Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Derb on Expelled!

John Derbeyshire has written a piece on the movie Expelled for National Review. He is not complimentary:

So what’s going on here with this stupid Expelled movie? No, I haven’t seen the dang thing. I’ve been reading about it steadily for weeks now though, both pro (including the pieces by David Klinghoffer and Dave Berg on National Review Online) and con, and I can’t believe it would yield up many surprises on an actual viewing. It’s pretty plain that the thing is creationist porn, propaganda for ignorance and obscurantism. How could a guy like this [Ben Stein] do a thing like that?

He has further harsh words for creationism in general:

These dishonesties do not surprise me. When talking about the creationists to people who don’t follow these controversies closely, I have found that the hardest thing to get across is the shifty, low-cunning aspect of the whole modern creationist enterprise. Individual creationists can be very nice people, though they get nicer the further away they are from the full-time core enterprise of modern creationism at the Discovery Institute. The enterprise as a whole, however, really doesn’t smell good. You notice this when you’re around it a lot.

Although he suggests that the earlier creationist movement shows more integrity than the modern ID movement, there are plenty of creationists who behaved as badly as any Dawkins or Meyers ever did, and hid behind the idea of doing "God's word" while they were doing it.

Now playing: Anthony Phillips - Sunrise And Sea Monsters
via FoxyTunes
Sorry, been SUPER busy.

Now playing: Anthony Phillips - Sunrise And Sea Monsters
via FoxyTunes

Friday, April 25, 2008

"Won't Ya Be My Yoko Ono"

Yoko Ono is suing Premise Media and Ben Stein for using the John Lennon song "Imagine" in the film Expelled! without permission. According to the story:

"Defendants have intentionally and willfully used the song without authorization because they knew that they would likely be unable to secure permission from plaintiffs," Ono, 75, said in the lawsuit, filed Tuesday in federal court in New York.

The story additionally notes:

Ono has tightly controlled Lennon's intellectual property rights since the Beatles member was assassinated in 1980. On April 30, a preliminary hearing will begin in Boston federal court in her lawsuit to stop footage of Lennon from being used in a World Wide Video film called "3 Days in the Life."

Since I haven't seen the film, I don't know how much of the song was used. It is a good bet that any of it was too much.

Carrying Babies Not the Driving Force Behind Bipedalism

The Bignews Network is airing a story detailing research by folks at the University of Manchester on bipedalism. The story notes:

For long, researchers have proposed that carrying babies that could no longer use their feet to cling to their parents in the way that young apes can is what made humans bipedal.

But University of Manchester researchers investigating the energy involved in carrying a child say the physical expense to the mother does not support the idea that walking upright was an evolutionary response to child transportation.

Back to visual predation?

Humans on the Brink of Extinction

According to a story on Foxnews, humans neared the brink of extinction a scant 70 000 years ago. According to one of the authors of the study:

"This study illustrates the extraordinary power of genetics to reveal insights into some of the key events in our species' history," Spencer Wells, National Geographic Society explorer in residence, said in a statement.

"Tiny bands of early humans, forced apart by harsh environmental conditions, coming back from the brink to reunite and populate the world," he added. "Truly an epic drama, written in our DNA."

Well, that is somewhat melodramatic, if a tad overstated. The story also notes:

The new study looks at the mitochondrial DNA of the Khoi and San people in South Africa, formerly known as Hottentots and Bushmen, who appear to have diverged from other people between 90,000 and 150,000 years ago.

The researchers, led by Doron Behar of Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, Israel and Saharon Rosset of IBM T.J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., and Tel Aviv University, concluded that humans separated into small populations prior to the Stone Age, when they came back together and began to increase in numbers and spread to other areas.

This will probably be news to most archaeologists who have quite a bit of material worldwide from this general time period. It also flies in the face of the fossil remains dated to between 50-90 ky in Europe and the Mediterranean. If those fossils represent only a fraction of the population alive at the time, then there were a bunch more people around than this study would want to admit.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

"Expelled" Rakes It In!

Biz of Showbiz has an article on just how well Expelled is doing at the Box Office. How well?

