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Jan 10 2006

Mad Max takes on evolution

Over at Pharygula, biologist P. Z. Myers comments on a Playboy interview with Mel Gibson where he is asked:

PLAYBOY: So you can’t accept that we descended from monkeys and apes?

GIBSON: No, I think it’s b***s***. If it isn’t, why are they still around? How come apes aren’t people yet?

Myers comments:

Someday, I really want to sit down and have a conversation with one of these many people who use the “If we descended from monkeys, how come there are still monkeys?” argument. It’s so stupid, so easily rebutted, and so indicative of a complete lack of thought about this argument they have jumped into, that I’d honestly like to find out what they are thinking. There is some fundamental misconception floating about in the creationist universe that underlies their objections, and you know, it seems to me that it is so basic and so simple that it ought to be addressed in elementary school.

I don’t think that this misconception arises out of a benign ignorance, except maybe for very young children or those who haven’t thought about it much. Rather I think that it is a willful decision not to seek the answer. After all, do people like Mel Gibson really think that the hundreds of thousands of biologists around the world have never thought of this argument? Does he expect that when they read his interview, evolutionary biologists are going to slap their foreheads and say “My God, he’s right! Monkeys and apes are still around! How could we have been so stupid and overlooked the significance of this fact all these years? Evolution is obviously wrong!”

It always amazes me when people trot out these “obvious” arguments against evolution (the second law of thermodynamics is another example) and think that they have demolished it. Can’t they at least give a little credit to the intelligence of the scientific community that maybe, just maybe, this argument had occurred to them too and that they were not convinced? What would have prevented Gibson from going to any biologist and asked her or him how the biological community felt about that argument against evolution. What he would have learned is that evolution does not say that humans are descended from monkeys and apes. What we share are common ancestors. Monkeys and apes are our cousins, evolutionarily speaking, not our great-great-…-grandparents.

Gibson does not have to accept the biologist’s answer. But then at least he could say something sensible like “I asked biologists about this and they replied X but I disagree for reasons Y and Z.”

But instead Gibson comes across as an idiot, the kind of person who went to school at the Unlearning Annex. I think that such people do not really want to know the answer. They have built a fortress around their minds and will keep trotting out these arguments, along with Mount Rushmore and the bacterial flagellum, as a kind of mantra, a charm to ward off dangerous ideas and to reassure themselves that what they already believe is correct.

As the old saying goes, there are none so blind as those who will not see.

Documentary: Persons of Interest

The synopsis of the documentary Persons of Interest says:

After the Sept.11 terrorist attacks, more than 5,000 people, mainly non-U.S. nationals of South Asian or Middle Eastern origin, were taken into custody by the U.S. Justice Department and held indefinitely on grounds of national security. Muslim immigrants were subject to arbitrary arrest, secret detention, solitary confinement, and deportation. Many were denied access to legal representation and communication with their families. 
During a period when the U.S. government has made every effort to depersonalize these detentions, refusing to reveal the names or even the number of immigrants detained, the voices of those affected – their testimonials and experiences -become our only window into the human costs of post September 11th immigration policies. 
Following an unconventional format, Persons of Interest presents a series of encounters between former detainees and directors Alison Maclean (Jesus’ Son) and Tobias Perse in an empty room which serves both visually and symbolically as an interrogation room, home, and prison cell. Through interviews, family photographs, and letters from prison, the directors have fashioned a compelling and poignant film, allowing those affected a chance to tell their own stories.

You can see a photo of the people and their families here and read their individual stories here.

By allowing this kind of thing to happen to non-US nationals during the post-9/11 xenophobic hysteria, it made it easier later to commit similar violations of US citizens’ rights, and we see that creeping encroachment on civil liberties happening right now.

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