NCSE’s “Expelled Exposed” site now live

Up to now, Expelled Exposed has just been a collection of links to some pre-release reviews and blog posts about the upcoming Ben Stein festival of propaganda and lies. Now the work on the full site is done, and it contains a complete fisking of the film, all the way from its outrageous claims of a link between Darwin and Nazi eugenics, to revealing the real circumstances behind what happened to all the ID “martyrs” the movie wants you to believe were “expelled” by the Evil Darwinist Conspiracy (presumably on orders from Obergrüppenfuhrer “Blofeld” Dawkins hisownself) for daring to promote the “taboo” idea of intelligent design. And as a nice little poke in the eye, the site also features the story of someone who really was expelled: Chris Comer, who, as you will recall, was forced out of her job at the Texas Education Association for simply sending out an FYI email about the talk given here in Austin last November by Barbara Forrest.

In all, this is a vital resource to counter the despicable lies this movie is spreading.

Some people might remark that those of us in the atheist/pro-science blogosphere are making too much hay about this movie, that we are simply giving them the promotion and attention they want.

It would be nice if we lived in a utopian world where all we had to do to make the bad people go away was not think about them. But we don’t live in that world, and you know the old line about evil triumphing because good men do nothing. Well, that applies here. As Scientific American and PZ have all pointed out, this is not merely a shitty movie, but a moral outrage, made in a spirit not simply of old fashioned creationist stupidity but outright malice. If it were just a case of some idiot making a creationist film full of silly bullshit that we could laugh at, then we’d just laugh at it and have done with the whole thing. But this movie slanders science itself, and tries to paint the purveyors of scientifically empty nonsense as unappreciated geniuses and oppressed martyrs at the mercy of an imaginary supervillain. The Moron Brigade may eat this up, but in order to reach the intelligent folks who are simply sitting on the fence, the film’s evil — hell, I’ll say it, why not, that’s what it is — must be confronted straight up.

So far, all the publicity that matters (that is, what’s appeared in the mainstream media, rather than fundie websites) about this farce has been uniformly negative, which is a good sign. It hasn’t gotten — and will not get — a single favorable review from anyone who is not already a committed right-wing, fundamentalist, creationist ideologue. Now it’s up to the folks who truly love and support science, knowledge, honesty, truth, and morality to keep up the heat on this disgrace, and send it down in flames where it belongs once and for all.

(And don’t forget to link to Expelled Exposed in your own blogs, every time you discuss Expelled in any capacity, in order to drive the site’s Google ranking higher.)

Word of the Year: “Manufactroversy”

Valerie Tarico modestly admits to not having invented it, but it’s a brilliant neologism that I’m sure will gain new cachet within the reality based community, now that it’s been used to mock the intelligent design crowd in general and the claims of Expelled in particular. Tarico writes the latest derisive smackdown review of Ben Stein’s folly over at HuffPo, and she takes the gloves off right away.

Now the creationists have taken a new approach that they hope will help them achieve their goal of teaching religious beliefs in our schools as science. That approach can be summed up in one simple word: whining.

One week from today, the new movie, Expelled, attempts to turn creationist complaints into mainstream media. Featuring Ben Stein, one of the conservative right’s biggest whiners, the film makes several plaintive appeals: There’s a conspiracy among big government and big science, and it’s not fair! All we ask is for our perspective to get equal time! (Read: we lost, so let’s split the prize.) All we want is for teachers to “teach the controversy”! This is all about academic freedom. Americans like freedom, right?….

The proponents of intelligent design can’t gain credibility among hard scientists because their evidence is pathetic. So what do they do? Follow in the footsteps of the tobacco and oil companies and spend millions in an effort to create public doubt. They plea for their side to be told, they imagine vast conspiracies and they cry out for fair play, but the reality is much simpler.

The hits just keep coming.

Expelled: agitprop not even Fox News can love

You’d think if Expelled could find a receptive outlet in the mass media to promote its lies, it would be the fine folks at the Bush Administration Ministry of Propaganda. But even Roger Ailes’ network, that brought us Sean Hannity and John Gibson, let alone Bill Orally, isn’t benighted enough to swallow Ben Stein’s anti-science spooge.

What the producers of this film would love, love, love is a controversy. That’s because it’s being marketed by the same people who brought us “The Passion of the Christ.” They’re hoping someone will latch onto an anti-Semitism theme here since there’s a visit to a concentration camp and the raised idea — apparently typical of the intelligent design community — that somehow the theory of evolution is so evil that it caused the Holocaust. Alas, this is such a warped premise that no one’s biting.

