Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A BadIdeas Review of "Expelled"

Another review, including this on the "link" between "Darwinism" and Nazism.

What about the link between evolution and Hitler?

Frankly, the film does a lot more than simply call Darwin out for playing directly into Nazi and eugenic ideologies.

Now, a lot has been made of the upfront citations of darwinian influences in these movements, and how these are woefully incomplete and highly selective as history. The film certainly makes caveats about how not all mainstream biologists are Nazis (oh. Gracious thanks!). But it hints that those who are not of a dark bent (an attitude which it tries to pin on William Provine, and fairly effectively) aren’t being logical, not following through with the inevitable implications of their ideas. Like those insincere Christians that support evolution, non-genocidal evolutionists are apparently kept at bay by their better natures (which, as any good apologist will tell you, are merely on loan from Christianity). The idea that eugenics or racial genocide are based on illegitimate and bizarre distortions of evolutionary biology or confusion about how descriptive science relates to normative values… that’s a no-show in the film. And the film ultimately even undercuts its spoken caveats with things like Stein accusingly staring Darwin down and quote mining Descent of Man (again, something that’s right out of young-earth creationism 101) directly subsequent to a visit to Dachau.

But all of this is arguably less important than where the film goes next: basically asserting that these horrible things are going to happen all over again, or maybe are already happening, because of how pernicious the influence of the “Darwinian” worldview is. Berlinski quotes a German saying that means “this is how it always starts.” And what, exactly is starting again? Stein asks Jeffrey Schawrtz “What’s going to happen if this doesn’t change?” “I think we’re watching it happen.” Again, this comes straight out of the film’s musing on the horrors of the Holocaust.

I just don’t see how there’s much room for quibbling over what the film is getting at here either.

Truth "Expelled"

When Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers, Eugenie Scott, and others were interviewed for the movie "Expelled", they were told they were being interviewed for a movie with a more balanced premise, called "Crossroads".

Now it's possible the producers simply decided to change the name of the movie halfway through. After all, I saw ads for a magazine named "Nova" a year before it hit the newsstands, same format, same font, but with the name of "Omni". And I once went to a screening for a movie called "Eaters of the Dead", based on the Michael Chrichton novel of the same name. It was excellent, and I told all my friends to go see it when it came out, under the title of "The 13th Warrior".

But the question arises, just when did the producers decide to call their movie "Expelled"?

Wesley Elsberry did some digging:

One of the things that has dogged Mathis is the fact that the “” domain was registered at the beginning of March, 2007, about a month earlier than the invitations for interviews went out to Eugenie Scott and PZ Myers. No similar domain seems to have been registered by Mathis for the alleged “Crossroads” concept. Ben Stein adds another piece to the burgeoning chronological evidence stack that argues against taking Mathis at his word. When did Ben Stein get the word that he’d be the front-man for an attack piece? According the WORLD interview, that would be sometime in 2006...

Evolution 101

P.Z. Myers (Yes, the one who was expelled) responds to an e-mail asking how chromosome numbers can increase in sexually reproducing species. For good measure, he explains how they can decrease.

In essence, you start with a chromosome with genes and one centromere.

Here's something fairly common. An error in copying the DNA can lead to the loss of a piece of DNA. This happens with a low frequency, but it does happen — if we sequenced your DNA, we might well find a few bits missing here and there. We can get situations like this, where a whole gene gets lost.

Another kind of error that can happen with a low frequency is a duplication, where the machinery of the cell accidentally repeats itself when copying, and you get an extra copy of a piece of a chromosome...

You may have noticed that nothing has changed the chromosome numbers yet. Here's a situation that can lead to the formation of a new chromosome: what if there is a duplication of the centromere, rather than a gene?...

One last thing: what about reducing chromosome numbers? That's easy, too. Here's an organism with an AB chromosome, and a different chromosome with the genes MN on it. They can simply fuse in the region of the centromere.

Read the rest for the full explanation, and pictures.

Creationists, Hitler and Evolution

Lenny Flank, the moderator of the Debunk Creation mailing list, has written a number of essays about creationism, ID, and evolution. Since one of the claims offered by Expelled is that "Darwinism" led directly to Nazism, here's a link to his essay.

A common charge made by creationists is that evolutionary theory is "evil" and is the source of racism in general, and of dictatorial killers in particular. The most often-heard assertion is that Hitler and his racist genocide were the product of "evolutionary philosophy". Henry Morris, for instance, flatly declares, "However one may react morally against Hitler, he was certainly a consistent evolutionst." (Morris, "Evolution and Modern racism", ICR Impact, October 1973) Morris adds: "The philosophies of Karl Marx and Friedrich Nietzsche--the forerunners of Stalin and Hitler--have been particularly baleful in their effect: both were dedicated evolutionists." (Morris, Troubled Waters of Evolution, 1974 p. 33)

How accurate is this creationist finger-pointing? Not very. The creationists are apparently unaware of the fact that Stalinist Russia rejected Darwinian evolution as "bourgeois" and instead embraced the non-Darwinian "proletarian biology" of Lysenko and Michurin (a disaster from which Russian genetics and biological sciences has still not completely recovered). As for Hitler, even a cursory reading of his book Mein Kampf reveals that the true source of Hitler's inspiration and exhortations came from a source that creationists, understandably, would rather not talk about.

Hitler's goal was the "purification" of the "Aryan race" through the elimination of "subhumans", which included Jews, gypsies, Asians, black Africans, and everyone else who was not a white Aryan. Despite the creationists claims that this was based on Darwinain evolutionary theory, Hitler's own writings give quite a different story. The ICR claims that "Hitler used the German word for evolution (Entwicklung) over and over again in his book." (ICR Impact, "The Ascent of Racism", Paul Humber Feb 1987) Like so many of ICR's claims, this one is simply not true---a quick scan of several online English translations of Mein Kampf shows only ONE use of the word "evolution", in a context which does not refer at all to biological evolution, but instead to the development of political ideas in Germany: "This evolution has not yet taken the shape of a conscious intention and movement to restore the political power and independence of our nation."

Had ICR made even a cursory reading of Mein Kampf, they would have seen a quite different source for Hitler's racist inspiration than the one they would have us believe. White Aryans, Hitler writes, are the special creations of God, the "highest image of the Lord", put here specifically to rule over the "subhuman" races: "Human culture and civilization on this continent are inseparably bound up with the presence of the Aryan. If he dies out or declines, the dark veils of an age without culture will again descend on this globe. The undermining of the existence of human culture by the destruction of its bearer seems in the eyes of a folkish philosophy the most execrable crime. Anyone who dares to lay hands on the highest image of the Lord commits sacrilege against the benevolent Creator of this miracle and contributes to the expulsion from paradise." (all quotes from Hitler, Mein Kampf, online version) Actions which aid the "subhumans" at the expense of the Aryan master race, Hitler declared, were an offense against God: " It is a sin against the will of the Eternal Creator if His most gifted beings by the hundreds and hundreds of thousands are allowed to degenerate in the present proletarian morass, while Hottentots and Zulu Kaffirs are trained for intellectual professions."

Six Inconvenient Facts for Ben Stein

1) Expelled quotes Charles Darwin selectively to connect his ideas to eugenics and the Holocaust.
2) Ben Stein's speech to a crowded auditorium in the film was a setup.

3) Scientists in the film thought they were being interviewed for a different movie.

4) The ID-sympathetic researcher whom the film paints as having lost his job at the Smithsonian Institution was never an employee there.
5) Science does not reject religious or "design-based" explanations because of dogmatic atheism.

6) Many evolutionary biologists are religious and many religious people accept evolution.

Blood Libel against Science

John Derbyshire happened to hear another interview with Ben Stein:

In an interview with the Trinity Broadcasting Network, Ben Stein said the following amazing thing in an interview with Paul Crouch, Jr.

Stein: When we just saw that man, I think it was Mr. Myers [i.e. biologist P.Z. Myers], talking about how great scientists were, I was thinking to myself the last time any of my relatives saw scientists telling them what to do they were telling them to go to the showers to get gassed … that was horrifying beyond words, and that’s where science — in my opinion, this is just an opinion — that’s where science leads you.

Crouch: That’s right.

Stein: …Love of God and compassion and empathy leads you to a very glorious place, and science leads you to killing people.

Crouch: Good word, good word.

Yup, them rascal scientists just love death and slaughter.

Transcript from CNN

I don't know how volatile the content is, so I'm saving the whole piece. There are interesting bits here which, if a white person said them, would get him stoned to death in the public square.

(CNN) -- The NAACP has an incomparable record. It has the longest list of achievements in the history of this country as being the undisputed champion in the fight against discrimination, racial prejudice, and unjust public policies, which have caused people made in the image of God to be treated as less than human or treated as second-class citizens.

In its early days, the NAACP and the black church in the United States of America were seemingly joined at the hip in the fight against injustice and the fight for equality on behalf of all people of color.

Many local chapters of the NAACP were started in black churches. Hundreds of black churches. The NAACP's fight for justice and freedom, however, is not limited to the concerns of the black church, historically or contemporaneously. And when the truth is told, as Paula

Giddings does so powerfully in her book "When and Where I Enter," there were times when the NAACP had to drag some timid black preachers along kicking and screaming as in the Montgomery bus boycott designed by the NAACP, not the SCLC.

