Dodos triumphant!

Ah, I’m back home again, and just in time…the snow started falling just as I crossed the Morris city limits.

I was at the Minneapolis screening of Flock of Dodos, and they had a big crowd at the Bell Museum auditorium, including many of the usual suspects in the struggle against creationism in our state. Greg Laden has posted a review, and so has David Wilford (and I agree—this would be an excellent movie to show at a con). Everyone seemed very positive about it.

The discussion afterwards was great, too—movie theaters ought to do this everywhere, setting aside a block of time after a showing with local experts to talk about it. Having Steven Miller there to actually share the thinking that was going on behind the scenes was very helpful, too. I think we reached a general consensus that scientists need to get out more and talk to the public about their work. So hey, if you’re a scientist…get your face out there more, OK?

There was an attendee from the Twin Cities Creation Science Association, who also criticized scientists for not engaging creationists more. I don’t think we are well-served by wasting time one-on-one with their nonsense, though; we’re better off talking about science in public venues. He did invite people to a lecture next Tuesday on Mt St Helens as evidence for creation. I had to say that I’m not a geologist, but it would be great if a local geologist were to show up and shred the speaker (any volunteers out there?). Most ironic comment of the meeting: the fellow said I should still come, because the speaker isn’t a geologist either.

I know, man, I know.

I’ll also remind any Minneapolis people that this weekend is also the date for the creationist science fair, at the Har Mar mall up in Roseville. I’d love to go, but I’ve used up my capacity for travel this week. I was also up until after 1am last night talking with the post-film crowd, and I’m going to need this weekend to just recover.

Oh, in tangentially related evo wars news, I’ll mention now that Philip Kitcher will be speaking on “Darwin, Design, and the Future of Faith” at Macalester College on the 29th of March. I’m hoping his prognostication of the future of faith is grim and doom-laden.


  1. says

    The heliocentric theory is nothing more than that: just a theory, like the theory of evolution. Copernicans and Newtonians refuse to allow discussion of other points of view in the universities.

  2. says

    “There was an attendee from the Twin Cities Creation Science Association, who also criticized scientists for not engaging creationists more. I don’t think we are well-served by wasting time one-on-one with their nonsense, though; we’re better off talking about science in public venues.”

    PZ – did you hear about the astrologers who were upset with the IAU for not consulting them before changing the status of Pluto? Now they have to go back and re-do all of those charts so their clients know what color socks to put on, and what their lucky lotto numbers are.

    Why on Earth should scientists engage creationists more? I am trying to avoid the obvious puns regarding mixed marriage.

  3. Greg Peterson says

    PZ, perhaps you recall that I mentioned Kitcher’s book, “Living With Darwin,” on Tuesday at the Cafe Scientifique. I was very favorably impressed by the book, so if he is in person as he in on the page, we can expect a thoroughly anti-faith presentation. He makes many of the same points that folks like Harris and Dawkins make, but has, I think, more sympathy for believers. This might sound like mere “suffering fools gladly,” but it’s not just that. He knows and says that religious belief is simply untenable. The difference is, he seems to grasp some of the non-cognitive, existential barriers to people embracing reality (the “living with Darwin” of the title). One prescription is work toward a just, equitable, compassionate, and tolerant society where people communicate with each other and social safety nets exist (his model is secular Europe, with its liberal democracies and pubs). Kitcher argues persuasively that if we can work to address some of the needs people now see religion fulfilling in secular ways, they will be more open to Enlightenment advances. It’s not a perfect argument–none is. But along with other pro-science secular voices, including Taner Edis, he provides a useful counterpoint to the uncompromised clarion call for reality-based living from Dawkins and Harris. I think he adds some useful nuance.

  4. says

    Yes, I do recall that you recommended it, which is why I perked up when I got the notice that he’s talking locally. I’ll probably go to it myself.

  5. says

    Why not engage us more? I am sure we have something to offer to the conversation. I mean, I would love to talk “shop” and science to any evolutionist who would like to. But more often than not I end up getting the Great-Eye-Rolling when someone finds out I am a creationist. Or they attack me with meaningless bully tactics. All I want is to sit down with someone like yourself or other scientists and just have a good chat.
    Maybe the lines have been drawn in the sand for too long for that to happen, but I don’t think it is too much to hope for.


