Wednesday, April 30, 2008


Casting Call

Hey, PZ! Here's another chance to break into Hollywood!

Michael Barton at The Dispersal of Darwin has discovered there is another movie is in the works that's looking to interview historians and scientists for a documentary about the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth and 150th anniversary of The Origin of Species.

I'm sure PZ would be comfortable with this lot:

Our staff scientists have been joined by a team of industry professionals to transform the project from paper into a one-hour documentary. ...

Our director, scriptwriter, production consultant, director of photography and film editor all have international broadcast experience. The script for the project is already nearing completion ... Our scriptwriter has the experience needed to weave the scientific and historical facts into an intriguing story.
Maybe everybody can go to their site and give them all the encouragement they deserve!


Morality Play

Here's a bit more on the dismissal of Nathaniel Abraham's lawsuit against the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, already discussed by Timothy Sandefur at The Panda's Thumb and PZ Myers at Pharyngula.

Abraham failed to bring his suit within 90 days following the dismissal of his administrative complaint of discrimination. He sought to invoke the doctrine of "equitable tolling," essentially a judicial forgiveness of a missed deadline. To get the benefit of the tolling, however, the party seeking it must have been pursuing his remedies "diligently." The following is from the motion papers of Wood's Hole's counsel (footnotes and references omitted), that were cited by the judge as the basis of the dismissal:

Evidently in an effort to excuse his lack of diligence, Dr. Abraham makes repeated references in his Response that he was proceeding on a pro se basis [without a lawyer]. However, in light of Mr. Johnson's [Michael Johnson, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund] communication to the [Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination] on Dr. Abraham's behalf, it was reasonable for the MCAD to assume that Dr. Abraham was represented by Mr. Johnson. In any event, Dr. Abraham's current counsel appeared at the MCAD and presented oral argument on his behalf on January 11, 2007. This is at odds with the statement in Plaintiff's Response at p. 4 that "Dr. Abraham represented himself as a pro se litigant through July 31, 2007." Regardless of how that statement can be explained, it is plain that Dr. Abraham had assistance of counsel well before the 90-day right to sue period expired. Since Dr. Abraham had the assistance of counsel during the right to sue period, he cannot excuse that failure by the curious assertion that he was proceeding on a pro se basis.

"Curious assertion" is a polite legal term for "lie." Ain't it grand how being against Godless materialistic science leads to such improvement in one's own morals?


Mechanical Engineering

I went to post this morning and discovered that, on the "create post" page, there was one of those annoying (and frequently difficult to get to work) "word verification" boxes. Therein lies a tale that might explain why Abbie of ERV (old and new) was locked out of her blog and the content disappeared for a time.

Clicking on a link entitled "Why do I have this?," I discovered that I had been declared an Enemy of the State ... er ... Blogger ... because "Blogger's spam-prevention robots have detected that your blog has characteristics of a spam blog."

Apparently, these robots can, on their own, decide to either "disable" your blog or, presumably if you are a lesser criminal like me, to demand that you dance ... er ... go through word verification.

I was "given" a chance to request a "review" by an actual person and am now redirected to a page that helpfully states:

Since you're an actual person reading this, your blog is probably not a spam blog.

Thanks for the vote of confidence.

Automated spam detection is inherently fuzzy, and we sincerely apologize for this false positive.

We received your unlock request on April 30, 2008. On behalf of the robots, we apologize for locking your non-spam blog. Please be patient while we take a look at your blog and verify that it is not spam.

Please be patient while I say your automated spam detection sucks.

Now, I have been blogging frequently about Expelled and, naturally, linking frequently to the NCSE site Expelled Exposed. That might explain why I was deemed a criminal. But Abbie posts much less frequently than I do and didn't link to Expelled Exposed nearly as often as I have. There is a much more disturbing possibility though. On that Blogger answer page, it notes:

The Flag as Objectionable button in the Navbar lets you notify us of problem blogs that you find, so we can review them and take appropriate action.

Report spam here.

If the automated spam detection takes into account people finding the blog "objectionable," there is a potential for manipulation by people opposed not to spam but to truth. Now who do we know like that who might also suffer from a certain lack of morality?

As you might guess, I've backed up my blog before airing this. You might find it interesting how I did it. If you bring up a month's archive and then right click on the page, a list of options will come up, including "view source." Clicking on that brings up a Word Pad window with the html for the entire page, including your template. Click on "Edit" and choose "select all" and then, also on "Edit," click "Copy" (or press "Control" and "C") and you've saved the page's html to your clipboard. Paste that into a blank page of any word processor you use and save that. This has the advantage of saving the html, with all the links, so you can easily recreate your content at any time. I was able to leisurely save two and a half years of blogging in less than an hour.


Out and About the Intertubes

We're all ignorant. The most erudite person in the world knows only the tiniest fraction of the collective knowledge of the human species. That's why we build libraries. And human knowledge itself represents only a tiny fraction of what there is, in this vast universe and what may lie beyond it, out there to be known. It's no insult to say someone is ignorant (though it is often meant as one) and it's no failing to admit to ignorance.

But there is ignorance and there is ignorance. The internet gives us great access to knowledge but it also gives us access to great ignorance.

Confident Ignorance

Babu Ranganathan, a self-described "experienced Christian writer" sporting a "B.A. with academic concentrations in Bible and Biology from Bob Jones University," effectively guaranteeing he knows next to nothing about the latter and probably little about the former, is prone to littering the internet with extended demonstrations of his ignorance, nonetheless couched in the most certain of terms. A (blessedly brief) example:

It has been said that the eye of an octopus is more similar to the human eye than any other animal.

Tantalus Prime, in "Babu Ranganathan, ramblin' man, shows why intelligent design is not science," has taken the trouble to wade through the rest so that you can avoid any unfortunate encounters with grapefruit spoons.

Invincible Ignorance

Some things are so ignorant, so incoherent, that you have to completely recast them before you can even address the many misconceptions:

I may be a lay person. I am not, however, ill-informed.

Darwin disproved: Take a look at his drawings of in utero creatures. He constantly compared the early embryo and fetus' of human beings to that of pigs and other animals.

I'm here to tell you that medical science has roundly disproved those drawings/pictures/whatever you want to call them. I've seen them with my own eyes, as a lay person. Medical professionals, biologists, anthropologists, abortionists, all of them will concede that the embryo and early human fetus looks absolutely nothing like Darwin's crude drawing and compares nothing to a fetal pig. We were able to distinguish my son's genitalia at 13 weeks in utero. He did not possess any "tail" as so classically drawn. Many scientists will admit that human beings do not develop a tail at all in the womb, but that it fits the theory of evolution nicely and so it is still promoted in popular scientific literature.

How much ignorance can one person hold? Troy Britain helps you count the ways in "Darwin's embryo drawings flawed?"

Discovered Ignorance

Larry Arnhart, in "Connecting Hitler and Darwin (or Luther?): David Berlinski's Sophistry," makes another good point about the dishonest attempt to connect Darwin to the Holocaust in Expelled. That claim is grounded in From Darwin to Hitler by Richard Weikart, a Discovery Institute fellow:

Astonishingly, Weikart never mentions Luther, because this would weaken his argument that Christianity promoted the equal moral dignity of all human beings against the degrading materialism of Darwinism. Of course, Weikart could rightly argue that Luther's anti-Semitism was a distortion of the Christian tradition. But then wouldn't he also have to consider the possibility that social Darwinism was a distortion of Darwinian science?