Throughout its 99-year history, the NAACP has been built by people of all races, all nationalities, and all faiths on one primary premise, which is that all men and women are created equal. The nation's oldest civil rights organization has changed America's history. Despite violence, intimidation, and hostile government policies, the NAACP and its grassroots membership have persevered.

Now, somebody please tell the Oakland county executive that that sentence starting with the words "despite violence, intimidation, and hostile government policies" is a direct quote from the NAACP's profile in courage. It didn't come from Jeremiah Wright.

Otherwise, he will attribute the quote to me and continue to say that I and am one of the most divisive people he has ever of heard speak. When he has never heard me speak. And just to help him out, I am not one of the most divisive. Tell him the word is descriptive.

I describe the conditions in this country. Conditions divide, not my descriptions. Somebody say "Amen." If you can't say "Amen," you're too mad, just say "Ouch."

The NAACP is nonpartisan. The NAACP is not beholden to, controlled by, or partial to any one faith tradition. The NAACP says proudly that it is a compound of people of all races, all nationalities and all faiths.

And it is for that reason that I am especially grateful to Rev. Dr. Wendell Anthony and the Detroit branch of the NAACP for honoring me by having me address their 2008 theme "A Change is Going to Come."

One of your cities' political analysts says in print that first just my appearance here in Detroit will be polarizing. Well, I'm not here for political reasons. I am not a politician. I know that fact will surprise many of you because many in the corporate-owned media have made it seem as if I had announced that I'm running to for the Oval Office. I am not running for the Oval Office. I've been running for Jesus a long, long time, and I'm not tired yet.

I am sorry your local political analysts and your neighboring county executives think my being here is polarizing and my sermons are divisive, but I'm not here to address an analyst's opinion or a county executive's point of view. I am here to address your 2008 theme, and I stand here as one representative of the African American religious tradition which works in concert with other faith traditions, believing as we work together that a change is going to come.

On that point, about other faith traditions, in addition to Pastor Anthony, Pastor Nicholas Hood, Pastor Charles Adams, Pastor William Revelli, Pastor James Perkins, Pastor Wilma Rudolph, Pastor Holly who is suffering from a stroke, Father Michael Flager, Father Jeremy Tobin, Pastor Dee Dee Coleman, Dr. Georgia Hill and Rev. Lonnie Peek. I would also like to thank Sister Melanie Maron, the former executive director of the Chicago chapter of the American Jewish Committee and the current executive director of the Washington, D.C., chapter of the American Jewish committee. I would like to thank my good friend and Jewish author Tim Wise for his support, and I would like to offer a special "shookran" to Imam Muhammad Ali Elahi of the Islamic House of Wisdom in Dearborn Heights for his courage, his conviction and his support.

The support of the Jewish community, the Muslim community, and the Christian community, Protestant and Catholic, is in concert with the credo of the NAACP and a definite sign that a change is definitely going to come. An additional special thank you is offered to Soledad O'Brien for CNN's outstanding "Black in America" and my long-term friend Roland Martin.

I believe that a change is going to come because many of us are committing to changing how we see others who are different.

In the past, we were taught to see others who are different as somehow being deficient. Christians saw Jews as being deficient. Catholics saw Protestants as being deficient. Presbyterians saw Pentecostals as being deficient.

Folks who like to holler in worship saw folk who like to be quiet as deficient. And vice versa.

Whites saw black as being deficient. It was none other than Rudyard Kipling who saw the "White Man's Burden" as a mandate to lift brown, black, yellow people up to the level of white people as if whites were the norm and black, brown and yellow people were abnormal subspecies on a lower level or deficient.

Europeans saw Africans as deficient. Lovers of George Friedrich Handel and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart saw lovers of B.B. King and Frankie Beverly and Maze as deficient. Lovers of Marian Anderson saw lovers of Lady Day and Anita Baker as deficient. Lovers of European cantatas -- Comfort ye in the glory, the glory of the Lord -- Lovers of European cantatas saw lovers of common meter -- I love the Lord, He heard my cry -- they saw them as deficient.

In the past, we were taught to see others who are different as being deficient. We established arbitrary norms and then determined that anybody not like us was abnormal. But a change is coming because we no longer see others who are different as being deficient. We just see them as different. Over the past 50 years, thanks to the scholarship of dozens of expert in many different disciplines, we have come to see just how skewed, prejudiced and dangerous our miseducation has been.

Miseducation. Miseducation incidentally is not a Jeremiah Wright term. It's a word coined by Dr. Carter G. Woodson over 80 years ago. Sounds like he talked a hate speech, doesn't it? Now, analyze that. Two brilliant scholars and two beautiful sisters, both of whom hail from Detroit in the fields of education and linguistics, Dr. Janice Hale right here at Wayne State University, founder of the Institute for the study of the African-American child. and Dr. Geneva Smitherman formerly of Wayne State University now at Michigan State University in Lansing. Hail in education and Smitherman in linguistics. Both demonstrated 40 years ago that different does not mean deficient. Somebody is going to miss that.

Turn to your neighbor and say different does not mean deficient. It simply means different. In fact, Dr. Janice Hale was the first writer whom I read who used that phrase. Different does not mean deficient. Different is not synonymous with deficient. It was in Dr. Hale's first book, "Black Children their Roots, Culture and Learning Style." Is Dr. Hale here tonight? We owe her a debt of gratitude. Dr. Hale showed us that in comparing African-American children and European-American children in the field of education, we were comparing apples and rocks.

And in so doing, we kept coming up with meaningless labels like EMH, educable mentally handicapped, TMH, trainable mentally handicapped, ADD, attention deficit disorder.

And we were coming up with more meaningless solutions like reading, writing and Ritalin. Dr. Hale's research led her to stop comparing African-American children with European-American children and she started comparing the pedagogical methodologies of African-American children to African children and European-American children to European children. And bingo, she discovered that the two different worlds have two different ways of learning. European and European-American children have a left brained cognitive object oriented learning style and the entire educational learning system in the United States of America. Back in the early '70s, when Dr. Hale did her research was based on left brained cognitive object oriented learning style. Let me help you with fifty cent words.

Left brain is logical and analytical. Object oriented means the student learns from an object. From the solitude of the cradle with objects being hung over his or her head to help them determine colors and shape to the solitude in a carol in a PhD program stuffed off somewhere in a corner in absolute quietness to absorb from the object. From a block to a book, an object. That is one way of learning, but it is only one way of learning.

African and African-American children have a different way of learning.

They are right brained, subject oriented in their learning style. Right brain that means creative and intuitive. Subject oriented means they learn from a subject, not an object. They learn from a person. Some of you are old enough, I see your hair color, to remember when the NAACP won that tremendous desegregation case back in 1954 and when the schools were desegregated. They were never integrated. When they were desegregated in Philadelphia, several of the white teachers in my school freaked out. Why? Because black kids wouldn't stay in their place. Over there behind the desk, black kids climbed up all on them.

Because they learn from a subject, not from an object. Tell me a story. They have a different way of learning. Those same children who have difficulty reading from an object and who are labeled EMH, DMH and ADD. Those children can say every word from every song on every hip hop radio station half of who's words the average adult here tonight cannot understand. Why? Because they come from a right-brained creative oral culture like the (greos) in Africa who can go for two or three days as oral repositories of a people's history and like the oral tradition which passed down the first five book in our Jewish bible, our Christian Bible, our Hebrew bible long before there was a written Hebrew script or alphabet. And repeat incredulously long passages like Psalm 119 using mnemonic devices using eight line stanzas. Each stanza starting with a different letter of the alphabet. That is a different way of learning. It's not deficient, it is just different. Somebody say different. I believe that a change is going to come because many of us are committed to changing how we see other people who are different.

What Dr. Janice Hale did in the field of education, Dr. Geneva Smitherman did in the field of linguistics. Almost 25 years ago now, Dr. Smitherman's book published by Wayne State University talking and testifying the language of black America taught us the same thing. Different does not mean deficient. Linguists have known since the mid 20th century that number one, nobody in Detroit, with the exception of citizens born and raised in the United Kingdom, nobody in Detroit speaks English. We all speak different varieties of American. If you don't believe me, go to the United Kingdom. As soon as you open your mouth in the United Kingdom, they'll say oh you're from America. Because they hear you speak in American. Linguists knew that nobody in here speaks English, but only black children 50 years ago were singled out as speaking bad English.

In the 1961, it's been all over the Internet now, John Kennedy could stand at the inauguration in January and say, "ask not what your country can do for you, it's rather what you can do for your country." How do you spell is? Nobody ever said to John Kennedy that's not English "is". Only to a black child would they say you speak bad English. Kennedy got killed. Johnson stepped up to the podium and love feel, we just left love feel. And Johnson, said my fellow Americans. How do you spell fellow? How do you spell American? Nobody says to Johnson you speak bad English.

Ed Kennedy, today, those of you in the Congress, you know Kilpatrick. You know, Ed Kennedy today cannot pronounce cluster consonants. Very few people from Boston can. They pronounce park like it's p-o-c-k. Where did you "pock" the car? They pronounce f-o-r-t like it's f-o-u-g-h-t. We fought a good battle. And nobody says to a Kennedy you speak bad English. Only to a black child was that said. Linguists knew that 50 years ago and they also knew number two that every language, including the language of Jesus, Aramaic, was made up of five subsets, pragmatic, grammar, syntax, semantics and phonics and that African speakers of English and African speakers of French and African speakers of Portuguese and African speakers of Spanish in the new world had created languages, not dialect all with five different subsets.