It’s looking more and more like Expelled will be to documentaries what Howard the Duck was to Hollywood special effects blockbusters.

CFI Textbook Accuracy Report

I received a link to this file from CFI (Center For Inquiry).

Click…Read…Act.

Their assessment of the problems with this particular text book is “spot on” and the errors are, in many ways, the same sort of problems that have continually promoted gross conceptual errors regarding these subjects.

I have no idea if the authors of this particular text book were trying to promote an agenda or if they’d simply fallen prey to the glut of misinformation surrounding these issues, but this sort of misinformation must be corrected.

As “Academic Freedom” bills, “Teach The Controversy” rhetoric and “Science leads to Nazism” nonsense begin to pollute our education system, it should be clear to any reasonable person that the time to sit quietly in a corner has long passed.

This week’s Funny Pastor Trick

For hilarity purposes: 46-year-old Craig Rhodenizer, pastor of a church in Lyndonville, NY, tells his wife he’s going to zip on over to Best Buy to get his computer fixed, and goes missing. Two days later, he somehow turns up “disoriented” at a topless bar in Riverside, OH, which Mapquest tells me is a distance of 438.34 miles. Long way to go for a lap dance. Did he think the wife was more likely to find out if he patronized a local “gentlemen’s” establishment?

Court places liens on Fred Phelps’ church, office

Just caught this bit of news about America’s most hated hater. A federal judge on Thursday placed liens against the Westboro Baptist Church building, as well as its law office. This was done in the wake of a $5 million judgment against Westboro won by the family of slain Iraq veteran Matthew Snyder, whose funeral the scumbags picketed. Even if the Phelpses are driven into filing bankruptcy as a result of this, the article explains they still wouldn’t be protected from having to pay out the $2.1 million part of the judgment that constitutes punitive damages. Efforts are underway to determine what the church and the Phelpses are really worth. Yes, I know you could determine that just by examining the contents of your commode after a massive case of dysentery. I’m talking financially. With luck, they’ll be living under the same bridge soon.

Kenneth Miller’s lecture at UT

Kenneth Miller spoke at UT last night as part of an ongoing lecture series, Hot Science – Cool Talks, sponsored by the university’s Environmental Science Institute. I had no real idea of what to expect, and while it did not draw Dawkins-sized crowds, attendance was still huge, overflowing the lecture hall in Welch to SRO capacity. Prior to the lecture, several organizations like CFI-Austin and the Paleontological Society of Austin had display tables set up in the lobby, with cool fossils and that sort of thing. The crowd got so thick at one point that, while I was standing at the CFI table chatting with James Dee, the heat started making me feel a little woozy on my feet. Didn’t last long, though, but still another indicator that I need to get back in shape something awful.

I won’t go into as much detail about the lecture as I did Dawkins’, mainly because the webcast is archived and I strongly encourage you to listen to it yourself (you have to install something called Envivio first), as this was one of the best lectures about evolution and the ID debacle I’ve ever heard. Miller is a witty and engrossing public speaker, as only someone who’s been a professor at Brown for a quarter century can be. His Keynote presentation was excellent, far better in quality than Dawkins’ Powerpoint.

Miller spoke about the central scientific failing of ID, that its proponents just automatically want acceptance as a viable theory to be taught in schools without having to produce the actual science that would earn it acceptance, and he went on to document ID’s downfall at Dover. Some of Miller’s information here overlapped that of Barbara Forrest, who spoke here in November at a lecture that got Chris Comer (who was in attendance, as well as many folks from Texas Citizens for Science) fired. (One of Expelled‘s many lies is that it’s the courageous, forward thinking proponents of ID who are losing jobs for their views, but as reality makes clear, the opposite is actually true.)

However, the bulk of Miller’s talk was given over to impressively concise explanations as to how we know evolution is true, and where the claims of the ID camp collapse. Just to give a couple of quick examples: Miller first demolished Michael Behe’s claims about “irreducible complexity” in the bacterial flagellum. Behe’s claim in a nutshell is that, if you take apart the individual components of a complex system, and those individual components themselves have no function, than that proves irreducible complexity and refutes the notion that such a system evolved. However, Miller explained, if you take apart all of the little bits of the flagellum’s little rotary tail, you find those components do have functions. It’s just that, taken apart, those components did other things than what they ended up doing once they evolved into the flagellum’s motor. It was perhaps the most accessible and straightforward explanation for a lay audience about irreducible complexity and the flagellum I’ve ever heard, and one that left no doubt as to the failure of Behe’s concept.