Weikart has written a hostile review of [Richard Steigman-Gall's book, The Holy Reich]. But almost everything he says in criticizing Stegman-Gall's connecting Nazism to Christianity could easily be said in criticizing Weikart's connecting Nazism to Darwinism. For example, Weikart says that if one looks closely as the Nazi interpretations of Christianity, one can see that "their Christianity was always interpreted through the lens of their racial ideology, not vice versa." Yet the same could be said about the Nazi interpretations of Darwinism!

What was that again about a beam in your eye?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


Defaming Science

A press release:

Anti-Evolution Film Misappropriates the Holocaust

New York, NY, April 29, 2008 … The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) today issued the following statement regarding the controversial film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.

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.


Conserving the Environment

A thought:

[H]ere is Ben Stein, sneering and scoffing at Darwin, a man who spent decades observing and pondering the natural world — that world Stein glimpses through the window of his automobile now and then, when he’s not chattering into his cell phone. Stein claims to be doing it in the name of an alternative theory of the origin of species: Yet no such alternative theory has ever been presented, nor is one presented in the movie, nor even hinted at. There is only a gaggle of fools and fraudsters, gaping and pointing like Apaches on seeing their first locomotive: “Look! It moves! There must be a ghost inside making it move!”

The “intelligent design” hoax is not merely non-science, nor even merely anti-science; it is anti-civilization. It is an appeal to barbarism, to the sensibilities of those Apaches, made by people who lack the imaginative power to know the horrors of true barbarism.

- John Derbyshire, "A Blood Libel on Our Civilization," National Review Online, April 28, 2008


True Lies

Canadian Christianity on Expelled:

... Stein's climactic interview with Dawkins includes an exchange that is treated like a major 'gotcha!' moment, yet if anything it suggests there is something fundamentally dishonest, or at least disingenuous, about the ID movement.

Put simply: To assure people that ID really is science and not just religion in disguise, ID theorists have been insisting for years that they make no claims about the nature of the Intelligent Designer himself. He could be natural, like an alien, or he could be supernatural, like God; all they want to do is look for evidence of design itself. But the moment Dawkins runs with the possibility that aliens might have created life on Earth, the movie pounces as if to say the very idea is absurd.

Matters are further confused by the fact that the film never acknowledges that some ID theorists actually believe in evolution, albeit perhaps only to a point.

Instead, the film allows the viewer to think that ID and evolution are natural enemies – an idea deepened by the film's efforts to link Darwinism with the Holocaust.

The problem is, evolutionary theory – which is both older and newer than Darwin, by the way – is either true or it isn't, and it doesn't matter much whether people have abused the theory, any more than it matters whether people have abused, say, the teachings of Jesus. Within the film, Dawkins links the Bible to genocide just as surely as Stein links evolution to genocide, so what good does that tactic really do?

Monday, April 28, 2008


Signs of Intelligence

It seems that IDeologists may not all be lacking in the essential ingredient for their "theory":

The [Florida] House's insistence on language [in the so-called "academic freedom" legislation] the Senate already has rejected left John West, the [Discovery Institute's] associate director, perplexed.

"It makes me wonder whether some of the people who are for it are actually trying to scuttle it," West said. He's worried because the legislative session is set to end Friday. If the two chambers cannot resolve their differences in the remaining four days, the bill will die.

I've been saying this for a while. The reason seems obvious. The other face of the Republican Party's two-headed monster -- business interests (which is the one with the lifeblood of politics, money) -- is more interested in attracting biomedical and other technology industries to Florida than it is in pandering to the fragile faith of those who can't abide science.

While I may still turn out to be wrong, this has all the signs of an attempt by the legislators who are nominally in favor of the law to kill the proposal without looking like they are doing so.

Anyway, go on over to Florida Citizens for Science for more on today's events.


Dangerous Working Conditions

John H. Marburger III, President Bush's science adviser, is interviewed at The Chronicle of Higher Education. Here is some of what he had to say about Intelligent Design Creationism, starting off with the President's statement seemingly supporting the teaching of ID:

If you go back and look at the circumstances of the way he made a statement, it was hardly a statement. It was a little press roundtable and someone asked him what I would regard as a gotcha question, and he answered it about as innocuously as I think he felt he could. And I think the media was prepared to sort of — a community of watchful observers on this issue jumped on it and built it into something much more than it could be. I've never had any problem in responding to questions —.

About Marburger's attempt to "clarify" the President's statement:

My statements about intelligent design are pretty straightforward. It's not science and in no way should it be compared with science or discussed as a science topic. And as far as evolution is concerned, it's inconceivable that we could be where we are in our understanding of biology if we didn't have evolution as a guiding intellectual tool. So, I have no problems speaking about those things. I'm not trying to defend something — anyone's belief on this or to attack it. But I don't think the president needs very much defending. This is not an issue that he has tried to make anything of.

... It is regrettable that there are school districts and people of good faith that are out there who press this issue to the detriment of the education of young Americans in their neighborhoods. And that's a mistake. On the other hand, I think that like many issues, it has become polarized to an extent that it's difficult to talk about it rationally. Should a biology teacher in high school or middle school today talk about evolution, making no reference whatsoever to the controversy or whatever it is? I think that would be a mistake. I think that these issues should be confronted. And that there should be a frank discussion about it. That doesn't mean that you teach it then as if they were equal. It means that you talk about why are people so upset about this.

Marburger has a tough job.


Reviewing Our Options

Publishers Weekly's review of Ken Miller's new book:

Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul
Kenneth R. Miller. Viking, $25.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-670-01883-3

Thoroughly enjoyable and informative, this new book by Miller (Finding Darwin's God), a Brown University biologist and leading proponent of evolution, dismantles the scientific basis of intelligent design piece by piece. He does this by taking seriously the claims of intelligent design (though with tongue often in cheek), such as irreducible complexity, and looking at the biological facts and the dubious conclusions ID concepts would lead to. He turns to the peer-reviewed scientific literature to demonstrate that the two biological phenomena ID proponents say could not have evolved—blood-clotting proteins and bacterial flagella—are now well-enough understood to fully rebut intelligent design. Looking at the underlying philosophical issues, Miller explains that ID's proponents want to replace modern science with " 'theistic science'... that would use the Divine not as ultimate cause, but as scientific explanation." Miller effectively explores the devastating consequences such a change would have on both science and society. In a measured, well-reasoned book, Miller explains why evolution does not deny us our humanity or our unique place in the universe.

Sunday, April 27, 2008


Up and Away

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has an uncommonly astute editorial today. The editorial notes the report of a:

... remarkable new genetic study published last week has demonstrated that the closest living relative of the giant T. rex are birds — specifically, chickens and ostriches — rather than reptiles like alligators and lizards.
It then points out the incongruity of the Missouri legislature's attempt to pass an (anything but) "academic freedom" law, aided and abetted by Ben Stein and his traveling burlesque (of science) show, Expelled:

The war is being waged in legislatures and movie theaters because it cannot be waged in the pages of scientific journals. Adherents of so-called intelligent design criticize what they call gaps in the evolutionary record, but offer no scientific alternative to explain the evidence. Indeed, they have tried to redefine the very nature of science to accommodate their preferred conclusion.