Languages, not Creole or Patois, languages. And Dr. Smitherman compiled the findings of an interdisciplinary research along with her own brilliant findings to show us that the language of black Americans was different, not deficient. She combined the findings of early childhood education, linguistics, socio-linguistics and the pedagogy of the oppressed to demonstrate most powerfully that different does not mean deficient. It simply means what? Different. I believe a change is going to come because many of us are committed to changing the way we see others who are different.

What Dr. Janice Hale did in the field of education and what Dr. Geneva Smitherman did in the field of linguistics, Dr. (Eldon) did in the field of ethnomusicology, the field of music. He showed us 40 years ago what Wintley [Phipps] is teaching you for the first time 40 years later. African music is different from European piano music. It is not deficient, it is different. In most school systems today, the way most of us over 40 years of age were taught is still being taught. We were taught a European paradigm as if Europe had the only music that there was in the world. As a matter of fact, if you just say the term, classical music.

Today, most here, use of that term will automatically refer to Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and already cited Mozart and Handel. European musicians. From grammar school to graduate school, we are taught in four, four time. That the dominant beat is on one and three. Our band directors, our choir directors, our orchestra director start us off how?

And One, two, three, four. One, two, three. Now, that's the European dominant beat. For African and African-Americans, it is not one and three, it is two and four. I don't have to teach you. Listen to black people clap to this song. Glory, glory hallelujah, you are clapping on beats two and four. If you got some white friends, they'll be clapping like this. You say they can't clap. Yes, they can. They clap in a different way. It's the same fact holds true with six eight time. Europeans stress one, two, three, four, five, six. One, two, three, four, five, six. Dum dum, dum, dum, dum. The stress is on one and four. Not for black people. When you got six eight time, blacks stress two three and five six.

Listen to this -- blessed assurance, Jesus is mine two, three for, five, six - oh, why are you clapping on the wrong beat? Africans have a different meter and Africans have a different tonality. European music is diatonic, seven tones. Do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do. That's Italian. Europe. In west Africa and south Africa, it is not diatonic, seven tones, it is pentatonic with five tones. Wintley [Phipps] points out that if you want to know black music, just look at the black keys on the piano. Do, re, fa, so, la. Just those five tunes. Those are the only five notes you'll hear and somebody knows the trouble I've seen.

It only uses five notes the same with the river it also uses five notes. That's all. I believe a change is coming. It's not deficient, it's just different.

Many of us are committed to changing how we see others who are different. When you look at and listen to - I'm in Michigan. OK. Here in Michigan, look at and listen to the University of Michigan and Michigan State University bands at halftime. Their bands hit the field with excellent European precision. Da, da, da, da, da, ta, ra, ra.

Now go to a Florida A&M and Gramling Band. It's different. And you can't put that in no book. I believe change is going to come because many of us are committed to changing how we see others who are different. One is not superior to the other. One is not normal with the other being abnormal. One is not deficient because it doesn't follow the same methodology of the other. It is just different. Different does not mean deficient. Tell your neighbor one more time.

Now, what is true in the field of education, linguistics, ethnomusicology, marching bands, psychology and culture is also true in the field of homiletics, hermeneutics, biblical studies, black sacred music and black worship. We just do it different and some of our haters can't get their heads around that. I come from a religious tradition that does not divorce the world we live in from the world we are heading to. I come from a religious tradition that does not separate the kingdom of heaven that we pray for from the devious kingdoms of humans that keep people in bondage on earth.

I come from a religious tradition that did not hold slaves, but preached against slavery and worked to end slavery. I come from a religious tradition that fought against Lansing like the NAACP, fought against discrimination like the NAACP and fought against skin privilege, fought against apartheid, fought again unfair labor practices, fought against segregation, fought against Plessy versus Ferguson.

I come from a religious tradition that fought for desegregation like NAACP. Fought for equality, fought for human dignity, fought for civil rights, fought for equal protection into the law and fought for the right of every citizen to have quality education regardless of the color of their skin. I also come from a religious tradition that say if you feel excited about something, be excited about it. Don't stand there he has hate speech. Listen to how bombastic he is. Isn't he bombastic? He's stirring up hate.

You love somebody? Yes. Oh how I love Jesus because he first loved me. No. No. No. If you feel it - I come from a religious tradition where we shout in the sanctuary and march on the picket line. I come from a religious tradition where we give God the glory and we give the devil the blues. The black religious tradition is different. We do it a different way. 40 years ago, Dr. Anthony (inaudible) quoted in '68 the Kerner report stated that they were two different Americas. And for

40 years one of those Americas has acted as if they were the only America. But all of that now is in the past. I believe a change is coming. Because many of us are going to change how we see others who are different. I've got to hurry on. I'm taking too much of your time. So let me give you the outline of the rest of this message. You can either fill in the blanks for yourselves or you could wait for my book that will be out later this year.

I believe addressing your theme. I believe a change is going to come because many of us here tonight, at least 11,900 out of 12,000. Many of us are committed to changing how we see others who are different. Number one, many of us are committed to changing how we see ourselves. Number two, not inferior or superior to, just different from others. Embracing our own histories. Embracing our own cultures. Embracing our own languages as we embrace others who are also made in the image of god. That has been the credo of the NAACP for 99 years. When we see ourselves as members of the human race, I believe a change is on the way. When we see ourselves as people of faith who shared this planet with people of other faiths, I believe a change is on the way.

Many of us are committed to changing how we see others who are different. Number one, many of us are committed to changing how we see ourselves, not stepchildren, number two but God's children. Many of us are committed to changing, number three, the way we treat each other. The way black men treat black women. The way black parents treat black children. The way black youth treat black elders and the way black elders treat black youth. We are committed to changing the way we treat each other. The way the so called haves and have mores, to use Bush's speech writers term. Don't you all think he made that up? The way the have and have mores treat the have notes. The way the educated treat the uneducated. The way those with degrees treat those who never made it through high school. The way those of us who never got caught treat those of us who are incarcerated. Making rehabilitation a priority over incarceration.

We are committed to changing the way we treat each other. The way we treat the latest immigrants because everybody in here who's not an Indian do be an immigrant. Some of you all came on a decks of ship and some of us came on the bows and hauls of the ship, but we all are immigrants. The way we treat non Christians and folks who don't believe what we believe, we're committed to changing the way we treat each other. The way Sunis treat Shiites, the way Orthodox Jews treat reformed Jews. The way church folk treat other church folk. The way speakers of English treat speakers of Arabic -- Maasalam al hal.

Please run and tell my stuck on stupid friends that Arabic is a language, it's not a religion. Barack Hussein Obama. Barack Hussein Obama. Barack Hussein Obama. They are Arabic-speaking Christians, Arabic-speaking Jews and Arabic speaking atheists. Arabic is a language, it's not a religion. Stop trying to scare folks by giving them an Arabic name as if it's some sort of a disease.

Same people thought that the Irish had a disease. When the Irish came here. Did you hear my me O'Malley? O'Reilly? They thought you were - well they might have been might, the way we treat each other, many of us are committed to changing the way we treat each other. The way Christians treat you. The way straights treat gays. We are committed to changing the way we treat each other. And we are committing number four to changing the way we mistreat each other. We can do better, you all. There is a higher standard, you all. We know that and we are stretching to reach that standard. I believe a change is going to come because many of us are committed to changing how we see others who are different.

Many of us are committed to changing how we see ourselves. Many of us are committed to changing the way we treat each other. Many of us are committed to changing the way we mistreat each other. And many of us finally are committed to changing this world that we live in so our children and our grandchildren will have a world in which to live in to grow in, to learn in, to love in and to pass on to their children. We are committed to changing this world that's God's world, in the first place. Not ours. And I believe we can do it. It's going to take hard work, but we can do it.

It's going to take people of all faiths including the nation of Islam, but we can do it. It's going to take people of all races, but we can do it. It's going to take Republicans and Democrats, but we can do it. It's going to take the wisdom of the old and the energy of the young, but we can do it. It's going to take politicians and preachers, the government and NGOs, but we can do it. It's going to take educators and legislatures, but we can do it. If I were in a Christian Church, I would say we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. If I were in a Jewish synagogue, I would say is anything too hard for Elohim. If I were in a Muslim mosque, I would say Sha Allah we can do it. If I were pushing one particular candidate, I would say yes, we can.

But, since this is a nonpartisan gathering and since this is neither a mosque, a synagogue or a sanctuary, just let me say, we can do it. We can make it if we try. We can make the change if we try. We will make a change if we try. A change is going to come. Can you feel it? Can you see it? Can you imagine it? Then come on, let's claim it. Give yourselves a standing ovation while the transformation that's about to jump off. A change is going to come.

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Ayers' Intended Victim Speaks

...Stephanopoulos then asked Obama to explain his relationship with Ayers. Obama’s answer: “The notion that somehow as a consequence of me knowing somebody who engaged in detestable acts 40 years ago, when I was eight years old, somehow reflects on me and my values, doesn’t make much sense, George.” Obama was indeed only eight in early 1970. I was only nine then, the year Ayers’s Weathermen tried to murder me.

