Hitchens-Blair debate

There is a YouTube channel devoted specifically to the recent debate between Christopher Hitchens and Tony Blair. I’ve yet to watch it, but I find both men to be quite intelligent. (Update: I have watched it.) Hitchens’ intelligence is crashingly obvious; I’ve never seen him lose a debate point. And I absolutely love how he will routinely bend over backwards to grant as much as possible to his opponent just so he can point out that he still has the point won. Anyone who saw that awful creationist movie with Ben Stein should be familiar with this tactic: In the Richard Dawkins interview, Dawkins granted that it’s possible that we could have been designed by aliens, but even if that were so, we would still need to appeal to evolution in order to explain their existence. Stein, unsurprisingly, takes the dishonest route of claiming that Richard Dawkins is only against intelligent design when it involves a god. This was rather expected since the creators of the movie lied to every biologist involved, not to mention the fundamental dishonesty behind creationism intelligent design. But I digress. Blair’s intelligence is clear enough, but I think perhaps some of my perception of it comes from the contrast of it with Dubya’s lack of smarts.

Anyway. Watch the debate. (Skip the first video if you just want to get to the meat of the debate.)

Glenn Beck is such a huge idiot

I, for whatever inane reason, find myself listening to conservat…sorry, fair and balanced news. From what I gather, the station is a combination of FOX Noise radio and a local conservative station, probably a FOX affiliate. It basically consists of four shows: Hannity, Beck, Carr, and some automotive show for whatever strange reason. Beck has the most charisma, so I find listening to his outrageous opinions to be the most tolerable. UPDATE: It turns out they’re all intolerable. And Carr has more charisma.

I was listening to the jackass last night and he was going on about science – no doubt, Ben Stein’s definition of science. This is what he said (paraphrased).

We all know Earth didn’t just come into existence by magic by some invisible guy in the sky! No! It was when two rocks collided that Earth was created!

The sarcasm dripped.

Surely what Beck was referencing was the well-established fact of the accretion process. Apparently this is just too absurd for the man. From what I can tell, the guy has some smarts about him. He managed to attend Yale shortly before dropping out. Really, that’s the problem. A stupid creationist isn’t as common as one might think; what we’re seeing are ignorant creationists. These people, for whatever reason, refuse to educate themselves. That in itself is stupid, but their lack of knowledge is ignorance. It’s no crime, but these people shouldn’t be getting talk shows and Vice Presidential nominations.

I accepted

I accepted the invitation to see Expelled. It was about what I expected.

I didn’t subject myself to that horrid movie since I’ve already seen it, but I did make sure to show up toward the end. I caught the last bit with the interview with Richard Dawkins. It’s hilarious. Ben Stein, horrid economist, understander of science, and vaguely entertaining actor in the 80s, asks Dawkins to put a specific number on the probability that God does not exist. Dawkins says he doesn’t feel comfortable doing this, but Stein persists. To the creationist audience that’s going to interpret absolutely everything as supporting their inane ideas, this comes across as gold. Dawkins seems to be stumbling. The truth is the question is absurd. It would be like asking a creationist to scientifically put a number on the likelihood God does exist. The more stupid breed of creationist will say “100%”, ignoring my qualifer “scientifically” – words, meanings, definitions, and honesty are irrelevant to these mooks – but the rare creationist will see the absurdity of this. More aptly, however, this would be like asking the likelihood that an elephant, shark, or wolf would evolve. No scientist is going to give a straight-up percentage. It doesn’t make sense to that, and even if it did, there are far too many variables to be in the least bit accurate. This, contrary to what the creationist mind thinks (if we are to follow its ‘logic’ to its end), does not mean elephants, sharks, or wolves could not or did not evolve. But even more aptly, it’d be like asking the likelihood that fairies do not exist. The whole thing ignores the point of the argument.