  6. Mothra says

    I have seen the Mt. St. Helens talk– last year at St. Andrews Church in West Fargo– a slick Power-point presented by Brian Young. It is a mixture of ‘god saved me’ testimony of a few survivors (victims are strangely not represented), the inability of YEC’s to properly place large objects (tree stumps) in their proper statigraphic level, and of course the conjecture that humans and dinos were synchronic on a young Earth. I was heartened when even the ‘bull-ievers’ questioned Mr. Young’s assertion that T. rex was not a carnivore until after the ‘fall of man.’ There were murrmurrs in the audience when he was questioned by a child. He mangled information theory on many levels in asserting that Helicobacter, genus responsible for stomach ulcers, has only ‘degenerate’ DNA and has not ‘evolved.’ AND, he went on to preach about continuing to buy large gas guzzling SUV’s– we need not worry about the environment, energy crises, global warming, the world will end soon. My purpose there was to view the demon in its natural haunts as it were. I do believe there is hope (and this point is strategically important) because parents, even ‘Gavia’ christian parents, try to make choices beneficial to their offspring.

  7. Steve_C says

    State your case zeilenga… but be prepared for alot of links to talkorigins.

    Most of us feel the reason that people are creationists are one of two reasons,
    they’re religious beliefs require it or they haven’t read up on it.

    We can chat. But don’t moan about the overwhelming evidence when it lands in your lap.

  8. says

    Talking with creationists is one thing, and most of us are happy to do it. Sharing a podium with them and letting them babble lies to a crowd is another thing, and it is something to be discouraged.

  9. says

    You’re brave, zeilenga! I hope you find the site informative. I’m not a biologist, so I won’t argue with you myself :)

  10. Greg Peterson says

    The creationist at “Dodos” listed as creationist scientists Henry Morris, Duane T. Gish, and T. Barnes. I know those guys very well. I graduated from the Northwestern College where they have their little creationist meetings, and I used to attend those meetings regularly. Morris wrote the “biology” textbook we used. Those men are NOT scientists. They are scam artists who robbed me of a decent education for the many years I was too ignorant and too cowed to know better. Anyone who thought that what you said about creationists like that, PZ–that they are liars–was too harsh does not know men like that. They very literally know nothing but lies. One might feel about some creationists that they are merely mistaken or uneducated or perhaps mentally ill, but that trio in particular is–what was the word from the movie? Mendacity? They are mendacious maximus. There is no discussion to be had with such rabid dogs.

  11. says

    have seen the Mt. St. Helens talk…a mixture of ‘god saved me’ testimony of a few survivors (victims are strangely not represented)

    God saved them from the Mount St. Helens eruption? (Because if not, I don’t really see the point of talking about salvation here.)

    I was impressed that a creationist showed up at first–until one of the Bell Museum staff told me that he always shows up at these events and yammers on and on. Then when he told PZ that the presenter at the Mount St. Helens talk wasn’t a geologist either, I wrapped my scarf around my face to hold it in. Look, you don’t want eye-rolling? Don’t say unintentionally hilarious things, then. We’re only human, too.

  12. Greg Peterson says

    I spoke to the poor guy for a few minutes after the movie, and while I will say point blank that Gish and Morris and company are LIARS, this man’s just…well. He’s three suits shy of a full deck, let’s charitably say. He started telling me how his next project is working with some guy to overturn physics. Not just cosmology, which plausably has a connection to his Genesis jones, but quantum theory and relativity, and all of it really. Right back to the fally-boinky apple. He said he’d been at a speech by John Polkinghorne and presented his theories, and I just thought, “Oh, lucky John.” Because John is a theist, a Christian theist, and I don’t groove to that, but John was not barking mad or foot-drooling stupid like this poor gentleman. Geez. There’s no arguing with him, either. Lynn said something great after the movie: “If logic doesn’t work right away, it’s probably not going to work.” That is, if people are not convinced by reason, than perhaps merely repeating reason is not the answer. And then I’m left with the same troubling question that nagged at me after “Dodos”: What the hell IS going to work? I don’t much like living in a country of about half halfwits.

  13. TR says

    One thing I thought was strange about Flock of Dodos was that Olson didn’t make any attempt to interview scientists who *are* trying to engage the public. Why didn’t he pick someone like, say, Eugenie Scott to interview? I guessed that that was his way of trying to be even-handed, showing the evolutionists to be kind of arrogant, going around using big pompous words like “quixotic.” Don’t get me wrong, I liked the movie, but this puzzled me. I think the movie would have been enhanced by talking to people who are actively engaged in “PR.”