In February 1970, my father, a New York State Supreme Court justice, was presiding over the trial of the so-called “Panther 21,” members of the Black Panther Party indicted in a plot to bomb New York landmarks and department stores. Early on the morning of February 21, as my family slept, three gasoline-filled firebombs exploded at our home on the northern tip of Manhattan, two at the front door and the third tucked neatly under the gas tank of the family car....

As the association between Obama and Ayers came to light, it would have helped the senator a little if his friend had at least shown some remorse. But listen to Ayers interviewed in the New York Times on September 11, 2001, of all days: “I don’t regret setting bombs. I feel we didn’t do enough.” Translation: “We meant to kill that judge and his family, not just damage the porch.” When asked by the Times if he would do it all again, Ayers responded: “I don’t want to discount the possibility.”

Though never a supporter of Obama, I admired him for a time for his ability to engage our imaginations, and especially for his ability to inspire the young once again to embrace the political system. Yet his myopia in the last few months has cast a new light on his “politics of change.” Nobody should hold the junior senator from Illinois responsible for his friends’ and supporters’ violent terrorist acts. But it is fair to hold him responsible for a startling lack of judgment in his choice of mentors, associates, and friends, and for showing a callous disregard for the lives they damaged and the hatred they have demonstrated for this country. It is fair, too, to ask what those choices say about Obama’s own beliefs, his philosophy, and the direction he would take our nation.

Monday, April 28, 2008

American Thinker on Expelled

Ben Stein's Intelligent Adventure
The "Story Spine": Materialism vs. Consciousness
Free Speech
The Problem of God
Post-secular world
The Desire to be God
Freedom of Moral Conscience (The Moral of the Story)

The Derb on Expelled

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 do a thing like that?
I turned over some possibilities, but decisively rejected them all. The first thing that came to mind was Saudi money. Half of the evils and absurdities in our society seem to have a Saudi prince behind them somewhere, and the Wahhabists are, like all fundamentalist Muslims, committed creationists. This doesn’t hold water, though. For one thing, Stein is Jewish. For another, he is rich, and doesn’t need the money. And for another, the stills and clips I have seen are from a low-budget production. Saudi financing would surely at least have come up with some decent computer graphics. No, Ben Stein is no crook. He must then be foolish; and that’s sad, because I now think less of a guy I once admired, and whom my friends admire. Life, it’s just one darn bubble bursting after another.

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.

...One of my favorite comments came from “Pixy Misa” (Andrew Mazels) who correctly called Ben Stein's accusing Darwin of responsibility for the Holocaust “a blood libel on science.”

I would actually go further than that, to something like “a blood libel on Western Civilization.”...

Remember global cooling?

Predictions of environmental doom have been with us for a long time, as the Washington Policy Center reminds us:
•“...civilization will end within 15 or 30 years unless immediate action is taken against problems facing mankind,” biologist George Wald, Harvard University, April 19, 1970.
• By 1995, “...somewhere between 75 and 85 percent of all the species of living animals will be extinct.” Sen. Gaylord Nelson, quoting Dr. S. Dillon Ripley, Look magazine, April 1970.
• Because of increased dust, cloud cover and water vapor “...the planet will cool, the water vapor will fall and freeze, and a new Ice Age will be born,” Newsweek magazine, January 26, 1970.
• The world will be “...eleven degrees colder in the year 2000. This is about twice what it would take to put us into an ice age,” Kenneth Watt, speaking at Swarthmore University, April 19, 1970.
• “We are in an environmental crisis which threatens the survival of this nation, and of the world as a suitable place of human habitation,” biologist Barry Commoner, University of Washington, writing in the journal Environment, April 1970.
• “Man must stop pollution and conserve his resources, not merely to enhance existence but to save the race from the intolerable deteriorations and possible extinction,” The New York Times editorial, April 20, 1970.
• “By 1985, air pollution will have reduced the amount of sunlight reaching earth by one half...” Life magazine, January 1970.
• “Population will inevitably and completely outstrip whatever small increases in food supplies we make,” Paul Ehrlich, interview in Mademoiselle magazine, April 1970.
• “...air certainly going to take hundreds of thousands of lives in the next few years alone,” Paul Ehrlich, interview in Mademoiselle magazine, April 1970.
• Ehrlich also predicted that in 1973, 200,000 Americans would die from air pollution, and that by 1980 the life expectancy of Americans would be 42 years.
• “It is already too late to avoid mass starvation,” Earth Day organizer Denis Hayes, The Living Wilderness, Spring 1970.
• “By the year 2000...the entire world, with the exception of Western Europe, North America and Australia, will be in famine,” Peter Gunter, North Texas State University, The Living Wilderness, Spring 1970.

Ben Stein on Darwin

Alas, Darwinism has had a far bloodier life span than imperialism. Darwinism, perhaps mixed with imperialism, gave us Social Darwinism, a form of racism so vicious that it countenanced the Holocaust against the Jews and mass murder of many other groups in the name of speeding along the evolutionary process.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Expelled: No Intelligence Offered

Expelled: No Intelligence Offered

Dafydd ap Hugh offers his review of Expelled, and his review does not flatter the movie. (Well, except to the extent of thinking it worthy of that much notice, I suppose.)

Above all else, he writes:

I will not mince words: The movie is a monstrous and deadly lie. This piece, part review, part response, will show why Expelled is a lie -- and why it is so dangerous not only to society but even to mainstream religion...

Taking a page from Lewis Carrol, Dafydd presents his snarking at the hunt in nine "fits":

• Fit the first: Strategy and tactics Expelled, Stein builds his thesis in the sensationalist and tendentious fashion of Michael Moore: He carefully controls the argument so that those he agrees with are allowed to endlessly explain their positions while tugging at our heartstrings, while those in the enemy camp have their words creatively clipped to provide maximal confusion. It's easy to win a debate when you get to script both sides; likewise, it's just as easy to win when you run the edit bay.

• Fit the second: Absence of evidence is evidence of conspiracy

(In essence, Expelled relies on the same kind of conspiracy theory the "911 Truth" movement does.)

• Fit the third: The vague-abond king

One of Expelled's biggest failings is that none of its "bad boy" ID proponents actually explains why evolution could not have occurred, why Intelligent Design is a better hypothesis to explain the rise of species than variation and natural selection, why ID is scientific, or even what, exactly, ID theory actually claims.

• Fit the fourth: Cult of poisonality

Stein's refusal to call evolutionary theory by its correct name is not simple truculence: By linking evolutionary science inextricably with one man (and one book, the Origin of Species), he reduces science to a religious-like sect... or even to a political cult.

• Fit the fifth: Science of unreason

Ben Stein believes and wants to convince moviegoers that modern evolutionary scientists act as Mediaeval thrones, powers, and cherubim, singing endless praise of Charles Darwin, god of evolution. But this is a grotesque misunderstanding of science. There is no "Newtonism," "Boyleism," or "Mendelism;" the greats of science are not worshipped, nor are they considered inerrant or their systems eternal.

• Fit the sixth: Hear ye, hear ye!

Critical to the core thesis of Expelled is the claim that the high priests of "normal science" have never really looked at ID; they just fire "dissenters"to silence them and shut out the new paradigm. ("Paradigm" in this case means "a set of assumptions, concepts, values, and practices that constitutes a way of viewing reality for the community that shares them, especially in an intellectual discipline.")

But this simply is not true; many scientists have responded to the claims of ID -- very effectively; Francis Collins is only one among many. The problem is that ID proponents have no persuasive scientific answer to the points raised against it.

• Fit the seventh: God of the gaps


Such reasoning reduces the role of the "Designer," God, to hiding in any tiny evolutionary mousehole that is unexplained today. Collins calls this the "God of the gaps" fallacy.

The danger is that science never stands still; it perpetually moves forward. Given time, it will inevitably explain all of the unexplained gaps in our understanding of evolution. And what of God then, when His gaps disappear?

...At some point, even Behe will come to realize that hunting for the "irreducible complexity" in nature is a mug's game, like trying to find a left-handed monkey wrench (or a right-winged monkey trial). Millions who now clutch at ID as their lifeline to living faith will be left empty handed. And the blame will fall on those like Michael Behe and Ben Stein, who lured conservatives into believing that God can be hidden in every lacuna in human knowledge -- even while they knew, somewhere deep down, that every mousehole would eventually be plugged.

• Fit the eighth: The Great Divide

Stein has fallen for the same exclusionary fiction that animates Dawkins, thereby proving himself Dawkins' ideological twin brother. Why would a movie by an evolution dissenter feature an evolution absolutist in such a starring role? Because Dawkins is a militant atheist who hopes, as Stein fears, that studying science will lead to atheism.


Expelled clearly implies that those who reject Intelligent Design form an undifferentiated mass of anti-morality radicals... when instead, they form a continuum of divergent beliefs, running the gamut from the lunatic who believes humans are entirely gene-driven -- to a sincere, mainstream Christian like Francis Collins.

Stein's is the tactic of demagoguery, not debate. It is another example of which side is actually seeking to stifle dissent and mislead the public. Millions of people who see Expelled will now imagine that evolutionists believe we have no free will and that the only morality is nature "red in tooth and claw," when in fact they (and Dawkins) believe precisely the opposite.

• Fit the ninth: The labyrinth and the Minotaur

Phillip Johnson and the others at the forefront of the ID movement today object to evolutionary theory primarily on grounds that it "defaiths" America (my term) by making the miraculous mundane. Under the relentless erosion of faith by science, God loses his thunder, his heavenly lights, and his celestial heavens.