The film is already one of the top documentaries ever, just after the first weekend, where it averaged $2,997 per venue. While it ended up in the No. 10 spot for the weekend box office, it was fifth as far as average taken in per theater.

Cool. Take that, Richard Dawkins!!

Reading a Newspaper is Good For You

The Saskatoon Star Phoenix has an article suggesting that, in order to be better educated, one should read the newspaper. They write:

In fact, newspaper readers are one of just two groups in society likely to reject belief in the paranormal, says Lou Manza, chair of the psychology department at Lebanon Valley College in Pennsylvania. The other group is people who think everything has a scientific explanation.

Manza surveyed college students on about 20 different paranormal beliefs such as near-death experiences and psychics.

What is also interesting is how much of a cross-cut of society is involved. When controlling for income, ethnicity and other factors, the team found that:

Almost none of it seemed to matter. Religious and non-religious people were about equally likely to believe in ghosts, astrology, and the rest. So were rich and poor, all political parties, ethnic groups, believers in "alternative spiritualism" -- even, stunningly, those with and without science courses in high school and in college.

Yup. Keep reading the newspaper.

"Academic Freedom Act" Passes

The Ledger reports that the Florida State legislature has passed the "Academic Freedom Act." They write:

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, has steadfastly refused to say whether she believes creationism and intelligent design are scientific and would be allowed to be taught under her bill. Her only response has been to cite provisions in the bill saying it would not require religious alternatives to be taught.
Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, argued the measure would constitute an unconstitutional “establishment of religion” by the state.

I still find it odd that an "academic" freedom bill has gone out of its way to target evolution directly. I think this bodes ill.

Texas Takes a Stand!

The Texas Commissioner for Higher Education is going on record as being against the petition by the ICR to educate science teachers in creationism. The San Antonio news reports him saying:

"...the proposed degree cannot "be properly designated either as 'science' or 'science education."

Monday, April 21, 2008

"The Language of God" Excerpt

ABCnews has an excerpt from Francis Collins' book The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief buried in the link that I posted a few days ago. Here it is. He writes:

So here is the central question of this book: In this modern era of cosmology, evolution, and the human genome, is there still the possibility of a richly satisfying harmony between the scientific and spiritual worldviews? I answer with a resounding yes! In my view, there is no conflict in being a rigorous scientist and a person who believes in a God who takes a personal interest in each one of us. Science's domain is to explore nature. God's domain is in the spiritual world, a realm not possible to explore with the tools and language of science. It must be examined with the heart, the mind, and the soul -- and the mind must find a way to embrace both realms.

I will argue that these perspectives not only can coexist within one person, but can do so in a fashion that enriches and enlightens the human experience. Science is the only reliable way to understand the natural world, and its tools when properly utilized can generate profound insights into material existence.

Something else to read. I had better get moving.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

High Praise for Expelled!

Libertas blog is gloating that Expelled is doing much better than another film released at the same time, Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden, which he describes as an "America Trasher." He comments:

Gee, whodthunk, huh? $3 million in ticket sales for a religious-themed, freedom of speech documentary and less than $150 thousand for an American-trasher??? Has the world gone mad?


The comments are good, also.

A Call for Science in the White House

David Baltimore and Ahmed Zewail have written an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal calling for renewed interest in science at the presidential and congressional level. They write:

Last year things seemed hopeful, at least for the physical sciences. The National Academy of Sciences issued a report, "Rising Above the Gathering Storm," that helped drive Congress to pass legislation – the American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI) – aimed at bolstering the sciences. It was supposed to beef up the study of science in high school. In the end, no money was found to fund the initiative. It was a commitment made, but not kept.