In the real world of science, theories gain credence by their power to both explain the past and predict the future. In the case of evolution, that future includes new evidence yet to be uncovered and novel ways of analyzing evidence discovered in the past.

Biologists long ago theorized the link between dinosaurs and birds. Their idea was based not just on the similarity of their bones, but also on fossilized remains of a so-called flying dinosaur in China — an animal with primitive feathers that could glide for short distances.

Now that science has given us the ability to perform genetic analysis, the evidence for that link is even stronger. Far from undermining the theory of evolution, the results of this new study strengthen it.
That is, indeed, the difference between science and ID. Science starts with a hypothesis that can be decided by empiric evidence and tests it over and over again and changes the hypothesis if incompatible evidence comes along. Only after a hypothesis gains a lot of evidence and survives all tests does it become a "scientific theory."

ID started from a hypothesis that God exists and never tests that core claim -- for the simple reason that science can't test it -- and instead makes the unjustified philosophical claim that anything we can't explain by our present understanding of natural causes must be the work of unnatural forces.

In this instance, ID doesn't even qualify as being for the birds.


Modern Maturity

You may remember Matt LaClair, the young man who dared to stand up to a popular teacher who was proselytizing his personal faith to his students. He's back with an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times about more institutionalized "evangelism":

... I thought I was done with controversy for a while. But now, in my senior year, I am back in the midst of it. In one of my classes, we use the 10th edition of "American Government" by James Q. Wilson, a well-known conservative academic, and John J. DiIulio, a political scientist and former head of President Bush's Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.
Matt points out that the text incorrectly claims that students may not pray in public schools. Even aside from the waggish point that there will always be prayer in schools as long as there are pop math quizzes, students may organize Bible clubs and prayer groups on the same terms as any other student activity. All that cannot be done is to have officials lead official or mandatory prayers or to organize the student prayers in such a way as to endorse them with the power of the government. But that was not all:

[T]he section on global warming begins with a few well-chosen words to set the tone: "It is a foolish politician who today opposes environmentalism. And that creates a problem because not all environmental issues are equally deserving of support. Take the case of global warming."

The authors neglect to mention the growing scientific consensus on this subject. They dismiss those who are concerned about global warming -- that is, the overwhelming majority of scientists -- as "activists" motivated not by data but by "entrepreneurial politics." Those who deny or downplay it are described as "skeptical scientists."

Pointing out dissent within the scientific community is appropriate. Suggesting that the majority, but not the minority, is politically motivated is not appropriate.
Matt once again shows how preternaturally mature he is:

What is most distressing is not that some public school teachers preach their religion, or that some authors put politics ahead of education. It is that it is so rare for anyone to call them on it. ...

As Americans, we should stand up for our common values. We should champion education and settle for nothing less than the best. Our teachers should do the same and should not misuse their positions to promote their personal agendas.
Well said!


A Whiff of Evolution

There is an article by Faye Flam entitled "Story of evolution can be seen as comedy of errors" that is based on Neil Shubin's Your Inner Fish, a book I recently finished and found to be a very readable and clear explanation of the power of evolutionary theory to explain the living world around us. It also makes the case against the concept, not originating with Darwin, that was the real generator of eugenics and worse:

[B]y focusing on our less lofty traits, evolutionary biology can help dispel one of the most egregious and even tragic fallacies surrounding Darwinian evolution — that it moves toward perfection, with man at the apex of some towering ladder.
But it was this part of the article caught my attention:

No good story about human design flaws can pass up a discussion of flatulence — and science has addressed the kind that would occur if everyone in the world drank a tall glass of milk at the same time.

Geneticist Pragna Patel of the University of Southern California said one of her favorite examples of evolution in progress involves the gene that determines who can digest the sugars in milk and who cannot.

From genetic studies it appears that so-called lactose intolerance was our ancestral state.

A few people, however, were genetically gifted with an enzyme called lactase, which breaks down lactose, and in groups that started drinking lots of milk around 10,000 years ago, that version of the gene started to take over.

Scientists recently sequenced the lactase gene and found 43 different variations that allow adults to drink the milk of other animals.

"It's the first clear evidence of convergent evolution," Patel said, though it's not known whether those lacking this innovation failed to pass on their genes because they suffered from lack of nutrition or just didn't get invited to any parties.

Of course, flatulence resulting from drinking the milk of other species is not a design defect ... unless you think that the very intelligence that permits us to domesticate animals is a defect. And, considering that the same intelligence enables us to make things like Expelled, maybe there's a case for that.

Saturday, April 26, 2008


Off the Court

Ed Brayton has the story of the dismissal of what he calls "one of the strangest lawsuits I've ever heard of." Having seen the kind of looney-tunes cases Ed has uncovered in the past, I could not help but have my curiosity piqued, so I hunted down the decision. All I can say is that Ed exercised admirable understatement in his description.

The background is this: Joyce Marie Edwards, apparently a parent-volunteer at a local public school in Connecticut, brought a pro se (i.e. without representation by an attorney) lawsuit claiming that her rights of free speech and free exercise of religion under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution were violated by officials of her school.

Bizarre legal claim # 1: Instead of suing those school officials, she sued the United States and the Supreme Court because they "have failed to enforce the Constitution" in that they are "preventing volunteers and teachers from expressing Judaeo-Christian religious beliefs and sharing biblical teachings in the nation's public schools, while permitting the teaching of 'unsafe' and 'destructive' beliefs that threaten both 'life' and 'liberty.'"

Bizarre legal claim # 2: She claimed, as a basis of her suit, that "that this practice violates the Declaration of Independence and the Parent Teachers Association ("PTA") Mission Statement and Statement of Purpose."

Bizarre legal claim # 3: Ms. Edwards' suit sought to have the court:

... order the United States to enforce the First Amendment, the Declaration of Independence, and the PTA Mission Statement and Purpose ... [and] that the Bible be placed in all public school classrooms so that its teachings will be available to all students.
So, what were those "unsafe" and "destructive" beliefs? I'm sure you will be shocked to learn that "humanism and evolution" were being taught in Trumbull, Connecticut, along with discussions of "American Indian spiritism," "Greek gods, Hindu beliefs, and the 'superstitions' of the Chinese New Year."

Edwards alleges that Booth Hill School was exposing the students to these beliefs and traditions while prohibiting her from sharing her own religious beliefs with the students. Specifically, she alleges that she was prohibited from sharing teachings from the Bible about the path to heaven.
Examples from the decision should make the difference between "exposing" the children to something and what Ms. Edwards was doing clear:

First, while a presenter was discussing the Native American belief in the healing properties of certain stones during a school field trip, Edwards stated "that the only thing I found to truly help me stop doing bad things and healed me was receiving Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior (by reading the Word of God, the Holy Bible)." Second, while distributing candy canes to her oldest child's class, Edwards stated the students "could read the Bible and find out what the white and red mean and why this gift is first for the Jewish people, and then for everyone else." (References omitted).
Not so strangely, as a result of these incidents, Edwards was precluded from participating in any activities at Booth Hill School during regular school hours by the school principal. She claimed that was an "unconstitutional double standard."