But this makes no sense theologically: If it's miraculous that a "Designer" would pre-load bacterial DNA with instructions to create a flagellum, as Behe has suggested, then how much more miraculous is it that some intelligent "Designer" might have created the entire universe and its physical laws -- including those that allowed bacteria and their blessed flagella to evolve in the first place? Why accept only microscopic miracles as the acts of God, but not the creation of, well, all Creation?


A Pragerian God is not concerned with specifics of human biology but with our souls, which are forged by the decisions we make (driving actions or beliefs) from our own free will.

The most important article of Judeo-Christian faith, then -- as an agnostic, I may be treading on sensitive ground here -- is not that God personally created the bacterial flagella, but that He has a personal relationship with each human being and will lead humans away from sin and towards righteousness. (I am deliberately vague as to how, since different religions offer quite different mechanisms, from the Law to conscience to Christ.)

It's more important to believe that God wants us to be decent and just than to believe that God specifically designed the blood-clotting cascade... rather than "merely" designing the whole universe and its physical laws, which He (being omniscient) knew would ultimately evolve it.

N.B.: I've watched the result of Fit the seventh.

There is a mailing list on YahooGroups called Debunk Creation. It deals with the creationist movement, with Intelligent Design, and will deal with whatever name the creationists choose for their third incarnation.

One young fellow showed up, with a belly full of fire and a thick file full of Objections To Evolution. His purpose in joining the forum was to slay the Darwinian dragon and save us all.

Unlike most creationists, when people explained why his objections were at best, off target (and more often, lies), he stayed around and listened. He learned some real science.

He wound up learning the real science behind radiometric dating which established the great age of the earth.

He learned about genes, mutations, proteins, and the engines that produce change.

He learned about the evidence showing diverse species are related to each other, and how this is the same sort of evidence and analysis that puts murderers behind bars for life. (That's how much we trust these techniques!)

He learned how much difference there was between what his religious teachers had told him about science, and what real scientists actually do.

He learned he had been lied to about evolution.

Although no one told him this, and many very religious people including one gifted theologian told him otherwise, he decided everything else he had been told in church was a lie.

In the attempt to protect this young man's faith against the threat of evolution, his teachers wound up destroying his faith when he learned he had been lied to.

He's young. With luck, he will eventually burn through his anger and realize the messenger and the message are not necessarily the same. But his teachers may find they have some 'splainin' to do.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

"Wacky" Science

"Wacky" Science

There's a piece up at The American Thinker which levels the ever-popular accusation that science has abandoned falsifiability, and is spinning theories merely because scientists think they sound cool. Dr. Jonathan David Carson writes:

The problem that scientists face is that they can often build a myriad of mathematical models that all describe the physical systems they are investigating. They may have no way to choose one among all the others and may never have a way. If we're lucky, they will choose the one that seems most beautiful to them. If we are unlucky, they will choose the one that seems most likely to unsettle the public, as when Scientific American says that each of us has an infinite number of alter egos far away in space, that we really exist in only two spatial dimensions and gravity is an illusion, and so on. None of these bizarre assertions is remotely falsifiable.

The scientific establishment uses falsifiability the way postmodernists use deconstructionism: selectively, to tear down the ideas of their enemies but not to apply to their own ideas. The deconstructionist will happily deconstruct your ideas, but never his own. You say something about economic growth or Islamofascism, and he wants to talk metaphysics. Just don't bring up metaphysics when he condemns Dick Cheney and Karl Rove. We can't believe in God because religion is unfalsifiable. We can believe in an infinite number of other universes from which no information can ever reach us. Western governments literally spend tens of billions of dollars annually in support of such lunacy.

The problem with this thesis is, at least when we're talking about the sciences*, these wacky theories face one of two fates. Either get tested against the real world, or if no one can think of a way to test them, they get discarded as irrelevant.

Remember, a theory is a model which attempts to wrap up some aspect of the universe in a neat, compact package. Newton's laws wrap up a dizzying array of the way objects move about in one equation. Newton didn't decide F=mA simply because he liked those three letters, and Einstein didn't decide on E=mc2 because he thought mc3 was too high and mc1 was too low.

Some of the wacky ideas science has come up with result when the more commonsense ideas fail to work. Quantum mechanics came about because the best models of the 19th Century predicted that an oven hot enough to cook food should bathe the user in deadly ultraviolet or X-ray radiation every time he opens the door. Since that didn't happen, scientists got to work trying out different models to account for the discrepancy.

When we get to matters like the infinite number of alter egos far away in space, I think Dr. Carson is taking liberties with what is being said. Scientific American is not saying that each of us definitely has an infinite number of alter egos out in space, it's saying that if the universe is in fact infinite, it would follow that every possible arrangement of matter -- no matter how unlikely –- in any finite volume of space repeats an infinite number of times. After all, if you multiply any probability, no matter how small, by infinity, the result is infinite.

Now this is a bizarre result, but it follows perfectly from the math, and from the starting assumptions, any of which could be wrong.

  • Firstly, the universe need not be infinite in extent. Infinity is, after all, pretty darn big, and there are lots of options short of that. All the article cited was saying is, from where we sit, using the best observations we have available, it looks infinite. It seems to be, at the very least, considerably larger than the piece we can see from our telescopes.
  • Secondly, the article assumed that if the entire universe is chopped into pieces the size of what we can observe, every possible different arrangement of atoms in that volume of space – from completely empty to as many as we can cram in – will show up. The thing is, although the numbers involved are huge, there is only a finite number of ways to arrange atoms in a particular volume of space. In an infinite universe, sooner or later, you have to start repeating combinations. But maybe every possible arrangement doesn't show up at the frequency the odds would allow for. Maybe some arrangements, like the arrangement in this portion of space that is assembled into Earth with its six billion inhabitants, simply don't repeat. Not an infinite number of times, not even once.
  • Thirdly, the article assumed that you can duplicate everything that matters about a piece of the universe by copying every particle, its position, its momentum, its energy level, and so on in another area of space. So that if you took all the molecules that make up a rock and arrange other molecules of the right type in a perfect copy of the arrangement that exists in that rock, you will have created an identical rock somewhere else. More to the point, the article assumed the same thing applied to a rose, or a dog or cat, or to you or me. If there is some component to my being – call it a "soul" – which can't be captured in a list of the particles that I'm built from, the argument breaks down.

Furthermore, while this is a bizarre result, and while it may or may not be true, since any possible alter egos we may have are unimaginably far away, their existence is not likely to matter to us in the least. Our chance of ever running into any of them is so small, these alter egos might as well not exist.

All this woolgathering aside, though, many of the wackiest ideas in science, including "dark matter" and "dark energy", are being proposed because what we know exists isn't working out. Just like the 19th century oven which failed to emit the x-rays theory said it should, we have 20th and 21st century galaxies that are spinning too fast to stay together if the only sources of gravity are what we can see. Conclusion: there has to be a lot of matter there we can't see. Furthermore, it has to be distributed in certain ways and not in others, or the gravitational pull they create would be in different directions. We can also rule out a lot of possibilities because they would leave signs of their presence. Super sized black holes, for instance, would leave traces of their existence.

So we have this mysterious stuff. Right now, the most science can say about it is, here's a list of what this stuff isn't. We can make guesses about what it is, but then we have to see what the side-effects of introducing that amount of any mysterious new substance would be. We can even try various revisions to how we think gravity works – say, proposing a correction that is only noticeable at certain distances. But then what does that do to the history of the universe? Does it still expand at the rate we see in telescopes? Do gas clouds still come together to form solar systems and planets?

Each proposed change in any model of how some part of the universe works has effects on all the other models. If, instead of saying that the universe is expanding, we assume light is "slowing down" or losing energy, that has implications in chemistry, nuclear physics, and indeed, throughout the universe. We can imagine light "slowing down" to address one question, but then we have to see what it does to other questions. What are the side effects?

Questions like that are subjected to vigorous falsification, and most of them wind up being falsified when they fail to account for the data in someone else's field of expertise. (That's why we've seen such a dizzying array of notions about how the universe is put together. Someone keeps coming up with facts that aren't compatible with the new theory.)

But in all fairness, Scientific American is not saying we all have an infinite number of alter egos because the authors like the concept of having lots of twin brothers. It's saying that if we decide to go with the notion of an infinite universe, an infinite number of [unreachable] alter egos will be one of the logical consequences of that idea. (If you don't like it, come up with something else – but it'd better explain the data at least as well as what we've got.)

So why is this an issue?

Four sentences from the end of his piece we have the bona contention:

We can't believe in God because religion is unfalsifiable. We can believe in an infinite number of other universes from which no information can ever reach us.

I wonder. Does Dr. Carson want God to be falsifiable?

The infinite number of other universes, at least as described in the Scientific American article, is falsifiable. All you need to do is produce some data to show that our universe has an edge. If you can do that, our universe is no longer infinite, and the main premise of that article collapses.

What possible data can Dr. Carson cite, or what possible observation can he propose, that would prove God nonexistent? I'm not sure that's even a valid question to ask about God, but it's the question you have to ask if you want to bring God under the umbrella of science.

* I won't comment on deconstructionism, because I can't find an explanation of it that both makes sense and doesn't sound like it was published in The Onion.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Evolution in Medicine

Here's a neat story about a guy who's investigating the evolution of snake venom.