Anyway, there was a “discussion” after the movie ended. By this I mean one guy who claims to have a degree from Oxford and I had a back and forth. The details are becoming fuzzy, but to give you an idea of the sort of thing he was saying, take this. I brought up that no papers supporting intelligent design have ever been peer reviewed and published. He countered by pointing out that Michael Behe and William Dembski both have books out that have been reviewed. For the dumber of you out there (i.e., creationists who think he delivered me a knock-out punch), that is not peer review. The criteria for getting published in, say, Nature is just a tad more difficult than the criteria for seeing your book on the shelves of Barnes & Noble. Mainly, the bookstore criteria is that it will make some money. I had difficulty making this point because the leader of this whole shindig kept trying to interrupt our discussion, but I did get to mention that those books have been peer reviewed in the sense that The God Delusion has been peer reviewed. At that point, this guy (a pastor) completely misunderstood the point and not only asserted that Dawkins’ book had been panned but that it was very poorly written. Again, I was cut off before being able to counter, but c’mon. I can understand someone being so driven by a fear of evidence that they outright reject Dawkins’ arguments, but the man is a fantastic writer. Saying otherwise is just being petty.

After the discussion was mysteriously cut short by 30 minutes, I continued speaking with this pastor. He claimed that the Lucy fossil had been found over an area of 300 feet and only 1% was discovered. I told him he was wrong. This is common; creationists will get these untruths flowing at their churches (usually pushed by the leaders) and entirely believe them. Research? Confirmation? Nah. It’s a convenient thing to believe. You can do your own 30 second Yahoo! or Google search if you’d like, but if you don’t already know the answers, they are: Lucy was discovered all in one location with no duplicate bones nearby (in other words, it was certainly one animal); her body is surprisingly complete, not at 1%, but 40%. From my memory of her images, I would have guessed something a little higher, but I refrained, opting instead to get his email. I gave him this information, plus some other things debunking some wrong ideas he had about black holes (time does not “become irrelevant” at the event horizon). No response has shown up in my inbox.

Overall, it was about what I thought it’d be. A lot of quiet people who would nod their heads to the one or two more vocal creationists in the group who would invariably give me the same old tired arguments coupled with a few random numbers they think are impressive but are really just wrong. Standard.

How inviting

I have been cordially invited to attend a viewing of Expelled at the University of Maine at Augusta campus on Tuesday, April 7 at 5:30 p.m. until 8:00 p.m. (You must be logged into Facebook to view.) Here is the event description.

We will be watching “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed”

The debate over evolution is confusing and to some, bewildering: “Wasn’t this all settled years ago?” The answer to that question is equally troubling: “Yes…and no.”

The truth is that a staggering amount of new scientific evidence has emerged since Darwin’s 150-year-old theory of life’s origins. Darwin had no concept of DNA, microbiology, The Big Bang, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity or of the human genome.

Then after we will be hanging out and discussing it

For more information on this move check out http://www.expelledthemovie.com/aboutthemovie.php

Amazing. First, they still think evolution is up for debate. Creationist ignorance check point one. Next, they call it a theory of “life’s origins”. How does evolution imply that at all? Creationist ignorance check point two. Then, of course, we get unrelated theories in physics. That’s three. And they could have hit so many more. Where’s the second law of thermodynamics? The ‘natural selection if a tautology’ bs? Come on! Amateurs!

I’m rather undecided about attending this. I am certainly not going to see the movie. I saw it once and that was torture enough, but I will be on campus around the time they will be having their discussion (and by this I mean ‘spreading of disinformation’). Perhaps I can lend my voice to be sure they don’t think this somehow supports intelligent design. Yes, that’s right. The person with whom I originally saw the movie (a young creationist minister) said he “loved that there was a lot of great science”. Of course, there is no science behind intelligent design, but the movie doesn’t even make an attempt to discuss science. It’s wholly about how there’s a big, mean conspiracy to keep intelligent design advocates down and out because “Big Science” is so evil. Oh, and evolution caused the holocaust. Can’t forget that gem.

I’ll keep you updated.

Emotional Appeals

Ben Stein tells us that evolution leads to genocide. It leads to atheism (which is implicitly bad, apparently). Chaos, murder, cancer, and sad puppies will infest the world if evolution is embraced. It only makes sense then that we should necessarily reject evolution if we want to live in a world of peace and goodness.