Miller also explained how evolution does in fact have a wealth of transitional fossils, and indeed, the only problem science has with all its transitional fossils is determining just where transitions begin or end. He showed how the creationist textbook Of Pandas and People presents a graph featuring prehistoric fish and amphibians, which simply omits several known species in order to claim that “missing links” and “gaps” in the fossil record exist. And even in the cases where there were real gaps in that sequence, in recent years, those have been filled, for instance, by a little critter called Tiktaalik.

Miller also showed how evolutionary science managed to explain how human beings have one fewer pair of chromosomes than other primates. Scientists predicted that the only possible explanation is that one of these pairs must have fused together at some point in humanity’s evolutionary history…and sho nuff, that’s what we find in Chromosome 2: a fused chromosome with vestigial telomeres near the middle of the sequence (where they’d only be if a fusion had occurred), and two sets of vestigial centromeres, one no longer active. The evidence for evolution is simply everywhere — and even in your own body.

The Q&A was really good. One guy predictably asked Miller’s opinion of Expelled, which he wouldn’t give as he hasn’t yet seen it (“I understand it’s rather hard to get into,” he quipped to gales of laughter). He added that he was looking forward to seeing it, though. An adorable little girl who couldn’t have been more than five or six asked what all those flat-headed prehistoric fish ate. (Answer: probably exactly what fish today like to eat, algae, microbes, and very small fish.)

As I was on the front row, I actually got a question in. I asked, how can scientists counter propaganda efforts like Expelled, which are really anti-intellectual exercises in emotional button-mashing, which do not, in fact, present any kind of scientific case either way, and instead couch their anti-science views in terms of a “culture war,” where the teaching of evolution is simplistically condemned as evil and something that leads to things like Naziism.

Miller replied that we have the facts on our side, and simply putting those facts out there — that Hitler never once mentions Darwin in Mein Kampf but directly attributed his anti-Semitism to “the work of the Lord”; that the Third Reich in fact banned the teaching of Darwin’s theory; that Nazi soldiers wore belt buckles with the slogan “God [not Darwin] Is With Us” — ought to be sufficient to counter the lies of the anti-science fanatics. I wish I could agree with him. The fundamentalist mindset is not in any way a rational one. And if people have been taught to dismiss and in fact fear facts outright, then simply setting out the truth for them will usually just result in their closing their eyes and covering their ears and going “La la la la I can’t heeear you!” in a very loud voice. Hell, those stupid creationist “biology” textbooks that were presented in the recently-concluded California lawsuit actually printed statements like this: “If [scientific] conclusions contradict the Word of God, the conclusions are wrong, no matter how many scientific facts may appear to back them.” That isn’t education, it’s indoctrination, and it’s such a hugely damaging act of abuse that it will take more than mere facts to counter it.

Miller is such a brilliant scientist that I must admit I’m flummoxed (as were many others in CFI that I talked to after the lecture) why he feels he needs to hold onto his Catholic beliefs. He never really addressed the dichotomy in his talk, though one question allowed him to touch on it in a brief way. Miller stated that he thinks it’s utterly absurd to think that being religious means you cannot be well versed in science too. He also said “Science transcends religion,” which I found interesting. In retrospect, if I had the chance to partake in the Q&A again, my question to him would be the following: “If your view is that science transcends religion, then what is your opinion of Dawkins’ statement to the effect that religions do in fact make scientific claims; specifically, that if the existence of the material universe is through the actions of some deity, then that is a question that can and should be examined by science? And if you disagree, why?” I guess I’ll just have to hold that until next time I get a chance to
see him. Miller did say that, if anyone in Texas would care to invite him back, he’d be happy to sit down with our SBOE and set them straight on a few things. That would be a great idea, as I do see Miller as being a guy who could successfully communicate the pro-evolution, pro-science message to a religious audience, who would be predisposed to dismiss atheist scientists like Dawkins and Myers who’ve been very public with their criticisms of religion.

(No, I’m not supporting the Nisbet “PZ and Dawkins should shut up” bogus “framing” position, only acknowledging that the pro-science side should have a wide variety of voices advocating for it. A Christian scientist will get his message through to Christians where a non-Christian scientist would hit a brick wall.)

In all, a great lecture which I’m very glad I attended. Yeah, this report turned into my usual long-winded epic post. But go listen to the webcast anyway. Finally, Miller has a new book — Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul — dropping on June 12, which can be pre-ordered through Amazon now.