Dr. Fry collects venom from death adders, rattlesnakes, king cobras, sea snakes and many others. He estimates that he handles 2,000 to 3,000 snakes a year.


His goal is to decipher the evolution of snake venoms over the past 60 million years. Reconstructing their history will help lead to medical breakthroughs, Dr. Fry believes. For the past 35 years, scientists have been turning snake venoms into drugs. Just this February, Dr. Fry and his colleagues filed a patent for a molecule found in the venom of the inland taipan that may help treat congestive heart failure.

Understanding the evolution of snake venoms will speed up these discoveries immensely, Dr. Fry predicted. "You need a good road map to get your research going," he said.

It turns out that venom evolved only once in snakes, and that many snakes we believe are non-venomous actually do produce small amounts of venom.

As Dr. Fry reports in the March issue of Genome Research, the DNA of venom genes goes against this idea. He constructed evolutionary trees of 24 venom genes, searching through online databases for their closest relatives among nonvenom genes. In only two cases did he find that venom genes evolved from saliva genes. In almost all the other cases, venom genes evolved from ones that were active outside the venom gland - in the blood, for example, as well as the brain and liver.

The evidence indicates that the evolution of a typical venom gene may begin with the accidental duplication of a gene that is active in another organ. In a process known as gene recruitment, one of these copies then mutates in such a way that it begins producing proteins in the venom gland.

In some cases, these borrowed proteins turn out to be harmful when injected into a snake's prey. Natural selection then favors mutations that make these proteins more lethal.


As new lineages of snakes evolved, their venom evolved as well. New genes were borrowed to produce new venoms, while existing venom genes duplicated many times, producing a huge diversity of molecules.


This rapid evolution has produced a wealth of complex molecules that researchers have barely begun to investigate. Evolutionary trees can serve as guides, speeding the search for new venoms and shedding light on how venoms work. "Just looking by chance is very difficult and not economical," Dr. Kochva said.

The venom molecules that Dr. Fry has isolated from the inland taipan is a case in point. He has established that they evolved from a family of proteins known as natriuretic peptides. In snakes, humans and other vertebrates, these peptides relax the muscles around the heart.

And there's the key. Dr. Fry was looking for molecules that might affect the heart, as a way of treating congestive heart failure. When you have a chart of the family tree of snakes, showing which ones have venoms that evolved from enzymes in the heart, you know where to start looking. And you don't need to waste your time looking at venoms that evolved from liver enzymes.

Understanding the evolution of these venoms helps Dr. Fry and his colleagues figure out how they work. Because they have evolved from proteins that only act on the heart, they probably will not pose a risk to other parts of the body.

"If you want to use a venom for some kind of drug, you'd better look back and see where it came from," Dr. Kochva said.

Why Econometric Modeling fails

Swift-Boating of McCain?

I was talking to someone last night about the Democrats' commandeering and utter misuse of the word "swiftboating." To "swiftboat" a candidate, in lib parlance, is to call into question some facet of a candidate's character or record that the Left deems unquestionable, and to do it in some dastardly and dishonest fashion. Alternate definitions also include the words "noise machine."

Of course, to those of us who thought the Swiftboat Veterans for Truth brought up some legitimate points-- like the fact that John Kerry lied about being in Cambodia, and ticked off a bunch of honorable veterans by lumping them in with those "reminiscent of Genghis Khan"-- "swiftboating" means raising totally legitimate questions about the centerpiece of a candidate's campaign using his own words, eye-witness accounts, and the testimony of acquaintances to bolster the arguments. The very fact that the Left would rather leave those questions unasked is what makes the process of "swiftboating" dastardly in their eyes.


And, we've got another one today from a Democratic surrogate. This is George McGovern being, well, a jerk (emphasis Jim Geraghty's):

Let me tell you what I would say to John McCain: neither of us is an expert on national defense. It's true that you went to one of the service academies but you were in the bottom of the class. It's true that you were a pilot in Vietnam, that you were shot down and spent most of the war in prison and we all sympathize with that and honor you for your courage. But you and I both had these battle experiences, you as a Navy fighter plane, I as an army bomber. I am not going to criticize your war record and your knowledge of national security but I don't want you criticizing mine either.

If I'd be allowed just one little dig at Senator McCain, since he gave me. I would say, 'John, you were shot down early in the war and spent most of the time in prison. I flew 35 combat missions with a 10-man crew and brought them home safely every time.'

Is this really the line of attack they want to try? McCain's war record is certainly not off-limits. It's the centerpiece of his campaign and character much as Kerry's was, though I'd argue McCain is making a much clearer connection between his battle-scarred past and his battle-ready future than Kerry ever did.

Economics 101

In the middle of a piece about how college students are feeling the pinch because there are fewer options for paying for college, we get in to some basic Economics 101:

Costs are not just things for government to help people to pay. Costs are telling us something that is dangerous to ignore.

The inadequacy of resources to produce everything that everyone wants is the fundamental fact of life in every economy -- capitalist, socialist or feudal. This means that the real cost of anything consists of all the other things that could have been produced with those same resources.

Building a bridge means using up resources that could have been used building homes or a hospital. Going to college means using up vast amounts of resources that could be used for all sorts of other things.

Prices force people to economize. Subsidizing prices enables people to take more resources away from other uses without having to weigh the real cost.

Without market prices that convey the real costs of resources denied to alternative users, people waste.

And money is not a Federal "stuff stamps" program. It's not the government's responsibility to make sure you have enough for everything you want. More to the point, it's not something that's distributed by some government program, and where "unfairness" in its distribution calls for government to come in and "redistribute" it.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Why are tortilla prices rising?

I overheard someone mentioning that the price of eggs was starting to skyrocket. He was suggesting that maybe people weren't raising as many chickens as they used to (but why???). I mentioned the increase in the price of corn, due to ethanol production. And yes, this time, we are talking chicken feed.

It takes 450 pounds of corn to produce the ethanol to fill one SUV tank. That's enough corn to feed one person for a year. Plus, it takes more than one gallon of fossil fuel -- oil and natural gas -- to produce one gallon of ethanol. After all, corn must be grown, fertilized, harvested and trucked to ethanol producers -- all of which are fuel-using activities. And, it takes 1,700 gallons of water to produce one gallon of ethanol. On top of all this, if our total annual corn output were put to ethanol production, it would reduce gasoline consumption by 10 or 12 percent.

I don't know about you, but I think that's way beyond chicken feed.


Unfortunately, this is such a felicitous term for the opposition, I may regret coining it. However, sooner or later, someone will, so I might as well go on record as early as possible. I hereby assert intellectual property rights over this term and insist it be used only by permission.

There are, unfortunately, some DarwiNazis, but this term properly describes a class of people as small as what Rush Limbaugh includes under the term "FemiNazi". He does not use the term to refer to any feminist, and I don't use the term to refer to anyone who accepts the reality of evolution.

A DarwiNazi is someone who believes the scientific theory of evolution precludes the existence of God (any god), and therefore the only valid belief is atheism (and the more militant, the better).

Given this definition, the number of DarwiNazis in the world is about equal to the number of FemiNazis in the world -- about twelve. Now, every now and then, Limbaugh stops to make it clear that he is not claiming that all feminists are FemiNazis. But anti-evolutionists, creationists, ID advocates, and particularly, the producers of "Expelled" are perfectly happy to tar anyone who accepts evolution with the Nazi brush.

Alas, just a few minutes into Stein's stint on Medved, I discover something unsavory about myself: Stein and Medved, both of whom reject evolutionary theo-- excuse me, "Darwinism" -- spent some time reassuring each other that the entire Nazi movement was founded on Darwinism, and that Hitler saw Darwinism as an integral part of Naziism. Ergo, I appear to have become a "Nazi" as well as an "atheist" "Darwinist".


But to Ben Stein and Michael Medved, evolutionary theory equals "Darwinism" (similarly, one must presume that quantum mechanics and special relativity are aspects of Newtonism, and I got my graduate degree in Euclidism); Darwinism equals social Darwinism; and social Darwinism is Naziism; ergo... Seig heil!

Evolution by natural selection is the most maligned theory in history; every political hack or philosophy monger twists the science to suit his own prejudices: The lefties twist it to indict Capitalism and individualism; Stein twists it to indict scientific "imperialism" that stands in the way of teaching Judeo-Christian religious precepts as science in the public schools. This saddens me, because I love so many other aspects of Ben Stein's conservatism.

The Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland claimed to be able to believe six impossible things before breakfast. I don't know how late in the day Ben Stein breaks fast, but he seems determined to give Her Majesty a run for her money.

We can start with the presumption that if Darwin had never existed, Hitler would have been a benign, if not benevolent, leader of the German people.

The central confusion, as always, is the one so thoroughly refuted by geneticist and staunch Christian believer Francis Collins in his seminal work, the Language of God: Stein and Medved both clearly believe that faith in God is incompatible with belief in evolution... as if God could not have created human beings by the mechanism of evolution. Collins shows the nonsensical theology behind this "argument by personal incredulity," as well as debunking the numerous examples of "well, Darwinism can't explain the evolution of this specific organ or organelle," upon which ID depends for its smattering of vaguely scientific arguments.

Until both conservatives and socialist atheists drop that absurd, self-created dichotomy, which does not exist in reality, we will continue to be subjected to such offensive claptrap as both Intelligent Design -- and books like Richard Dawkins' the God Delusion.