Of course, that all sounds utterly silly. But it’s the argument being put forth by Christians all the time (if not in form, then principle): because X leads to something bad, it should be rejected. It is an appeal to emotion. No one wants something bad to be true, so claiming a falsehood on that thing can bring some sort of sense of mind. These people are not ones with which to be reasoned easily.

Emotional appeals are useless in determining what is true. It is the simple truth of something which is important to me. I do not accept or reject evolution based upon an philosophical underpinings or relations. To do so is to make my acceptance or rejection irrelevant and meaningless. If evolution somehow automatically leads to the philosophy of Hitler, that’s unfortunate. That, however, has zero bearing on the truth of evolutionary theory. Either life evolved through small, gradual steps over billions of years of common descent or it didn’t. Nothing Hitler ever thought can change that.

It should not be acceptable for a person to make an emotional appeal on an issue of truth. Save that for the subjectivity of a relationship. We should believe not based upon what we want to believe, but based instead upon evidence. It is evidence which holds so much importance to our lives and to our ability to discern what is true and what is not. Our emotions have no influence over truth.

Ebert Takes Stein to Task

A bit late, but Ebert has a review of the movie Expelled


Toward the end of the film, we find that Stein actually did want to title it “From Darwin to Hitler.” He finds a Creationist who informs him, “Darwinism inspired and advanced Nazism.” He refers to advocates of eugenics as liberal. I would not call Hitler liberal. Arbitrary forced sterilization in our country has been promoted mostly by racists, who curiously found many times more blacks than whites suitable for such treatment.

Ben Stein is only getting warmed up. He takes a field trip to visit one “result” of Darwinism: Nazi concentration camps. “As a Jew,” he says, “I wanted to see for myself.” We see footage of gaunt, skeletal prisoners. Pathetic children. A mound of naked Jewish corpses. “It’s difficult to describe how it felt to walk through such a haunting place,” he says. Oh, go ahead, Ben Stein. Describe. It filled you with hatred for Charles Darwin and his followers, who represent the overwhelming majority of educated people in every nation on earth. It is not difficult for me to describe how you made me feel by exploiting the deaths of millions of Jews in support of your argument for a peripheral Christian belief. It fills me with contempt.

I could have sworn Hitler was an evilutionist.

Uncommon Descent

There’s been this big hub-bub among creationist conspiracists that “academic freedom” is being quashed by all those EVILutionists. That was the main theme of the movie Expelled and it even resulted in an anti-science bill being signed into law by Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal (most states rejected such nonsense, fortunately). For those who are unfamiliar, “academic freedom”, in its creationist sense, is just code/whine word for “no one will listen to our bad ideas”.

So it comes as an entertaining irony that the people whining and moaning about not having a voice in acadamia, have been called out for quieting dissent against their poorly thought out positions when the academics come onto their turf. This is actually something commonly practiced by the likes of Michael Heath, local Christian zealot and bigot. He actually just doesn’t approve dissenting comments, no matter how cleanly written, but it’s roughly the same principle: creationists want us to hear their voices, but cover their ears when truth is spoken to them.

Is anyone surprised?

Expelled corrected

Stop with the apologies

I recently visited the National Zoo in Washington D.C. It was somewhat late in the day so animal activity was down a bit, but it was still pretty interesting. The golden lion tamarin was by far the best animal in the park for me; what’s more, it was featured in quite a few exhibits (as well as the Balitmore Aquarium, for some reason). But there was one huge pitfall: Apology for exhibiting evolution.

Upon entering the Think Tank I expected to see a few apes, hopefully an Orangutan. I did see those things, but I also saw a decent sized section devoted to human evolution (with a primary focus on tool use). The problem was what amounted to an apology for a branch of science. A sign at the entry warned visitors that they may be offended by what they are about to see.

So? Who cares if people are offended? It isn’t the job of the zoo, especially a publically funded one, to apologize to people who have yet to gain a grasp on evolution. If they find it offensive, then that’s just too bad. No organization wishing to present scientific information to the public (and the zoo, other than this instance, does a fine job) should (essentially) be apologizing for that information. What a few yahoos think does not change the truth value of anything in science.