Besides the technical objections that the United States has not waived its "sovereign immunity" for cases such as this one and that the Supreme Court has "judicial immunity" from suit over the contents of its decisions, the District Court lacked jurisdiction because:

The public school officials, who allegedly violated Edwards' rights to free speech and free exercise of religion, are not federal employees, and their actions can not fairly be traceable to the United States.
In short, she sued the wrong entity ... not that suing the school or its officials will get her any further.

But it was good for a laugh.


Trump Card

Is it just me or has there been an uptick in the "elitism" meme since the release of Expelled? Anti-science advocates have always played that card, going back at least as far as William Jennings Bryan, "The Great Commoner," and his crusade against "Darwinism."

Now the term is even being used by those who might be expected to aspire to being a little "elite" themselves. A recent article from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary uses terms like "academic elitism" and "elite scientists" frequently, including by a "professor of worldview and culture." A Ph.D. complains of a "powerful elite among scientific organizations, academies, foundations and government agencies" suppressing Intelligent Design. Nor is the trope restricted to anti-evolutionists. Recently, Rep. John Duncan, a Tennessee Republican, when confronted with a massive amount of evidence from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Public Health Association, the US Institute of Medicine, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American Psychological Association that abstinence-only sex education does not work, replied that it was "rather elitist" that people with academic degrees in health think they know better than parents what type of sex education is appropriate.

The ironic thing, of course, is that these supposed "elitists," instead of trying to keep their position secure by excluding the "masses" from their ranks, are mostly being excoriated for their attempts to educate those masses so they can join the "elite."

But of all the people humping this supposed cultural divide, the strangest (in all senses of the word) is the "Isaac Newton of information theory," William Dembski. As Mark Perakh has pointed out, Dembski is quick to waive his degrees in the face of critics (those who have fewer than he does, at least) but, in a recent article in the Florida Baptist Witness, Dembski had this to say about Expelled:

The unwashed masses, in which I place myself, will love the film. Ordinary people, who often pay the Darwinists' salaries through their tax dollars, will rightly be incensed.
He goes even further in a piece in the Baptist Press, "'Expelled' sets off fireworks":

Our society separates sharply between elite and popular culture. Elite culture regards Darwinian evolution as the greatest idea ever conceived and as an ideological weapon for keeping in check a popular culture that overwhelmingly believes in God.
Amusingly, he tries to support that line as follows:

... popular reviews of the film are overwhelmingly positive (e.g., Rush Limbaugh and Mike Huckabee loved the film) whereas high-culture reviews are overwhelmingly negative (e.g., The New York Times and the Village Voice).
Quite apart from identifying himself and his "popular culture" with blowhards and politicians (they are different things, right?), he ignores such "high-culture" outlets as Beliefnet, TV Guide, The Baltimore Sun, The Pioneer Press, The Salt Lake Tribune, The Seattle Times and, in his own back yard, The Waco Tribune-Herald, among many others, that found Expelled wanting.

So what is with this obsession with painting anyone who values science as an "elitist"? Perhaps the answer lies in Michael Hirsh's article in Newsweek, "How the South Won (This) Civil War." Musing on the "Southernization of our national politics at the hands of the GOP and its evangelical base," he cites:

Anatol Lieven, in his 2005 book "America Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism," [who] describes how the "radical nationalism" that has so dominated the nation's discourse since 9/11 traces its origins to the demographic makeup and mores of the South and much of the West and Southern Midwest -- in other words, what we know today as Red State America. This region was heavily settled by Scots-Irish immigrants -- the same ethnic mix King James I sent to Northern Ireland to clear out the native Celtic Catholics. After succeeding at that, they then settled the American Frontier, suffering Indian raids and fighting for their lives every step of the way. And the Southern frontiersmen never got over their hatred of the East Coast elites and a belief in the morality and nobility of defying them.
When what you are peddling is ersatz morality and resistance to learning, what better strategy could there be than pandering to ancient cultural resentments?

Friday, April 25, 2008



Okay, so I'm not so much posting this for your benefit but my own, as a handy place to park these links where I can find them again. But you few hardy souls reading this might want to peruse the articles anyway and maybe tuck them away where you can retrieve them for later use.

They are responses to the claims of persecution by those would-be-martyrs supposedly Expelled. There is "The Expelled Case of Caroline Crocker" by Carrie Sager and Andrea Bottaro; "Was Guillermo Gonzalez “Expelled”?" by Lauri Lebo and "The Richard Sternberg Affair" by Ed Brayton.

As an added bonus, there is my own take on Crocker, "Beneath the Morals of Lawyers," penned once I learned her dirty little secret: she couldn't find a lawyer sleazy enough to take her case against George Mason University.

Now that's low!



Today is World Malaria Day. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that the disease kills 1.3 million people each year, mostly children under the age of five. The United Nations has announced a new global initiative to eliminate malaria but it won't be easy:

The US National Institutes of Health said in a separate statement that malaria has proven to be "remarkably resilient, resurging because of the emergence of drug-resistant parasites and insecticide-resistant mosquitoes".

The U.N. plan calls for an emphasis on lower-technology measures:

Key interventions included distributing bed nets and using more insecticides, but only about two per cent of African children sleep under insecticide-treated bed nets.

But, as we all know, thanks to Michael Behe, the real foe we are up against is God ... opps ... "the Designer":

Here’s something to ponder long and hard: Malaria was intentionally designed. The molecular machinery with which the parasite invades red blood cells is an exquisitely purposeful arrangement of parts.

- The Edge of Evolution, p. 237

I suppose we can expect that the next move by the Designer to thwart any attempt to save innocent children from the ravages of this disease is super-strong mosquitoes fitted with gas masks able to rip their way through nets.

But let's try anyway, shall we?

Thursday, April 24, 2008


Editorial Discretion

From a good editorial in the Tampa Bay Times:

With newly passed science standards that require the teaching of evolution, Florida is finally on track to give its young people a solid educational grounding for careers in biology and medical science.

Not so fast, says state Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico. Because evolution, the scientific theory that undergirds modern biological science, conflicts with her religious beliefs, Storms is willing to sow confusion and misinformation in science classes around the state. ...

Were Storms' bill to become law she would be buying the state an expensive church-state lawsuit it is sure to lose and embarrassing Florida as a state where religion trumps science in public education.

The debate over evolution ended nearly a century ago in places that sincerely want to prepare young people for the future. If Florida expects to encourage the biotechnology sector to relocate here, it needs to reject both the House and Senate bills. ...

Storms and those who supported her bill should leave science education to the experts, and they should leave their religion out of state law.

Well said!


You Gets What You Pay For

The maneuvering continues in Florida:

A proposed law allowing teachers and students to question the scientific theory of evolution is in jeopardy.

The Senate narrowly passed its version Wednesday, but rejected an amendment that would have brought it in line with the House version -- and compromise may not be possible before the annual lawmaking session ends next week. ...

The House version requires teachers to make "a thorough presentation and critical analysis of the scientific theory of evolution."

The Senate bill places no requirements on teachers. Instead, it protects teachers and students who question evolution from being disciplined. ...

[House sponsor Rep. Alan] Hays said he planned to ask his colleagues in the House to vote on his version early next week, leaving just a few days after that to forge a compromise that could be approved by both chambers.

"We're not going to just get something in," Hays said. "We want to get something right."

Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, said she has not given up on passing some version of the evolution bill, but that she had hoped to avoid the last-minute bouncing between the chambers.

"Certainly we're running out of time," Storms said.

