Evolution and Entropy, Pharyngula Style

November 11, 2008

A quick update:

The second law of thermodynamics is frequently brought up as a problem for evolution by Creationists who aren’t very intelligent. It’s an easy myth to debunk, but someone has gone one step further and actually attempted to do the math on entropy’s effects on evolution (or evolution’s effects on entropy, I guess). Head on over to Pharyngula for some (mostly) non-technical commentary.

If I Believed in God

November 6, 2008

(I’ve been quiet on the blog front for a while now, mainly because I have an insane number of essays to write for college. On top of that, I’ve been continuously ill for going on two weeks now – I’m coughing my lungs up as a I type. There’s plenty I want to write on, but unfortunately it will have to wait for a while.)

Theists frequently assume that belief in God will inevitably lead to belief in a particular religion. (Very often it’s their religion.) why they assume this is beyond me, since believing in God as a philosophical proposition certainly does not automatically lead one to believe that, say, Jesus Christ died and came back to life. I’ve had many people attempt to convert me in my time, and they frequently begin with one of the traditional arguments for the existence of God as laid out by Aquinas (the ‘five ways’), or some modern variation thereof. What they fail to realise is that convincing me or any other atheist of the existnce of an unmoved mover or an uncaused cause is not the same thing as convincing us that the Bible is true or that a whole host of associated supernatural entities exist. With that in mind, I give you a brief, hypothetical look at how belief in God would change my opinion on other, related matters.

If I believed in God:

I would not believe in the divinity of Jesus, Mohammad, Noah, or any other figure from a sacred text. There is no reason to assume that because some sort of god exists, the various stories and myths found within any particular holy book must therefore be true.

I would still accept the theory of evolution, unless the argument which convinced me of the existence of God was based upon said theory being flawed or otherwise completely unable to explain the diversity of life. (Note that such an argument would have to do two things for this scenario to come about: convince me that God exists and convince me that evolution does not occur; the latter does not necessarily imply the former.)

I would still accept that the universe is billions of years old and that the Earth most likely came to be through entirely naturalistic forces, unless the argument which lead me to believe in God was based upon the age of the universe or the Earth being wrong. (This one carries the same warning as above.)

I would still not believe in the soul or that humanity is inherently ‘unique’, unless the argument which convinced me of God’s existence was based upon proving that this is the case.

I would still not believe in any sort of afterlife.

I would still believe that ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are concepts created entirely by humans, and that they are inherently subjective.

I would probably not ascribe to God some of the traditional ‘divine attributes’ (personhood, perfect goodness, simplicity etc.) popularised by Aquinas and others, although this of course would depend on the kind of argument that would convince me of God’s existence in the first place.

I would almost certainly need some sort of scientific backing for a belief in God. In other words, I am more likely to be swayed by a teleological or cosmological type argument than an ontological one.

I would still not hold my beliefs (religious or otherwise) dogmatically, and would be perfectly willing to revise my belief in God if I discovered new evidence that contradicted it.

In short, my life really wouldn’t change all that much.

Expelled – Revised Edition

November 4, 2008

It may not have come through well in my review, but Expelled is so chock full of lies that correcting them all would be a truly herculean feat.

Or so I thought. A few dedicated enthusiasts have decided to create ‘lie-correcting’ subtitles that you can superimpose over Stein’s misinformation-spewing mug. I haven’t tried it out yet, but I imagine it makes the movie a lot more bearable.

Expelled – The Review

October 26, 2008

Three hours ago I finished watching Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, the infamous anti-evolutionary documentary by the equally infamous Ben Stein. It markets itself as a hard-hitting expose on the censorship of Intelligent Design Creationism in the academic community, but in reality is just another cog in the anti-evolutionary propaganda machine. It fails on almost every level.

First, the good: there’s some nice music at the start and camerawork is occasionally decent. That’s the good over. The bad is going to take a while.

Let’s get the central flaw of the movie out of the way first: nobody talks about the evidence. A few of the interviewees briefly mention the micro/macroevolution and information fallacies in a very superficial way, but for the most part the evidence for or against evolution is irrelevant. It’s assumed from the outset that the Intelligent Design Creationism (IDC) point of view is worthy of serious attention simply because it exists. The movie is very obviously pandering to an audience already convinced that evolution is wrong and equally convinced that IDC is right.

This bias is evident in every aspect of the movie. Pro-evolution scientists (PZ Meyers and Richard Dawkins among them) are allowed only short sound bites for the majority of the running time, while pro-IDC scientists and ‘the expelled’ (people who supposedly lost their jobs in academia or journalism for daring to mention IDC) are interviewed at length. Dawkins gets a sizeable section to himself near the end, but it’s mainly used to make it seem as if he’s seriously suggesting that panspermia happened. In fact, the only pro-evolution scientist to get a decent amount of face time throughout the movie is a guy who comes across as slightly unhinged and doesn’t believe in human free will.

Whoever edited Expelled thought it would be a good idea to splice clips from old movies into virtually every scene (this is about as obnoxious as it sounds, and it goes on constantly), and here again there’s some pretty clear bias. When one pro-evolution scientist suggests that early life could have grown on crystals, we’re treated to a brief scene of a mugging fortune teller waving his hands over a crystal ball. This, along with Stein’s sneering ‘He’s being serious’, is apparently enough to debunk the idea entirely.

The creative editing doesn’t stop there, of course. Several interviews with pro-evolution scientists are blatantly truncated, so that one man’s annoyed assertion that he’s explained abiogenesis several times already is made to seem like a senseless outburst. Dawkins, Meyers and most other pro-evolutionists or atheists are given virtually no introduction and are interviewed on a dark background with (I kid you not) eery, occasionally threatening music playing in the background. This becomes truly unbearable by the three-quarters mark, when Stein stands in front of a statue of Darwin and honestly looks as if he’s about to weep.

