for just the same reason…

With or without a belief in a god, with or without your asinine bigotry, we will make progress, we will breathe life back into our university, I will succeed in explaining this or that point, slowly, eventually, in a ham-handed way, at risk of tears half-way through, my students will come to feel comfortable again in a classroom with no windows or escape route, and hell yes we will prevail.

You see Mr D’Souza, I am an atheist professor at Virginia Tech and a man of great faith.  Not faith in your god.  Faith in my people.

As wonderful as that article is, I can do no better than this beautiful poem by former Christian preacher turned atheist, Joe Holman:

I am God.  I know your pain.
I was there for every trial you’ve ever faced.
I was there when you fell and hurt your knee at the age of three.
I was there when you were shunned on the playground more recently.

I was there when your mother was in the hospital.  I stood by and watched as the doctors worked to save her life.  I appreciated the prayers you sent Me to spare her.
I was there when mother died, as her immortal spirit drifted back to Me.
I was there when your family mourned her loss and cried with unceasing tears.

I was there when your father passed, when he forgot who you were, when you closed the lid to his casket.
I was there when dear Aunt Olga was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
I was there when she bravely went through test after test until her condition was finally confirmed.
I was there when she lost her will to live.  I watched as the family pleaded with her to continue treatment and not to give up; I waited where her tears fell.

I was there when your Uncle Hank died.
I was there when you told your first lie.
I was around the first time you touched yourself; on that day, all the angels cried; on that day, you lost your innocence.

I was there, in the corner of your room, watching you sin.  I testified to your inner-man that you fell short of My Glory, as a sinner, an impure and fallen man, another of Adam’s reproachful sons, wicked from birth.

I was there when young Ben, your childhood friend, was killed in the car wreck.  I was in the driver’s seat of the other car, watching, looking on as a drunken man fell asleep at the wheel.  I did not wake him, but said: “Sleep, you foolish man.  Sleep.”

I was there when your best friend from high school decided to take his own life.  My holy eyes saw the blood from his slit wrists run down through the cracks of the hard wood floor.
I was there when you wept at his funeral.  Jesus wept too.
I was there when you sobbed uncontrollably, leaning on the casket of your bosom friend, pushing away the comforts of your spouse.

I was there when your youngest child was born, when it was said of the doctors: “Your son’s spine did not form correctly.  He will never walk and will need surgery to live.”
I was there when the doctors performed the operation.
I was there as their hands took the scalpels, as every incision, every cut into his newborn flesh was made.

I was there, and I am here. I am God: “and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.  Amen.” (Matthew 28: 20)

When the Asian tsunami struck on Boxing Day 2004, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, was famously misquoted in a screaming headline by The Sunday Telegraph as saying that the disaster had made him doubt the existence of God.  Williams of course immediately pointed out that this was a ploy on the newspaper’s part to grab the reader’s attention: the Archbishop was actually addressing his flock’s concerns with so much suffering.

A pity.  For a moment there I thought that a clergyman had finally said what we heretics had known all along: shit just happens.

Chris French on Radio 4’s Beyond Belief discussing guardian angels

31/12/2009

manicstreetpreacher hits 60 posts for 2009!

Paul S Jenkins over at Notes from an Evil Burnee has posted the podcast links to an appearance by Professor Chris French, whose superb lecture on paranormal experiences for Merseyside Skeptics’ Society I reported earlier this year, discussing whether angels exist on Radio 4’s Beyond Belief.  The presenter, Ernie Rea, is joined by French, Emma Heathcote-James spiritualist author of Seeing Angels and Greek Orthodox priest, Father Gregory Hallam.

The show’s title is all too apt: it really does defy belief!  I can barely accept what my own ears tell me; that Auntie is giving airtime to such spurious nonsense.  If I’d have been there I would have been tempted to swing a punch at Emma Heathcote-James just to see whether her guardian angel would do anything to protect her!  She clearly accepts that visions of guardian angels are the paranormal experiences flavour of the month following on from previous crazes such as ghosts and alien abductions, but like Fox Mulder from the X-Files, the woman just wants to believe…

Heathcote-James is so wrapped up in it that she has either deluded herself into believing anything she hears about angels or is preying on basket cases (like the woman they interviewed partway through) in order to sell books.

UPDATE 01/01/2010

Philosopher Stephen Law has blogged on this show as well and describes Heathcote-James as “very irritating” and has reproduced a typical piece of theological obscurantism from Father Gregory Hallam.  Hallam’s retort is in response to Chris French’s suggestion of objective evidence of angels if e.g. under controlled conditions they provided information to those who claim to communicate with them that could be checked and which could not have been acquired in any other way:

My problem with your answer Chris is you are subjecting these phenomenon to certain criteria and tests in relation to scientific evidence and you’re actually talking about a confusion of categories of truth here.  I understand that you operate in the realm of anomolistic psychology and that this is a kind of a difficult interface between science and human experience but I think that unless we are actually clear how to assess each piece of evidence according to appropriate criteria we risk just making no sense at all.

Thanks for clearing that one up for us, Greg…

Podcast Interview for Skepticule

22/10/2009

by

manicstreetpreacher

Skepticule

The clue is in the title.

Just a quickie this time to post the podcast of an interview I did for the blog, Skepticule.

I recorded it over Skype with Paul S Jenkins, who runs the blog, Notes from an Evil Burnee (because he’ll surely roast in hell), and who has posted some superb comments on my blog in recent weeks.

It lasts for about 20 minutes and we discuss my journey from passive agnostic to passionate atheist debating on Premier Christian Radio’s Unbelievable?, my live debates at Liverpool University and my online blogging and debating.

PaulSJenkins

Further reading

Hitchens and Fry versus the Catholic Church: Post Mortem – manicstreetpreacher witnesses first-hand a rhetorical massacre of Vatican hench(wo)men by the cream of British intellectualism.

Merseyside Skeptics Society Lecture on Paranormal Experiences – 17/09/2009 – manicstreetpreacher learns about how the truth is not out there…  it’s up here.

Debates with David Robertson and Richard Morgan on Unbelievable? – manicstreetpreacher goes head-to-head with one of the most determined Christian opponents to the New Atheists.

More Than I Could Chew? – manicstreetpreacher licks his wounds after his encounter with a bunch of fundamentalists at Follow My Way, Liverpool University 12 March 2009.  The rest of the panel weren’t too rational either…

An Open Letter to Rabbi Y Y Rubinstein manicstreetpreacher enquires of a former recent debating opponent on a few points.  Such as whether there is any evidence outside the texts themselves for a group of half a million people being dragged around the desert for decades to the only place in the Middle East that has no oil.  And how could the scribes of the King James Version have botched up so badly that Yahweh has been transformed into a moral abomination…

Peter S Williams: Up Close – Part I – manicstreetpreacher’s review of I Wish I Could Believe In Meaning following his live debate with the author at Liverpool University, 19 February 2009.

Peter S Williams: Up Close – Part II – manicstreetpreacher’s review of A Sceptic’s Guide to Atheism following his live debate with the author at Liverpool University, 19 February 2009.

My Debates on Premier Christian Radio Against Theologian Andy Bannister – manicstreetpreacher’s afterthought piece on his first two formal debates on religion in the light of further research and online debate.  Make sure you check out the comments section at the end.  There are some very interesting responses, not least from my “scholarly” opponent himself…