More's the pity.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Before the Big Bang

Did the universe come from nothing? Maybe not.

Maybe the universe, in some form, has always existed.

The new work suggests that time existed before the Big Bang, when a more ancient universe collapsed to give birth to the one we live in today.

Ours is the latest universe in a series that expanded, then collapsed, before another - slightly different cosmos - was born anew, though many details are obscure and, the theory concludes, will always remain that way.


However, Dr Bojowald found a variant of a theme summed up by Heiseinberg's uncertainty principle, which puts fundamental limits on what we are able to know about the universe. "It is similar to the uncertainty relations in quantum physics, where there is complementarity between the position of an object and its velocity - if you measure one you cannot simultaneously measure the other."

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Most people are decent, but...

(Hat tip: Gateway Pundit)

Ms Giuseppina Pasqualino di Marineo was hitch-hiking from Milan to Israel and the Palestinian Territories with a fellow artist on their "Brides on Tour" project. She had said she wanted to show that she could put her trust in the kindness of local people.

The problem is, while the vast majority of people you run into in most places will be kind, decent, and law-abiding, some fraction won't.  If you're going to put your life in the hands of a series of strangers, <b>all</b> of them have to be worthy of trust.  In order to wind up dead, <b>only one</b> has to be unworthy of trust.  If you play the odds for long enough, sooner or later, you will encounter one of those few.

Or as the artist's sister puts it:

"Her travels were for an artistic performance and to give a message of peace and of trust, but not everyone deserves trust,"

McCain and the FEC

This is over at Big Lizards, under the heading of "Democrats Try to Sue Their Way Into the White House. Again."

It seems McCain applied for public financing so he could stay in the primary race.

He didn't actually accept any public money, but he was able to borrow money with the assurance that he could cover any loans using public funds.

Furthermore, he never actually touched the money in that loan, because his own fundraising started to pick up.

But he could have. That money was available, even though he never spent it.

Now the question is, does this count as "using" public funds?

If it does, then McCain is now limited (under the McCain-Feingold-Incumbent-Protection-and-Billionaire-Enfranchisement-Act) to spending $50 million during the primaries, and he's close to that limit already.

And that means that Obama (or Clinton) can campaign against McCain without limit, but McCain's hands are tied.

McCain needs a ruling from the FEC.

Here's where the story gets really interesting:

McCain is in a bit of a bind; he needs a ruling from the Federal Elections Commission, saying that, like Dean, McCain did not actually "accept" public funding, thus isn't trapped in the spending limits. But the FEC can't vote, because it only has two of its six seats filled, which is two commissioners short of a quorum.

And why are they short handed? Because one Democratic senator is blocking the GOP appointment to the FEC (they must be appointed in pairs, one Democrat and one Republican, so no party has an advantage). Until that senator lifts his hold, the FEC will remain unable to hold a vote or issue the opinion McCain needs.

The senator who put the hold on the Bush nominee is (wait for it) Barack H. Obama... the very candidate poised to benefit most from this quagmire.

The Democrats have filed suit to have the FEC act, but of course until they have a quorum...

Dafydd, at Big Lizards, has his own advice for McCain:

Tell the FEC to FO. McCain should ignore the FEC and raise and spend as much as he needs, without regard to the primary spending limits for those joining the federal campaign-finance system. If the FEC threatens him, laugh in their faces. What are they going to do, vote to fine him? They can't vote to impose a penalty -- they don't have a quorum! Remember? That's what started this whole nonsense.


So come on, Sen. McCain; forget about your own shameful involvement in unconstitutional (no matter what the Supreme Court said) restrictions on free elections. Just rise up off your duff and loudly proclaim, for all to hear, that no matter what anyone says, you will continue to campaign vigorously, fundraise prodigiously, and spend freely.

It's already one of the most interesting campaigns we've had to date. What's one more bombard?

Journalists out of touch

Clayton Cramer calls attention to a journalist who doesn't quite seem to understand why gun control might be a hot topic.

Ted Reinstein is a journalist who claims that gun owners "overreact" to discussion of reasonable gun control. His column at March 14, 2008 WCVB is here:

Message after message decrying any attempt to take away the legitimate rights of responsible gun owners. All of which convinces me that gun control talk creates such a knee-jerk reaction among most gun owners that they literally are not capable any longer of hearing nuance. No one -- NO ONE -- talks seriously of taking away legal guns from responsible owners. Not one -- NOT ONE -- of the proposals I myself articulated (background checks, one gun a month purchase limit, assault weapon ban) on Wednesday night would significantly affect the vast majority of responsible gun owners.

Clayton's response to Mr. Reinstein is:

Perhaps part of the anger is that until HR 2640 (which enjoyed support from both NRA and gun control groups) very, very few gun control laws were aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill. Most such laws were indiscriminate. For example, the assault weapons ban that you want. The state laws (New Jersey, California, New York) were complete bans. They were not an attempt at preventing criminals from obtaining these guns. Everyone was prohibited--even people like myself who have never been arrested.

Many of the gun control advocates over the years have stated that their goal wasn't keeping guns out of the hands of criminals or the mentally ill, but to completely ban either all handguns, or all guns. See Professor Volokh's quotes of politicians promoting complete bans here, media sorts promoting complete bans, and advocacy groups promoting complete bans.

Imagine what your reaction would be to laws requiring newspapers to delay publishing columns for five days while the government checked the accuracy of the facts and quotes contained therein. (Think of all the minor errors of fact, libelous statements, and misleading information that would not be published.) Now, imagine your reaction if such a law was proposed amidst a continual whining for a complete ban on liberal media outlets. Would you find something a bit worrisome about that?

The 20th century is awash in governmental mass murder--tens of millions of people murdered by their own governments, in almost all cases, after the targeted group (or the entire civilian population) has been disarmed. While we don't have the mass murder experience in America, restrictive gun control laws in the South played a significant role in allowing the Klan to terrorize black people--because the Klan could be sure that they wouldn't have to worry about getting shot at by their victims. And you think that people are overreacting to this prolonged drumbeat of efforts to disarm them?

There's no question that we have a serious gun violence problem in America. We also have a serious non-gun violence problem in America. It isn't clear to me that restrictive gun control laws without a police state to implement have ever been effective at disarming criminals. In practice, such laws largely disarm people who are only a small part of the gun violence: the victims. And the victims do use guns in self-defense with surprising frequency. See the Civilian Gun Self-Defense Blog for just examples that received media attention. There's a lot of them.

Apology to the Valiant American Soldier

(Hat tip: Cheat Seeking Missiles)

MEMRI offers a post for the fifth anniversary of the start of the Iraq war.  Among the items posted is:

We forsook you and betrayed you - we, whose history is an expression of massacres, conflagrations, and ruin. We killed you, and we killed our dream and aspiration of reaching the sun, the moon, and the stars - [we killed our dream] of availing ourselves of the opportunity to live as true humans, thanks to your presence.

My dear, brave American soldier, you noble individual who traversed land and sea in order to write the story of Iraqi freedom for the first time in its modern history - you believed, in accordance with logic, self-evident truths, and rational thought, that a people who had been subjected to repression, starvation, and killing would dance for joy, and would thank Allah who sent you to them as a liberating angel. [You believed that] they would strew flowers and break out in songs of joy that would smash the chains of slavery, ignominy, and humiliation.

Not even a writer of surrealistic [literature] or [theater of] the absurd would have imagined that the Iraqi people would revolt against their liberator and would rush ardently back to a new bondage of a different kind - that of the religious cleric, the tribal sheikh, and the gang leader. It was unthinkable that the people would go against logic, rational thought, and self-evident truths, in a mad rush towards the abyss and total ruin.

My beloved, brave American soldier, we apologize to you, and we are saddened at our wretched and miserable selves. Since we are a people that slaughters itself, and kills one another, cutting off heads, what can you expect from us other than ingratitude, perfidy, and stabbing you in the back for the benefit of Iranian and Syrian intelligence and Al-Qaeda?...

Friday, April 11, 2008

The liberal argument against socialized medicine

Hat Tip:John Ray

Many liberals are up in arms these days over the USA PATRIOT Act and other recent assaults on our civil liberties. Hurray! Alas, many of these same liberals are chomping at the bit to implement even more intrusions upon our privacy. They want the government to know about your every throat swab, hemorrhoid exam, and AIDS test. That is, they are calling for some form of socialized medicine. Message to liberals: please reconsider!

Seriously, do you really want people like Dick Cheney to have access to your medical records? With any form of single-payer healthcare they will. You are probably envisioning single-payer healthcare as part of an overall victory by your party, and it would be -- temporarily. But even if the Republicans get a drubbing this fall, at some time they will be back in power, and then they will have access to records of every psychiatric exam, birth control prescription and abortion. Is that what you want?


But we wouldn't be thinking so much in terms of insurance if doctors and drugs were cheaper. Doctors are so expensive because we have a cartel in place; doctors are required for many tasks that could be done by health practitioners with lesser degrees. Imagine if it required a Ph.D. in computer science to put up a web page.

Drugs are so expensive in the U.S. because our FDA is far more cautious than equivalent agencies in other First World countries. We could cut drug prices by simply approving drugs that have been approved in other First World countries. If we wish to be cautious, we could require that such other country approvals be in place for several years to take advantage of their post-market monitoring.