Sen. Stephen Wise, R-Jacksonville, who voted for the evolution bill and spoke in favor of it, was more blunt about the shrinking time frame. He said Hays "must be hitting the sauce if he thinks he's going to send the bill back here."

Hays and Storms brought identical evolution bills forward after the state Board of Education decided that Florida students should learn Darwin's theory of evolution.

Hays then modified his version.

So, the two lawmakers introduce identical bills. Then one changes his version to a one-sentence requirement of "a thorough presentation and critical analysis of the scientific theory of evolution." No explanation, except vague statements that the change "more strongly protects from lawsuits teachers who question evolution," is given for the amendment. The other bill is passed but, despite its sponsor wanting "some version" enacted, an amendment to change that bill to match the other bill is defeated. The amended bill will be voted on, but not in time to forge a compromise bill and have it voted on in both houses before the session ends and the whole thing dies. The result: lawmakers get to record votes on the issue but no law is passed this session and the issue gets a chance to cool down.

Or am I just too much of a cynic?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


The Efficacy of Prayer

The Institute for Creation Research has been seeking approval in Texas to offer an online master's degree in Science Education. It has also been asking for prayers and support in the run-up to its final hearing before state education officials tomorrow, April 24th.

For the past few months, the school experienced several setbacks in getting state approval for its programme, mostly due to a heightened battle between intelligent design and evolution playing out in the state and in Florida where public schools were recently required to teach evolution in science classes.

Today, Raymund Paredes, Texas' higher education commissioner, has recommended that the Higher Education Coordinating Board reject the school's proposal. Paredes said "the proposed degree program inadequately covers key areas of science [and, therefore], it cannot be properly designated either as 'science' or 'science education'." Paredes went on to say:

Religious belief is not science. Science and religious belief are surely reconcilable, but they are not the same thing.

Although the Board is expected to follow Paredes' recomendation, this seems to be a perfect chance for God to showcase his ability to get things done. But:

Henry Morris, chief executive officer of the institute, said the organization probably will appeal the decision.

"It really wasn't a surprise given the current climate of opposition that exists," Morris said. "We anticipated resistance when we applied for it."

Oh, Ye of little faith ...

Update: The full Board has denied the ICR's application.

Hard Days Night

Uh, oh! Now they've gone and done it:

John Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono, and his sons are suing the filmmakers of "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" for using the song "Imagine" in the documentary without permission.
The family, along with privately held publisher EMI Blackwood Music Inc., filed the suit against Premise Media Corporation, C&S Production, LP and Rocky Mountain Pictures in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan. They are seeking to bar the filmmakers and distributors from continuing to use "Imagine" in the movie and are also seeking unspecified damages.

I guess the best advice to the Expelled coterie is to Act Naturally and pretend that Ain't Nothing Shakin. After all, litigation is a Long and Winding Road that anyone today or Tomorrow Never Knows how it will turn out. Too Much Monkey Business now could, With a Little Help From My Friends in the legal profession, have you guys living Eight Days a Week in a tent on Strawberry Fields Forever. So, unless you want to be Nowhere Man, Please Please Me and avoid Every Little Thing that could have you Crying, Waiting, Hoping for Good Day Sunshine Across the Universe.


Mein Expelled

John Wilkins has an excellent point:

One of the enduringly evil things done by Hitler and the Nazis was to pick a minority - Jews - and blame them for all the evils that had occurred in German society. Of course, all these evils had causes quite unrelated to the Jews, mostly caused by the overweening ambitions of the German militarists and industrialists who pushed the German speaking nations into the Great War. As Hitler was of the same ilk as those who caused the problems, he obviously couldn't blame his own kind. So he blamed the Jews.

But how, exactly, is this any different than Ben Stein, the producers of Expelled and the Discovery Institute blaming virtually all the world's real and perceived ills since 1859, both domestic and international, on atheists (and "Darwinists," who are equated in all ways with atheists)?

That some of the people, like Stein and David Klinghoffer, who participate in this demonizing of the atheist "other," are themselves Jewish simply adds to the horror.


... But It's All About the Science!

William Dembski, Florida Baptist Witness, April 24, 2008:

Controversy surrounds [Expelled]. Reviews tend to be extremely positive or extremely negative. Who likes it? People who think God may have had something to do with our being here and therefore find it reasonable that God may have left tangible evidence of His involvement in creation. Who hates it? A science, education and media elite who prefer that God had nothing to do with it and think that nature must do all its own creating.

Now just how is Dembski proposing to scientifically test his hypothesis that God left tangible evidence? How is anything he says any different from apologetics?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008



One thing creationists, including the Intelligent Design sort, inevitably get around to is claiming that there is some insurmountable difference between "microevolution" and "macroevolution." The usual trope is that microevolution, as evidenced by such observations as the changes over human time spans in "Darwin's Finches" or the Peppered Moth, is nothing more than minor adaptations to the environment, different in some unspecified way from those necessary to result in a different "kind" of animal. Along the way, they usually wind up misrepresenting how scientists use the terms and quote mining them to boot.

Ultimately, the distinction the creationist try to make is that microevolution is observed and macroevolution is not. This is, of course, wrong. First and foremost, it fundamentally misrepresents how science is done. We need not directly observe events or processes in order to draw inferences about them that, in turn, support conclusions we justly have high confidence in. We need not directly observe the core of the sun in order to know, beyond reasonable doubt, that there are fusion reactions taking place there. Nor do we insist on seeing a germ actually making a person ill in order to be sure that germs cause disease. We have massive amounts of evidence for common descent and the microevolution / macroevolution ploy, even if it plays well to the unsophisticated, is a measure of the desperation the creationists are driven to in their denial of the results of science.

However, I've been reading Neil Shubin's Your Inner Fish and he mentions an example that may put the lie even to the creationist's strawman version of science. Shubin's subject is the formation of multicellular creatures. He notes three essentials to form bodies: 1) molecules (most importantly, collagen) that lie between the individual cells; 2) molecules that cause the cells to stick together; and 3) molecules that move between the cells sending "messages" (actually setting off chemical reactions) to other cells that it is time to die or divide or to make new molecules.

Why did it take so long, some 3 billion years, for multicellularity to arise? Building bodies takes a great deal of energy and it may be that the correct set of circumstances to make it worthwhile was complex -- what Shubin calls "a perfect storm." But one factor might have been quite simple:

Perhaps bodies arose when microbes developed new ways to eat each other or avoid being eaten? Having a body with many cells allows creatures to get big. Getting big is often a very good way to avoid being eaten. Bodies may have arisen as just that kind of defense.

When predators develop new ways of eating, prey develop new ways of avoiding that fate. This interplay may have led to the origin of many of our bodybuilding molecules. Many microbes feed by attaching and engulfing other microbes. The molecules that allow microbes to catch their prey and hold on to them are likely candidates for the molecules that form the rivet attachments between cells in our bodies. Some microbes can actually communicate with each other by making compounds that influence the behavior of other microbes. Predator-prey interactions between microbes often involve molecular cues, either to ward off potential predators or to serve as lures enticing prey to come close. Perhaps signals like these were precursors to the kinds of signals that our own cells use to exchange information to keep our bodies intact.

