Monday, April 28, 2008

Flunked, not Expelled

Ben Stein has a new film out now, and although there are plenty of sites devoted to tearing it to pieces, I wouldn't feel right if I didn't drop my coin in the pond too.

So here goes.

If you're interested in the so-called "debate" between those in the scientific community and those in favor of the pseudoscience of Creationism -- currently flying under the banner of ID or "Intelligent Design" -- then you should be aware that a new movie staring Ben Stein. The movie makes some outrageous claims as it seeks to promote ID and generally stir up shit.

The Deception
The film features some pretty major players in science today, such as evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, professor PZ Myers, NCSE executive director Eugenie Scott, and a number of others. The producers of the movie asked for interviews with these scientists and professors, telling them it was for a movie they were working on called "Crossroads". They not only lied about the title, they lied about the intent of the film as well, claiming it was a fair and balanced look at the Creationism issue. These interviews were made in April 2007. The producers had already registered the domain for Expelled two months before those interviews took place, and had not registered a domain for Crossroads...ever! They knew right from the start that they were underhandedly getting interviews under false pretenses.

The film is very much in the Michael Moore vein of documentary film-making. There are splices, poor editing, and even charactures when someone who disagrees with the film's message is speaking. The style of the film is intended to provide an appealing movie targeted at those who are poorly equipped to understand it.

One such editing twist makes noted atheist author and biologist Richard Dawkins appear to be a "believer" of Intelligent Design. Dawkins sets up a hypothetical situation to address that regression goes past ID, but due to framing tricks, the audience will fail to understand that this is a hypothetical argument. The film aims to show Professor Dawkins and the other real scientist in a light of ignorance and stupidity (similar to this kind of camera trickery.)

Not to mention the copyright violations on music and animations.

The False Comparison
One of the biggest and most ignorant claims made by this movie is basically that "Darwinism leads to atheism leads to Nazism leads to the holocaust". In a twenty-minute segment, Stein visits a Nazi death camp (apparently he's an authority on the subject because he's a Jew). Stein gets the tour guide to say that the Nazi's did what they did in the name of Darwinian evolution. This argument is so common that it's appeared in a number of books and writings by leading Christian authors, yet it's an argument that is unfounded and ignorant.

Darwin got the idea of natural selection from thinking about how animals were bread for their traits (horses, birds, dogs, etc.). This human-selection had been around for centuries before Charles Darwin. Darwin merely saw that nature does the selecting for evolution. Hitler and his Nazi followers, on the other hand, sought to create a super race of humans by using human-selected breading and extermination -- this is not Darwinian evolution! The vile misrepresentation Expelled gives to history is not only wrong, I think it's evil.

The Ignorance
The entire premise of this film is that "Big Science" is keeping ID out of schools because of an elitist, political stance. The fact of the matter is that ID has NEVER produced any results to suppress. The film makes dishonest attempts to show some sort of "war" and controversy between ID and science, when the fact is that there is no controversy. Any scientist worth their weight knows that ID, Creationism, and any other religious claims have no right to be taught as science.

The Hypocrisy
Professor PZ Myers became a victim of the film's hypocrisy when he was expelled from a free pre-screening of the movie. The pre-screening was only available to online registrants. He had signed up on a website, received a confirmation email stating that "tickets were not required". As Professor Myers was standing in line (he hadn't even gotten up to the desk to present identification and sign in) when he was approached by security guards who told him that he had been barred from seeing the film by a producer of the film. The officer even threatened to arrest Myers if he tried to go in! Myers complied and went to talk with his family. The officer came back to him accompanied by the theater manager who told him that not only was he not allowed into the theater, but that he would have to leave the premises immediately! The funny part is that they let in Myer's guest, Richard Dawkins, escorted by Myer's wife and daughter.

After the credits had rolled (in which PZ Myers was thanked for appearing in the film!), Dawkins stood up from the center of the theater and says something to the extent of: "Why, in a movie about free speech and open discussions in academia, do you expel my colleague PZ Myers from seeing it -- a movie, by the way, which he's IN and thanked for in the credits?"