  14. Greg Peterson says

    You know whose name occurred to me as I sat there? He’s not a rock star scientist, but the guy does some of the best evolution reporting and exposition writing of anyone I know about, and that’s Carl Zimmer. I’d like to see him get some credit for doing a superb job of explaining basic evolution at a pop level.

  15. SLC says

    Re Zeilenga

    Yes sir, we should talk to the creationists, just like we should talk to the flat earthers, geocentrists, holocaust deniers, HIV/AIDS deniers, Germ theory of disease deniers, astrologers, etc.

  16. Tony Popple says

    With regards to the Har Mar Mall……….

    I must admit that I did stop and see the Creationist Science Fair at Har Mar Mall about five years ago. I can’t say that I saw anything new, but there was some great people-watching. Most of the projects presented by the students didn’t really have much to do with creationism. Each student had taken a bible verse and performed some simple bench-top experiment that was supposed to relate to the verse.

    For the most part, the student projects were boring and a little creepy. But, the main attraction made it worth the trip. There was a man who introduced himself as a “scientist” performing research on biblical creationism. He was dressed like an African explorer with a jungle cap and khaki shorts. He said he was conducting research on how so many different animals were able to fit into Noah’s ark. He had constructed a large cut-a-way model of the ark, maybe 10 to 12 feet long, complete with moving elevators and plastic dinosaurs.

    If you have nothing else to do, it might be fun to check it out. If it turns out to be boring, you can always hang out in the Barnes and Noble bookstore.

  17. Banned in Kansas says

    Hy PZ, ds hvng ths blg s sbstt fr pr rvwd pblctns nd ctl bks mk p fr hvng t lv n Mrrs?

  18. Hank Fox says

    S. Zeilenga: Why not engage us more? I am sure we have something to offer to the conversation. I mean, I would love to talk “shop” and science to any evolutionist who would like to. But more often than not I end up getting the Great-Eye-Rolling when someone finds out I am a creationist. Or they attack me with meaningless bully tactics. All I want is to sit down with someone like yourself or other scientists and just have a good chat. Maybe the lines have been drawn in the sand for too long for that to happen, but I don’t think it is too much to hope for.

    Zeilenga, I’ll tell you why you get the eye-rolling.

    Imagine that you’re a teacher. Seriously. Oh, about 7th grade or so. You teach history.

    After a long day at school, five classes of 28 to 35 kids, you’ve stopped off for a beer with a fellow teacher to talk about your day. Today’s lesson was the Revolutionary War, specifically the 1777 Battle of Bennington. You’re personally fascinated with this period in history, the way the tiniest change in any of a dozen different battles might have brought about a completely different present.

    So, here you are, talking about the American forces led by General John Stark and Colonel Seth Warner, facing the British loyalist forces commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Friedrich Baum at Walloomsac, New York, about four miles west of Bennington, Vermont.

    And a guy pipes up from a nearby table: “Hey, if this fight happened in Walloomsac, New York, it can’t be the Battle of Bennington. Heck, that’s not even in the same state. And how can that British guy be Freed Rick Bome? I mean, that don’t sound British to me. Anybody with a name like that has got to be German. Wasn’t no Germans in the Revolutionary War – everybody knows the Revolutionary War was between the Americans and the British.”

    You might say “Well, they probably called it the Battle of Bennington because Bennington, Vermont, was the nearest town at the time. There wasn’t any Walloomsac, New York, and well, the lines between states – which didn’t really even exist then, because there wasn’t any United States yet – were a little fuzzy back then.”

    But how the heck are you going to respond to that comment about Germans?

    The presence of Germans in the Revolutionary War is a part of well-recorded history more than 200 years old. Not a single historian you ever heard of ever suggested there weren’t Germans fighting for the British during the Revolutionary War era.

    Any of the 13- and 14-year-olds you teach could have set him straight on that. It’s so well known that you could look it up in any encyclopedia, or take less than a minute to find it online.

    You can imagine somebody not knowing this stuff, but you’re actually shocked at anybody just out-of-the-blue challenging it.

    I mean, it’s okay to weigh in with an opinion about the INTERPRETATION of historic facts. But to weigh in with an opinion about THE FACTS THEMSELVES, well, wouldn’t you expect the guy to have … oh, maybe a degree in history? Or to have done some sort of VERY extensive research on his own?

    Otherwise, it’s just bar talk. He’s a loudmouth who’s had a few too many, and he’s coming at you with that barroom-drunk pugnacity that you just know ain’t gonna end in any sort of pleasant give-and-take “good chat.”