"That's all supposition and surmise!" the creationists might say. Not quite:

We could speculate on this ad infinitum, but more exciting would be some tangible experimental evidence that shows how predation could bring about bodies. That is essentially what Martin Boraas and his colleagues provided. They took an alga that is normally single-celled and let it live in the lab for over a thousand generations. Then they introduced a predator: a single-celled creature with a flagellum that engulfs other microbes to ingest them. In less than two hundred generations, the alga responded by becoming a clump of hundreds of cells; over time, the number of cells dropped until there were only eight in each clump. Eight turned out to be the optimum because it made clumps large enough to avoid being eaten but small enough so that each cell could pick up light to survive. The most surprising thing happened when the predator was removed: the algae continued to reproduce and form individuals with eight cells. In short, a simple version of a multicellular form had arisen from a no-body.

What could be more macro than going from unicellular to multicellular?


Gifts from Above

Troy Britain at Playing Chess with Pigeons has an excellent two part post demonstrating how Intelligent Design Creationism is really just warmed-over "Creation Science," with all the same old tired "arguments" against evolution. Troy compares the "Leadership Guide" (a fairly large pdf file) offered at the official Expelled site, to statements by such stalwarts of "Creation Science" as Henry Morris, Duane Gish and Gary Parker. Notably, the Leadership Guide cites heavily to Discovery Institute fellows and other ID supporters.

Not surprisingly, the Leadership Guide is recommending that teachers use the Discovery Institute's own untextbook, Explore Evolution, in class, presumably after being "immunized" by the Discovery Institute's oxymoronic "academic freedom" laws pending in a number of states. Do you suppose that Explore Evolution would be claimed to be "germane current facts, data, and peer-reviewed research specific to the topic of chemical and biological evolution" that would be allowed in Florida classrooms if the state senate's version of the bill is enacted?

You have to give creationists credit, though. They never give up ... no matter how much dishonesty it takes.

Monday, April 21, 2008


Political Science

A thought:

Whether from genuine religious feeling or political calculation, elements of the political right wage war against miscalled "Darwinism" — therefore against honest science teaching.

Why "miscalled"? Because to revile evolutionary science, 140 years after the Darwin-Wallace insight, as "Darwinism" is ignorance or rabblerousing. It is as silly as would be sneering at NASA's space engineering as "Newtonism" (which in the same trivial sense it is). A few biologists do use "Darwinism" as shorthand for natural selection: the proposal that the spontaneous and heritable variation in all living things, acted upon by varying environments, causes change in population characteristics. A very few biologists have mixed biology with deism or atheism, in public; but they are authors of trade books, not curriculum-makers or schoolteachers. Conservative arguments with these writers have nothing to do with the elementary facts of organic evolution. About those, there ceased to be serious question a century ago.

- Paul R. Gross, "Politicizing Science Education," Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, April 1, 2000

Sunday, April 20, 2008


Academic Discourse

Sahotra Sarkar is a Professor of Philosophy and Integrative Biology at the University of Texas, Austin. His book, Doubting Darwin?: Creationist Designs on Evolution, is a very good deconstruction of ID from a philosophical viewpoint. John Wilkins has found Sakar's reaction to Expelled in an article entitled ""Intelligent Design" Creationism Is An Immoral Fraud":

If you can't argue for your position on intellectual grounds, try politics. If you can't succeed with legitimate political argument, resort to ad hominem attacks. That's what the Intelligent Design (ID) movement has been reduced to, especially in Expelled. ID creationists have produced no credible argument against the theory of evolution, let alone positive evidence for design ... Politically their fortunes have been devastated ever since the 2005 Dover, Pennsylvania court decision in which a George W. Bush-appointed Church-going judge found ID to be religious dogma that cannot legally be introduced in public school science classes. So now we are presented with a new line of attack: because natural selection was invoked by the Nazis in support of genocide, the theory of evolution must be false. To this, David Klinghoffer adds a new twist: if you believe in the theory of evolution, you are an anti-Semite.
In debunking those claims, Professor Sarkar makes an excellent point:

Note, moreover, there was antisemitism before Darwin and it persists today in many religious fundamentalist circles which are entirely hostile to the idea of evolution. The theory of evolution is thus obviously not the source of antisemitism. Given the long history of Christian antisemitism, is particularly odd that apologists for Christianity, as most ID creationists are, should try to use disgust with antisemitism for their own rhetorical and political purposes. Note, also, that what inspired Hitler in Mein Kampf as much as biology was the example of the United States. By Klinghoffer's logic, we should also reject much of our own heritage simply because it inspired Hitler.
That is doubtless less surprising than my own discovery that it was Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence that caused the Holocaust. But then Sarkar tops even that with the following:

Let us return one last time to the logic of Expelled (and Klinghoffer). Let us suppose for the sake of argument that the theory of evolution really led to some undesirable political consequence, which, as we have seen, is simply not true. From this assumption, it is supposed to follow that evolutionary theory is false and we should replace it with ID. Let us see where this takes us. From the usual rules of chemistry many nations, including the United States, have designed chemical weapons. From this, should we conclude that chemistry is false and we should replace it with Intelligent Alchemy? From the principles of molecular genetics, many of these same nations have designed biological weapons. Should we declare molecular genetics false and replace it with Intelligent Pangenesis? From quantum mechanics came the nuclear bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Therefore, quantum mechanics is false and should be replaced by Intelligent Ether Theory?
We can assume that Klinghoffer and the IDeologists would consider Professor Sarkar's article to be evidence of the "Darwinian orthodoxy" ridiculing ID "theorists" for their views. However, what the whiners of ID don't tell you is that being nice has nothing to do with how academic debate is usually carried on.

Sometimes, being treated like a loser is simply what you deserve.


Intelligent Legislation

Just to drop in on the Florida legislature, vying for the title of stupidest in the nation, Michael Mayo of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel has a scorecard:

Starting July 1, it will be legal to bring your gun to work, but you'll have to keep it locked in your car. No word yet on whether companies will replace Casual Fridays with Winchester Wednesdays.

It's still legal to hang fake bull testicles on the bumper of your pickup truck, but a state senator wants to neuter displays of the so-called "Truck-Nutz" by imposing a $60 fine.

It's still legal for Floridians to have sex with animals.

It's still illegal for gays to adopt, even if they've been a child's foster parent for years. ...

Very much alive are proposed bills that might allow the mention of intelligent design and creationism in science classrooms and a bill that would compel women to pay for and view an ultrasound before having abortions.

In a classic understatement, State Sen. Nan Rich, a Democrat from Sunrise, said: "Our state is very confused ... " That's all the more obvious when you consider:

The real heavy lifting — finalizing budget cuts in a lean fiscal year — is yet to come.

Last year, the Legislature passed a $71.9 billion budget that shrunk to $70 billion because of the slumping economy and sales tax shortfalls. This year's budget will be in the $65 billion range.

That means a lot of pain, especially for those who can't afford good lobbyists. That's bad news for the infirm, poor and most vulnerable.

Two weeks to go in their session and Florida's politicos are still going for the gold in the Twit Olympics.



So, Expelled is tanking (so far) at the box office and, as Tyler DiPietro pointed out in a comment, Wild Bill Dembski is already looking for excuses. Apparently, a comment here and there by "Darwinists" about going to multiplex theaters and paying for another movie and then slipping into Expunged is grounds enough for the "Isaac Newton of information theory" to conclude that the take on the film would be up there with Raiders of the Lost Ark if it wasn't for those sneaky evilutionists.