Of course, his faux-tears might be justified by the fact that he’s Jewish. By way of a long (long) section on eugenics and Social Darwinism, Stein firmly establishes that the theory of evolution is directly responsible for the Holocaust. Or not; it’s the usual tripe, and doesn’t really bear repeating here.

Godwin’s Law is invoked in more ways than this, however. There’s a running metaphor throughout the movie which compares scientific thought in American to post-WWII Germany; the ‘censorship’ of IDC is apparently a lot like the Berlin wall…somehow. This point gets belaboured in predictably hyperbolic fashion: giving serious consideration to IDC is apparently a matter of freedom, that all-purpose buzzword. Here again is the assumption that IDC is ignored and attacked by the scientific community based on fear or ideology rather than the fact that it’s crap science, and we’re assured that breaking down this ‘wall of censorship’ is a matter of the utmost urgency.

But what of the much-touted ‘expelled’? Don’t their stories prove that there’s systematic supression going on? Well, the first thing to keep in mind is that it’s not exactly unheard of to fire people for supporting psuedo-science; I’d say it’s a pretty good policy for most academic establishments to have. The second thing to keep in mind is that there are more than a few holes in what we see in the movie. I’m not going to go into it all here, because others have already done that at length, but suffice to say that the ‘prejudice’ claim doesn’t fly.

Worse than all of the above is the fact that the movie contradicts itself. Early on we’re told that IDC does not make any claims about who the ‘designer’ is, yet the entire second half of the movie is focused on the conflict between religion (implicitly Christianity) and modern science, with the word ‘God’ suddenly thrown around casually. I’m not sure who Stein is trying to fool here, but he’s not doing much for the IDC movement’s pretences at secularity. Atheists are predictably treated like Satan incarnate; Dawkins and Meyers are both upfront about how studying evolution pushed them to become atheists, and it’s taken for granted that this is a bad thing. Things become almost farcical when the pro-IDC interviewees begin to complain that they’ve been locked out in the courts, shutting down communication before it starts. Stein even says something along the lines of ‘Shouldn’t it be about the evidence rather than lawsuits?’ Anyone familiar with the IDC movement’s activities over the last twenty years will realise what’s wrong with this, and Stein conveniently fails to point out that those lawsuits were necessary to stop IDC (which is, at the very least, untested science) smuggling its way into high schools via the back door. Worse, the movie implies that the trial was actually about whether evolution is suported by the evidence or not, when this wasn’t actually the case at all.

The most underhanded example of deception in Expelled, though, is also the most subtle. Too often, pro-evolution reviews forget that the movie’s target audience is not going to know much about evolutionary theory or about IDC. They are not going to have any idea what’s going on during the 3D animation of the inner workings of a cell, nor are they going to realise why the inevitable ‘factory’ analogy is so fallacious. Fence-sitters are likely to forget the scarcity of real scientific discussion being presented here and focus solely on Stein’s ham-handed attempts at demonising first evolution and then all of science.

The movies second great failing (or should I say its second group of failures) is how unbelievably boring it is. I’ll be hard pressed to remember much of what happened during its short running time a week from now, and my brain seems to be trying to flush every memory of Stein into oblivion as quickly as possible. I’ve seen this thing described as some sort of devastating blow to scientific ‘dogma’, but it’s hard to imagine even the most ardent supporter of Creationism honestly recommending a movie this bad. Even Wells, one of the best known IDC proponents in the world, looks faintly embarrassed when Stein insists on bringing up abiogenesis.

Don’t bother watching Expelled. If you really want to see what kind of dreck being churned out by the IDC machine, buy Icons of Evolution or, if you really want to do some slumming, Godless. Otherwise just look up some interviews with Richard Dawkins or PZ Meyers on YouTube and simulate what this movie would be like with all of the crap taken out.


October 26, 2008

The Expelled review is in the works (short version: it sucks), but until that’s finished I direct you towards this fascinating essay about the Discovery Institute’s attack on materialism.


October 23, 2008

Things are pretty busy in college at the moment, so I haven’t had time to update here much. I do want to do a comprehensive post on radiometric dating, but it will require some research.

In the meantime, I’m in the process of getting a copy of Expelled (through entirely legal channels, I can assure you). Expect a full and extremely sarcastic review soon!

AndromedasWake Welcomes You To The Universe

October 20, 2008

I’m a big fan of Youtube videos. Specifically, there’s been a relatively recent surge in channels dedicated almost entirely to combatting creationism and promoting science. One of the newest members of this endeavour is AndromedasWake, an astronomy student who sky-rocketed to popularity with only a handful of videos from his excellent seres, CrAP (Creationist Astronomy Propoganda) Debunked.

AW has announced a new series, titled Welcome to The Universe, that aims to be a professional-quality Youtube documentary series, containing music composed by AW himself, about cosmology and the scientists and discoveries that have shaped it. Today he released a trailer and asked people to spread it around as much as possible, so here it is:

Check out his other videos as well, and be on the lookout for some of the other excellent stuff on Youtube. Maybe I’ll do a post about it later.

Addition from forknowledge: I’ll second PF’s recommendation; AndreomasWake makes some excellent videos, and this new documentary looks like it could be fantastic. Best of all, it will be free, without copyright and available to anyone. The best way to combat Creationist stupidity is to have educated people like AW put out this kind of material in a format that us ‘ordinary’ people can understand. Let’s hope this is the beginning of a trend!


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