Healthcare in the United States can be fixed without resort to a single-payer plan. But healthcare advocates have to want it. Otherwise, we are stuck with the choice between big corporations and Homeland Security having access to our medical records.
Let me end by conceding one advantage to single-payer healthcare: Roe v. Wade becomes moot. If the federal government has a record of every healthcare transaction, no one can argue with a straight face that medical decisions are a matter of personal privacy. Whether abortion is a legitimate medical procedure becomes a matter for legislatures to decide. What? You don't like this feature of single-payer healthcare? Too bad. The Religious Right will be aware of the line of reasoning above the moment single-payer gets implemented. I will make sure of it.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Wright's Wrong Wrighting

From Works and Days:

The Issue Won't Go Away...

Under the guise of utopian brotherhood, Barack Obama is establishing a new relativism in matters of race, and, contrary to what he thinks, Rev. Wright is not the only beneficiary. While it was not Obama's intent to unleash racial animosity, the net effect of rationalizing Wright will be precisely that. And Americans of all races need to speak out forcefully, clearly--and repeatedly--about this growing madness.

Obama's evocation of "context" is the new/old defense that one suddenly hears to excuse extremist language against whites, moderate African-Americans, Italians, Jews, America, Israel, the WW II generation, etc. as in:

II. Contexts?

(1) The Wright slurs were just snippets; or

(2) Came in a context of historic oppression; or

(3) Were part of unique protocols of expression in black churches; or

(4) Were more than balanced by prior good works; or

(5) Were just rhetorical flourishes and hardly offensive; or

(6) The right-wing noise machine is using the Wright sound-bites for the political embarrassment of a Democratic candidate rather than due to genuine anger over his racism.

While some of these mitigations in theory might have some merit, what the Wright defenders--most prominently Sen. Obama himself--don't realize is that the classical liberal tradition always argued that absolute standards trumped relativism and that situational ethics were never an excuse for extremism.

A clear discussion of the dangers of such relative morality is found in Book III of the historian Thucydides. There the violent revolutionaries on ancient Corfu claim they had cause to destroy the framework of the law and natural decency --and then found no such shelter when they in extremis were in need of it.

The Wright apologia is insidiously tearing down the accepted norms of public expression (sermons in a pulpit merchandised on DVDs qualify as the public domain). And the pastor will sorely miss them should he find himself the victim of racist outbursts against his person that will be inevitably excused by his own contextual contortions.

III. We Are All Victims Now

If one were to compare Wright's present misdemeanors to historical felonies, we should remember that the Klan in the 1860s cited contexts for their violent racism by arguing poor whites were suffering at the hands of scalawags and carpetbaggers. Hitler contextualized German hyper-nationalistic hatred by reference to the unfairness and humiliation of post-WWI treaties. The horrendous treatment of the 19th-century Irish was a central context to the IRA's rampage against the British. The murderous round-ups by the Bolsheviks were said to be in reaction to the excesses and exploitation of the prior Czarist aristocracy. Every racist or hater always has had a context--usually dredged up from the past.

V. Brave New World Ahead

Moreover, Rev. Wright, and the reaction to Rev. Wright, in conjunction with the Imus or Michael Richards controversies, has taught us that the sin is not the employment of racist slurs per se, such as the N-word, "ho", or "garlic noses", but rather the particular context--or rather the person who voices them.

At some point, a Wright, who grew up in a middle-class household amid a reforming America and prospers in an enlightened United States, must be judged by his own words in the present. And if the public allows these contexts to excuse what he said (and will no doubt say again), then we will have done our part in destroying the entire notion of public censure to deal with racist speech.

Among other things, by tolerating Wright's tirades, we are moving away from a rule of law and toward a rule of privilege (Latin: private law), where every person or group owes allegiance only to one particular set of rules.

When you have many groups bound by different sets of rules, you no longer have a culture, you have a mess.

My comment to Dinesh D'souza

You write:

The problem with evolution is not that it is unscientific but that it is routinely taught in textbooks and in the classroom in an atheist way. Textbooks frequently go beyond the scientific evidence to make metaphysical claims about how evolution renders the idea of a Creator superfluous. my book What's So Great About Christianity provides several examples of this.

I'm inclined to wonder which is cart and which is horse in this matter. To be sure, some spokesmen for science go beyond the science and declare an absence of evidence equal to evidence of absence. (I'll have to look up the examples you cite to see for myself what they say.) How much of that, though, can be attributed to a reaction to pressure to intrude an intelligent designer into processes where no need for one has been shown.

You cite a case where some group denies Einstein's e=mc2. Let's instead imagine a group that denies that Newton's laws of motion are sufficient to explain planetary motion. Doesn't it seem an incredible coincidence that the earth is moving just fast enough so its centrifugal force balances the gravitational pull from the sun? Surely blind natural law can't be maintaining this delicate balance. So this group wants physics courses to include material on an Intelligent Pilot.

For centuries, first-year physics courses have been taught without reference to God. No one has ever taught that F=ma by the grace of God, or that kinetic energy is conserved by the grace of God. The equations work the same whether God exists or not.

The difference seems to be that people are now comfortable with the idea that the heavens move in response to blind, unthinking laws of motion, but balk at the idea that we came to be here in response to the blind, unthinking laws of chemistry and biology. They want to intercalate an intelligent Designer, and will label any failure to do so "atheist".


Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The failure of "Intelligent Design"

By Dinesh D'Souza

As a Christian, I believe that the universe and its living creatures are the products of intelligent design. This belief is not merely derived from theology but is also supported by rational considerations. There is enormous intelligence embedded in the laws of nature. The greatest scientists over the past few centuries have worked to decode the intelligence mysteriously imprinted in the workings of nature. Scientific laws, as spelled out by Kepler, Newton, Einstein and others, reveal nature as exquisitely orderly. So who encoded this intelligence in nature?

Since the universe had a beginning, how did it get here? There is no natural explanation, since the universe includes all of nature. It is more than absurd to posit that the universe caused itself. The most reasonable explanation is that our rational universe is the product of some super-rational or omniscient intelligence. An intelligent designer is not the only explanation, but it certainly is the best explanation.

How the creator went about His business of making the universe and its life forms is another question, and this is a question for science to answer to the degree that it can be answered. Darwin's theory of evolution posits that chance, mutation and natural selection largely account for the transitions between one life form and another. Man, as an animal, is also the product of evolution, having descended from the same evolutionary "tree" that produced gorillas and chimpanzees.

Did God order things this way? Certainly if you read the Bible you would never predict Darwin's theory of evolution. But neither from the Scriptural accounts could one predict that the earth goes around the sun. The Bible is not and does not purport to be a science textbook. It takes no position, for example, on the heliocentric theory. Unfortunately, in past centuries, many Christians interpreted a few casual references to the sun "rising" to mean that the earth must be stationary and the sun must revolve around the earth. These interpretations were hasty, to say the least: the Bible is describing sunrise from a human or experiential perspective. Still, these narrow-minded Christians opposed Copernicus and Galileo until they were forced to admit that they were wrong. It wasn't the Bible that was mistaken; it was the foolish certainty of its interpreters that was exposed and discredited.

Today some Christians may be heading down the same path with their embrace of "intelligent design" or ID. This movement is based on the idea that Darwinian evolution is not only flawed but basically fraudulent. ID should not, however, be confused with bible-thumping six-day creationism. It does not regard the earth as 6,000 years old. Its leading advocates are legal scholar Phillip Johnson, biochemist Michael Behe, mathematician David Berlinski, and science journalist Jonathan Wells. Berlinski has a new book out The Devil's Advocate that makes the remarkable claim that "Darwin's theory of evolution has little to contribute to the content of the sciences." Ben Stein's movie "Expelled" provides horror stories to show that the case for ID as well as critiques of evolution from an ID perspective are routinely excluded or censored in the halls of academe.

ID advocates have sought to convince courts to require that their work be taught alongside Darwinian evolution, yet such efforts have been resoundingly defeated. Why has the ID legal strategy proven to be such a failure, even at the hands of conservative judges? Imagine that a group of advocates challenged Einstein's theories of general and special relativity. Let's say that this group, made up of a law professor, a couple of physicists, several journalists, as well as some divinity school graduates, flatly denies Einstein's proposition that e=mc2.

How would a judge, who is not a physicist, resolve the group's demand for inclusion in the physics classroom? He would summon a wide cross-section of leading physicists. They would inform him that despite unresolved debates about relativity--for example, its unexplained relationship to quantum theory--Einstein's theories are supported by a wide body of data. They enjoy near-unanimous support in the physics community worldwide. There is no alternative scientific theory that comes close to explaining the facts at hand. In such a situation any judge would promptly show the dissenters the door and deny their demand for equal time in the classroom. This is precisely the predicament of the ID movement.

The problem with evolution is not that it is unscientific but that it is routinely taught in textbooks and in the classroom in an atheist way. Textbooks frequently go beyond the scientific evidence to make metaphysical claims about how evolution renders the idea of a Creator superfluous. my book What's So Great About Christianity provides several examples of this.

Most Christians don't care whether the eye evolved by natural selection or whether Darwin's theories can account for macroevolution or only microevolution. What they care about is that evolution is being used to deny God as the creator. For those who are concerned about this atheism masquerading as science, there is a better way. Instead of trying to get unscientific ID theories included in the classroom, a better strategy would be to get the unscientific atheist propaganda out.