The Grade
Expelled deserves an F minus for research, publication, production, and class participation. It is a laughable film, but the sad and scary thing is that a lot of scientifically ignorant people will view it as gold, and spread the messages it contains. Of course, churches across the country will be giving this movie good publicity and money. I'm sure the Creationist movement will gain a bit of momentum, and more discussion about it will be appearing in the media for a few months after the film's release. But anyone who can spot the flaws of the ridiculous arguments must stand up and spread the set Ben Stein and his disciples straight.

Visit to learn each and every argument and counter-argument to the film.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Disbelief = Faith?

I've been in a discussion with a few people, one of whom claim that it takes "blind faith" to be an atheist (yeah, and he's not even a Christian!).

You non-believers reading this have probably had this accusation hurled at you a dozen times or more. You believers have no doubt used it while you were backed into a corner. For your sake, I'm making this post.

Faith of ANY Kind

It DOES NOT take faith (of any kind) to NOT believe something. Think how ridiculous that sounds: I have faith that Santa isn't real. I have blind faith that there are no leprechauns! Unless you change the meaning of the word, there's absolutely no way FAITH has anything to do with NOT believing a thing.

I can't stand the word anymore...even when other's take it to mean trust. Faith, to me, is not trust. Humanity's ball and chain -- to use Pat Condell's words -- is a plague and people continue to self-infect daily.

I Once Was Blind...
How exactly would one have BLIND faith that, say, there are no homosexual pigeons living inside a watermelon in Sabugal, Portugal? I'm sure that to believe such an absurdity would take "blind faith" -- believing it without a single SHRED of evidence. If we found just one bird living inside of just one fruit anywhere in the world, then I suppose it'd just take "faith" to believe that there are homosexual pigeons living inside a watermelon in Sabugal. But "faith" of any kind to NOT believe it? Get real!

But Now I See...The Light
Think about a light bulb. The light can only be in one of two states: on or off. There's no middle ground there; no "in between". Even if it's dim and barely's still ON and not OFF. That's how belief works. It's a binary state: you either believe something, or you DON'T. (Saying "I don't know" changes the question to one about knowledge...not the same thing as belief.) If you can't say "Yes" to the question "Do you believe...", then you DON'T believe. It's just that simple.

So to believe something without any reason to do so, you need "faith". To believe something in the face of evidence of the contrary, you need "blind faith". But to not believe something because there's insufficient evidence to do so, you don't need faith of any kind.

You just need your head screwed on straight.


Friday, April 4, 2008

Nothing Works Like Prayer

Sorry for the delay, folks. I've been in the process of moving to a new Small Town, and the move has been a bit crazy.

But nothing like this:

Idol Hands
Fifteen-month old baby Ana Worthington died on the second day of last month. Her parents belong to the Followers of Christ Church, a church that preaches against the use of medicine, opting instead for prayer to cure illness. Ana died from bronchial pneumonia and a blood infection that could have been treated with simple antibiotics.

But her parents chose Jesus.

Madeline Neumann died March 23rd from a rare but treatable form of diabetes. Her parents blame her lack of faith on her death, and claim that she will be resurrected soon. All the 11-year old needed was a shot of insulin.

But her parents instead chose Jesus.

Faith Isn't Medicine
I was recently criticized for speaking out against irrationality. I hope these two recent cases of child murder shake you to your core. If they don't, you may be beyond hope. I realize that these are just the minority of crazy nuts, but this is how faith can allow for such atrocities. Madeline's parents last took her to a doctor when she was just three years old. Her siblings still live with her parents. The investigators in each of these cases claim that the parents were not crazy nor neglectful people; they just believed that prayer would work.

Regardless of your religious believes, think about Ana and Madeline the next time you are confronted with a choice of faith over medical science. It seems that we atheists are the only ones who are telling these insanely irrational people that their highly incorrect in their way of thinking. But why does it have to be just non-believers? Christians, if these people are in your minority, then YOU should stand up against them too. They will most likely listen to you than to someone who doesn't believe in their God.

I've got to go. I should probably do these stories more justice, but it will have to wait. Once I get settled in my new Small Town we can continue. Don't worry, unlike Jesus, I'll be back!