Now, I don't condone the tactic, as it is a form of stealing from the producers of the movie, if not from the theater owners, but if we look at those numbers the producers were hoping for -- 2 million tickets sold earning $12-15 million in the first weekend -- versus the estimated gross of around $3 million, it'd take a whole lotta correction for unpaid "Darwinist" attendance to even begin to make a dent in the shortfall. If that much sneakin' around was happening, you'd think the theater owners would notice ... unless, of course, they're in on the conspiracy too!

The comment to Dembski's post by "Gods iPod," that "Darwinist's" "dishonesty knows no bounds," deserves a special place in the Irony Hall of Fame, given that it is directed to the man who was filling out his paid lectures with XVIVO's video without permission or payment of royalties. Not to mention the way the movie's interviews with scientists were obtained and the whole dishonest business of trying to blame the Holocaust on Darwin.

Based on past experience, the excuses for failures by IDeologists in general, and the movie's producers in particular, get sillier over time. If the pattern holds, we are in for some amusing times.



There is a small story from WHO-TV about Guillermo Gonzalez attending an opening of Expelled in Ames, Iowa, home of Iowa State University, which denied him tenure, allegedly because of his advocacy for Intelligent Design. According to the story, despite Gonzalez' status as "Exhibit A" in support of one of the central themes of the movie -- that "academic freedom is being denied dissenters from "Darwinism" -- his appearance in the film amounts to only two minutes.

Well I don't see myself as a hero. I do some research in intelligent design and many people find that interesting and even convincing, and I'm happy for that.
The most interesting thing about the article is the news that Gonzalez has taken PZ Myers' advice:

Instead of fighting to get into a department that doesn't want him, Gonzalez should be trying to get into a different position, one that is a better match to his talents and goals. There may be some understandable reluctance to pursue that, since his next step is something like Liberty University or Bob Jones University -- he'd fit in well in those kinds of places, and would probably be a shoo-in for tenure.
The story reveals that Gonzalez has accepted a position to head up the astronomy program at Grove City College, a small Christian school with about 2,500 students near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Good luck to him.

Saturday, April 19, 2008


Just Life

Steven Gey is one of the leading U.S. Scholars on religious liberties and free speech. He was often quoted on the constitutional issues involved in the Terri Schiavo case. Now Gey, 52, is dying of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis ("Lou Gehrig's disease") and has had to stop teaching.

He has arrived at the moment when people start to talk to God.

His students, many of whom are conservative Christians, are watching him die. They'd like to help him start the conversation. But he won't.

Gey doesn't pray for anything. An American Civil Liberties Union attorney and law professor at Florida State University, he ranks among the nation's top defenders of separation of church and state, of scientific inquiry, of rationalist, non-Christian governance.

He and those students come from opposite sides of the ramparts. A struggle over radically incompatible ideologies has torn the country apart. Evolution. Abortion. Stem cell research. It's a struggle that seems to offer no answer.
What's more:

One of the few hopeful avenues of ALS research has involved the transplanting of embryonic stem cells. Such research has been limited for seven years in the United States by religious conservatives and the Bush administration.

His adversaries have erased his last chance.

"The irony doesn't escape me."
But bitterness does:

Ben Gibson [one of Gey's students] prays for Gey. "I pray for him every day, everywhere I am. I pray for strength. I pray for his family. I pray for a miracle."

He told Gey what he was doing. Gey said, "I'll take all the prayers I can get." ...

Gibson has separated his faith from Gey's refusal to accept God.

"That's between him and God. It's not my job to change him."

He can't condemn his professor, or even pity him.

"It's my job to love him."

That is all Gey says he wants. His students call and e-mail and bring dinner.

It is, he says, "religion enough for me."
When he had to tell his students he could no longer teach, his farewell was: "Thank you for allowing me to fulfill my life's passion."


Tithing at the Multiplex

Well, the opening box office results are in for Expelled and, it appears that, between the call to prayer from the minarets and the buzz rising up from the labs and campuses, it has opened strong:

The biggest shocker turns out to be a film I never heard of until just now, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, a documentary featuring Ben Stein "as he seeks to determine whether religious based Intelligent Design / Creationism is a pseudo-science trying to undermine evolutionary biology or whether it is legitimate science being suppressed by a scientific establishment that is hostile to any deviation from the status quo." Yeah, that's the plot and apparently faith-based organizations are all over it to the tune of $1.12 million on Friday earning it the eighth slot and is expected to finish the weekend in ninth with an estimated $3.1 million.

Here's the complete weekend estimate ...

1. The Forbidden Kingdom (Lionsgate) - $19.15 million
2. Forgetting Sarah Marshall (Universal) - $18.1 million
3. Prom Night (Sony) - $10.05 million
4. 88 Minutes (Sony) - $7.12 million
5. 21 (Sony) - $5.95 million
6. Nim's Island (Fox) - $5.31 million
7. Street Kings (Fox) - $3.54 million
8. Horton Hears a Who (Fox) - $3.46 million
9. Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (Rocky Mountain Pictures) - $3.1 million
10. Leatherheads (Universal) - $2.93 million
Of course, a fast start doesn't mean it will have "legs." One problem it will have is the start of the summer movie blitz, with Iron Man opening in two weeks. Then comes the stiffest possible competition it could face, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, followed closely by Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

That's show biz ...

Speaking of it being show biz, Afarensis has another site with about the same numbers but a whole different take:

Nathan Frankowski's Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed is a documentary being released on more than 1,000 screens by Christian-friendly Rocky Mountain Pictures. Those who have seen it categorize it as anti-Darwinism propaganda, featuring right wing commentator Ben Stein. I’m sure that there's an audience out there somewhere for this type of doc, but there has been very little "intelligent design" involved in marketing the movie. With a Total Aware of only 19 percent and a First Choice score of just 2 percent, Expelled will manage only $1 million-$3 million this weekend, and it will have a difficult time holding on to those screens. It's doomed to $5 million domestic in its theatrical engagements (survival of the fittest?), although a fair number of DVD copies may be sold in evangelical bookstores in the future.

There's those 1,000 screens chasing after that impressive sounding $1.1 million.

And, as PVM reminds us at The Panda's Thumb, the PR people for the movie were saying that "they would consider the opening weekend successful if the movie sold 2 million tickets (earning $12-15 million)."


In comparison, Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 grossed $23.9 million in 868 theatres on its opening weekend and $8,565,000 on it's first day.

Saturday's numbers are in and, if anything, Expelled is slipping:

One notable success has been the intelligent design doc Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, featuring Ben Stein. Released on 1,000+ screens by the small Christian-based Rocky Mountain Pictures, this little doc picked up another $1.03M on Saturday, and it will finish the weekend with just under $3M. Not bad for a movie shot on a shoestring, released by a virtually unknown distributor and promoted very lightly.

But the author, Steve Mason, doesn't seem to realize that its showing on over 1,000 screens makes for a poor per theater take, or to be aware of the hopes of the producers to tap into a Passion Of The Christ-like box office phenomenon. Next we'll have to see if post-church viewings will boost the take or whether Christians will take Sunday as a day of rest seriously.


Conservatively Speaking

Larry Arnhart is a professor of political philosophy at Northern Illinois University and author of Darwinian Conservatism. As a conservative who has written that "conservatives need Charles Darwin," his take on Expelled has (or should have) considerable weight among conservatives who are not already married to the Religious Right and its anti-scientism.