That was the rule of thumb for most of the scientific initiatives. The science bill came back flat from congress and some programs were drastically cut. Funding for the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, a joint venture with several other nations, was zeroed out completely. Why is it that when it looks like things are going well for sciences, short-sighted partisan politics comes into play? Read the whole thing.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Francis Collins on the Pew Forum

There is an extensive interview with Francis Collins, author of The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief at the Pew Forum. When asked about why the conflict was so polarizing, he responds:

Perhaps today’s conflict, which seems particularly intense, is so difficult to understand because, after all, evolution has been very much on the scene for 150 years, and the science that supports Darwin’s theory has gotten stronger and stronger over those decades. That evidence is particularly strong today given the ability to study DNA and to see the way in which it undergirds Darwin’s theory in a marvelously digital fashion. And yet, we have seen an increasing polarization between the scientific and spiritual worldviews, much of it, I think, driven by those who are threatened by the alternatives and who are unwilling to consider the possibility that there might be harmony here.

What often astounds me about the people who argue against teaching evolution in the classroom is that, more often than not, they cannot properly identify what evolution is. About Creationism, Dr. Collins responds:

I take great comfort looking back through time, particularly at the writings of Augustine, who was obsessed by trying to understand Genesis and wrote no less than five books about it. Augustine ultimately concluded that no human being really was going to be able to interpret the meaning of the creation story. Certainly Augustine would have argued that the current ultra-literal interpretations that lead to young earth creationism are not required by the text, and would have warned that such a rigid interpretation, regardless of what other evidence comes to the scene, could potentially be quite dangerous to the faith, in that it would make believers out to be narrow-minded and potentially subject to ridicule. And in a certain way, that warning has come true with the battles we’re having right now.

This is a recurrent theme among practicing scientists who are self-proclaimed OECs (Old Earth Creationists), such as Davis Young, Howard Van Till, Alan Davis, among others, that the persistence of the young earth creationism movement degrades serious belief and puts Christians in a bad light. Read the whole thing.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Sowing Atheism at the National Academy of Sciences

Solving Light Books has a free download of a book titled Sowing Atheism: The Natonal Academy Of Science' Sinister Scheme To Teach Our Children They're Descended from Reptiles. Sure to be an interesting read. The opening two paragraphs pretty much set the tone:

Imagine yourself standing in the administrative offices of your local junior high school. You are there to bring a forgotten lunch to one of your children. Two tall, forbidding men enter wearing black business suits with red-letter NAS (National Academy of Sciences) armbands. They sneer and brush past you. They ignore the receptionist and the other people working there, and head straight for the principal’s office. Just as the startled educator looks up at the intruders, both slam their fists on his desk. In unison, they cry, “We represent infallible science. You must teach these children that they are descended from reptiles. It is impossible to disprove our findings, and wrong to challenge them; therefore, no other point of view will be tolerated.” When these men disregard you again on their way out, you follow and yell down the hall, “What evidence do you have that we are descended from reptiles?” They reply, “We don’t need any evidence. All we have to do is say we have it in abundance. We are the philosopher kings of science.”

Time to wade in...

Protesting the "Academic Freedom Act"

The Tallahassee Democrat has a story on the response that the Academic Freedom Act is getting locally:

The Senate bill says in part it will provide, "public school teachers with a right to present scientific information relevant to the full range of views on biological and chemical evolution; prohibiting a teacher from being discriminated against for presenting such information."

Once again, if this bill is "academic" in nature, why is evolution being singled out for special treatment? As Kenneth Miller states, shouldn't we think this way about all of science? The wording of the bill gives away its true intent--to get people to reconsider their support for evolution.

"Academic Freedom Act" Moves Forward

The Independent Florida Alligator reports that another hurdle has been passed for the Academic Freedom Act to become law. The reporter, Joshua Frederickson, writes:

Last week, the Republican-controlled Florida legislature — which now boasts a prodigious 32 percent approval rating, the lowest ever — moved one step closer to pushing through an incredibly ignorant and shamelessly duplicitous piece of legislation that aims to inject religion into the Sunshine State’s public schools. The deceptively named “Academic Freedom Act” is now one House council’s approval away from a floor vote. The Senate is already set to vote on the measure.

The bill’s supporters claim that the legislation has nothing to do with religion and would simply permit teachers to present alternative theories (read: intelligent design) without fear of harassment or dismissal.