He has a post up at his blog (also called Darwinian Conservatism) that makes an excellent point:

The folks at the Discovery Institute have made a big mistake in their production of this movie. The political rhetoric of the Discovery Institute's "wedge strategy" depends upon hiding a fundamental contradiction. But this movie makes the contradiction so evident that any viewer can see it. On the one hand, the rhetorical strategy of the Discovery Institute is to say that "intelligent design" is not a creationist religious belief but pure science, and therefore teaching "intelligent design" in public high school biology classes does not violate the First Amendment's prohibition on establishing religion. On the other hand, the popular success of the Discovery Institute's rhetoric depends on appealing to Biblical creationists who assume that "intelligent designer" is just another name for God the Biblical Creator. ...

Rather than covering up this contradiction, this movie makes it hard for any viewer to ignore the contradiction. When Bruce Chapman -- President of the Discovery Institute -- is interviewed by Stein, Chapman says that journalists distort the true position of intelligent design by saying that it's a creationist religious belief, because the "intelligent designer" is clearly God. Chapman vehemently denies this. But then for the rest of the movie, it's asserted that anyone who denies "intelligent design" is therefore an atheist who denies the existence of God!
More of the same is on display in Chapman's praise of Expelled at the DI's Ministry of Misinformation (helpfully deconstructed by Brian Larnder at Primordial Blog). Chapman continues to play up to the Religious Right by feeding into its cultural paranoia:

The over-the-top attacks of most official reviewers -- offended by the film's message, not its quality -- may turn out to help in some quarters. These are the exact same reviewers who commonly tell us not to object to offensive Hollywood products, but just to judge a film for its production quality. By now a large share of the population is wise to such hypocritical standards.
Those "quarters" are, no doubt, inhabited by the likes of Donald Wildmon and the American Family Association.

Arnhart amusingly goes on to point out that the most obvious omission from the people interviewed in Expelled -- Michael Behe -- is probably due to his most recent book being a strong attack on biblical creationism, including his concession of common descent of human beings from ancestors shared with chimpanzees, his rejection of Biblical creationism as "silly" and his support for theistic evolution. Naturally, that goes double for the likes of Ken Miller or any of the people on the list of the The Clergy Letter Project.

Finally, Arnhart reiterates his belief that "biology classes -- both at the high school level and at the college and university level -- should be open to discussion of 'intelligent design theory' as a possible alternative to Darwinian science." That's a position I have some sympathy for, if it is made clear that the discussion is at the level of the philosophy of science and theology. Given the heat on both sides, however:

This movie is an example of the rhetorical distortions that make me wonder whether I am being naive in thinking that students and scholars should be able to debate these vital questions in an open and honest manner.
It takes two to tango ...


Pass in Review

Here are a bunch more reviews of Expelled:

Mark Olson in The Baltimore Sun:

Entertainer, pitchman and political commentator Ben Stein begins the film by intoning that there is a growing conspiracy within the academic and scientific communities blocking out proponents of "intelligent design" as a means to explain the origins of life and human development in favor of lock-step enforcement of Darwinist theories of evolution.

By setting the argument up in this way, one which is never fully pursued or proven, Stein has, of course, attempted to use a textbook tactic of Karl Rove to reframe the discussion, putting it in terms by which his side seems the valiant underdog, suppressed and belittled by their opponent, while turning notions of right-and-wrong, freedom of speech and even the meaning of science upside down. When in doubt, Stein falls back on vague claims regarding "freedom" and "dire consequences for every American." (Sound familiar?)
Carl Hoover in the Waco Tribune-Herald:

Those coming to Expelled hoping to learn something about any research behind ID, a fair appraisal of weaknesses in evolutionary theories or — perhaps the film's most glaring and telling omission — how Christian evolutionists reconcile faith and science will leave sorely disappointed. The latter is quickly dismissed by a chain of quotes that brand them as liberal Christians and duped by militant atheists in their efforts to get religion out of the classroom. ...

It's smoke, mirrors, a lot of heat and little light — although the hand of a creator is clearly in its design.
Ethan Gilsdorf in the Boston Globe:

[W]ith a ram-down-your throat style about as subtle as an excavator tearing through a natural history museum, "Expelled" routinely intercuts the interviews with non sequitur black-and-white clips from campy movies and newsreels - guillotines falling, armies at war, cowboy shoot-outs, concentration camp victims, the Berlin Wall - that would make pioneering film montagist Sergei Eisenstein cringe. John Lennon's song "Imagine" is used to evoke a godless wasteland. Darwinism is equated with Nazism. Through it all, anxiety-inducing background music imposes a false sense of drama.

These tactics are not only misleading, they're insulting and manipulative.
Chris Hewitt in The Pioneer Press:

[T]he movie spends too much time trying to justify so-called "intelligent design," the face creationism currently wears, and misrepresenting a variety of people and organizations, including Edward R. Murrow, Charles Darwin and Planned Parenthood.

It is fatuous, for instance, to denounce Darwin based on the way Adolf Hitler misinterpreted his work, juvenile to use animation to make science look as stupid as possible and dangerously misguided to suggest that Planned Parenthood is a hellish bastion of eugenics. Even more pointless is a lengthy sequence in which Stein tut-tuts as he tours a facility where Nazis once imprisoned and murdered the handicapped. Sure, the images are horrifying, but they have nothing to do with the film's subject.

Friday, April 18, 2008


IDing Science

The Federation of American Scientists' Strategic Security Blog has a piece on Expelled by Ivan Oelrich that is well worth reading.

Wolfgang Pauli is a legendary figure among physicists. He is remembered for having both one of the greatest minds of the twentieth century and one of its sharpest tongues. One student's paper he dismissed by saying: That's not right; it isn't even wrong. (Or words to that effect in German; Pauli was Viennese.) If a theory isn't relevant to the facts at hand, if it can't be tested, if it doesn't advance our understanding, then it isn't that the theory is not right, it's not even really a theory, it isn't even wrong. It simply isn't a tool for scientific understanding. ... Creationism isn't even wrong because creationism can't explain anything in the sense that science understands the word "explain." Most advocates of creationism accept that evolution works at some scale and explains some things but for anything evolution does not explain they then assert that God, the Intelligent Designer, simply made it so. This is a valid religious belief. But what is the testable hypothesis? What is the prediction? What is the deeper understanding of mechanism? There isn't anything there for a scientist to grab hold of. As far as science is concerned, creationism isn't even wrong.
On the claim that ID is being unfairly excluded by the "scientific orthodoxy" of "Big Science":

Nothing will win you a Nobel Prize faster than explaining to everyone that everything they thought was true is wrong. Ideas that energy is quantized, that time can run at different speeds in different frames of reference, that light might be bent by gravity, all of these things upset the established view of the time of how the universe is put together. Just a few years ago, astronomers discovered that the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate. Surprise! This discovery sent theorists running back to the drawing boards. And they love running back to the drawing boards. That is the sort of thing that makes reputations, gets you tenure, and wins you prizes. Other fields have similar stories: in geology, the idea of plate tectonics, that the continents moved around, was considered revolutionary.
The things that ID proponents need to get scientific respect are the very things they lack: a theory and evidence.

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How to Support Science Education