The article is somewhat vitriolic and at least one of the commentators takes him to task for this. Personally, I also get a bit weary of this "Republicans are evil" schtick. Interestingly, one of the comments below the article shows the dilemmas that exist within the kind of representative government in which we live:

Also, this is a not a church and state issue. Separation of church and state means that the clergymen and officials of religious sects are not allowed to govern our state, or to create a new church to govern our state, unlike what was done in Europe. However, we do elect people to represent our interests, and if most of our elected officials happen to uphold Christian or other religious values that would lead them to think that teaching Creationism is important, all they are doing is implementing and/or upholding what most of their own constituents would want. And guess what? If you ever get out of Gainesville these days, one of the most liberal parts of the state and in all the of the South, you would realize the the average Floridian and US citizen wants creationism to be taught in public schools. If you personally want it hexed from your child's classroom, what is so awesome about the United States is that you have the right to find a school that does not teach it, and if one doesn't exist, you can home school your child, or you can go start a school of your own.

As I have noted in the past, I understand the want on the part of parents to have their kids get a high quality education, but the kids also have to be taught the most up-to-date information, especially if it involves science. Learning the ins and outs of alchemy might be fun but it won't prepare you for 21st century scientific endeavors.

Michael Behe Speaks

Michael Behe is giving some talks in northern Colorado. The link is here.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Expelled Exposed!

The National Center for Science Education, run by Eugenie Scott has posted a website devoted to critiquing the film Expelled! The main page has a short film detailing the trials of Christine Comer, who was fired from her education position in Texas for passing on an email about a pro-evolution talk by Barbara Forest.

Now playing: George Winston - Sleep Baby Mine
via FoxyTunes

Monday, April 14, 2008

Variety Reviews "Expelled"

Variety examines the film Expelled and finds that, although it asks some good questions, ultimately, its style and direction undermine any point it is trying to make. For example:

First-time director Nathan Frankowski strikes a relentlessly jokey tone throughout, using black-and-white film clips as comic punctuation (after news of a professor's axing, pic cuts to a shot of a guillotine). In addition to being just plain irritating, this jittery style seems to reinforce the perception of the pic's target audience as a bunch of intellectual lightweights.

Even more offensive is the film's attempt to link Darwin's "survival of the fittest" ideas and Hitler's master-race ambitions (when in doubt, invoke the Holocaust), complete with solemnly scored footage of the experimentation labs at Dachau. Evocations of the Berlin Wall, treated as a symbol of a bullheaded scientific establishment on the verge of collapse, are equally fatuous.

As I have posted before, the Darwin/Hitler connection is misplaced, as he did not believe that evolution applied to humans. The other is unfortunate because it is, once again, playing directly into the hands of people like Richard Dawkins and PZ Meyers who need no encouragement.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Atlas of Creation Arrives in Scotland

Last year the Atlas of Creation was sent to universities in France, generating interest from the Human Rights group Council of Europe. Now it has been sent to Scottish universities. According to The Sunday Herald, the tome, which can be downloaded for free on the internet, was sent, unsolicited. The story notes:

"I find it quite staggering," said Aubrey Manning, emeritus professor of natural history at the University of Edinburgh. He houses his seven copies in a cupboard in the zoology department's staff room. "Every academic I know says they've got one of those. And it's peddling an absolute, downright lie."

He said the appearance of the books and the rise of creationist voices in the UK, within both Christian and Muslim groups, didn't affect his teaching but that he was "much more worried about primary and secondary school classrooms".

This is a reasonable concern, as we have seen here in the United States. The story notes one of the paragraphs in the book concerning evolution.

Under a picture of the collapsing Twin Towers, a caption reads: "No matter what ideology they may espouse, those who perpetrate terror all over the world are, in reality, Darwinists. Darwinism is the only philosophy that places value on - and thus encourages - conflict."

I think this would come as news to your average member of Hamas or Jemaah Islamiyah.

I just signed up to get free tickets to see Expelled! The link is here. I might try to go see it anyway if I get the opportunity.

Friday, April 11, 2008


i am recovering from prostate surgery so will probably not post for a few days. Not fun.