    This is exactly why creationists get the eye-roll.

    First because they haven’t done their homework – about stuff that any 13-year-old could probably explain to them.

    But second, because they’re weighing in with OPINIONS ON FACTS. Not the interpretation of facts, but the facts themselves. Facts so well established, so well supported, so beautifully and brilliantly cross-connected, that non-acceptance of them could be excusably explained only by complete ignorance of the field.

    Zeilenga, the sad situation for you is this: After several years of creationists, IDers and evolution-doubters who approach the whole thing with the equivalent of boozy belligerence, it’s hard for scientists to even WANT to talk to people like you who decide to drop by with their “something to offer.”

    On the far distant other hand, I’m thinking of a scientist I met at the New York State Museum a few years back, Dr. Jason Cryan. It was after he’d spent a long day at work, several hours preparing for a night lecture, and then the hour-long lecture itself.

    I came up to him after the talk and started peppering him with questions. At a moment in his day when you’d think he’d want nothing more than to flee at top speed and get home to his family, he and I and a half dozen others stood there for another 45 minutes or so, talking about his research on South American insects. He was HAPPY to talk about it. His work EXCITED him. He LOVED having an honest, interested, open-minded audience, and was willing to GIVE his very valuable time to talk to us.

    From my own experience with Dr. Cryan and others, damned if scientists in general aren’t the most interesting, lively, FUN single group of people I’ve ever met.

    You yourself will never know it, though. As long as you present yourself as “a creationist,” you’ll probably keep seeing the whites of their eyes.

  19. mcmillan says

    Hank, that was a really good explanation. I say this as a person that has still has some interest engaging creationists, but I find by the time I see a thread there are usually other people with more knowledge already making points that I want to make.

    When most of my friends who are scientists hear about what various creationists are doing the first response is to wonder why people even think like that. We’re too used to encountering people that that think like us. I work with protein structures, and get flustered when I have people ask me what protein is, “other than steak” as a former roommate put it.

    On the other hand,when I actually get a chance to talk about the real science it’s hard to shut me up. I think my experience when my lab went to a bar together this afternoon is a good example,. At first we talked about anything but science, seeing as it’s friday and this is our job. But once we started getting drunk and talking about whatever was on our mind, we went back to science as this is what we really care about.

    There are two levels which I think there is a problem of explaining scientific topics. I think this was addressed in PZ’s recent post about the arrogance of people who feel like they are as knowledgeable about biology as those who devote their lives to learning it. On the other hand, a lot of us scientists tend to forget how basic most people’s knowledege actually is.

  20. Richard Harris, FCD says

    Hank, I wish you were right. Here’s part of a reply I’ve had from the Creationist Andrew Halloway, publisher of ‘The Delusion of Evolution’ & tied in with the Elim Church (in the UK – a bunch of crazies who believe in ‘speaking in tongues’).

    By the way, Richard, in answer to one of your statements on DNA in your email below: this experimental study found that functional protein folds are extremely rare, finding that, “roughly one in 1064 signature-consistent sequences forms a working domain” and that the “overall prevalence of sequences performing a specific function by any domain-sized fold may be as low as 1 in 1077.” D. A. Axe, “Estimating the Prevalence of Protein Sequences Adopting Functional Enzyme Folds,” Journal of Molecular Biology, Vol. 341 (2004): 1295-1315. Axe concludes that “functional folds require highly extraordinary sequences.” Since Darwinian evolution only preserves biological structures which confer a functional advantage, this indicates it would be very difficult for such a blind mechanism to produce functional protein folds. This research also shows that there are high levels of specified complexity in enzymes, a hallmark indicator of intelligent design. Axe himself has confirmed that this study adds to the evidence for intelligent design: “In the 2004 paper I reported experimental data used to put a number on the rarity of sequences expected to form working enzymes. The reported figure is less than one in a trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion. Again, yes, this finding does seem to call into question the adequacy of chance, and that certainly adds to the case for intelligent design.”

    W.-E. Lönnig & H. Saedler, “Chromosome Rearrangements and Transposable Elements,” Annual Review of Genetics, 36 (2002): 389-410.

    D.K.Y. Chiu & T.H. Lui, “Integrated Use of Multiple Interdependent Patterns for Biomolecular Sequence Analysis,” International Journal of Fuzzy Systems, 4(3) (September 2002): 766-775.

    M.J. Denton, J.C. Marshall & M. Legge, (2002) “The Protein Folds as Platonic Forms: New Support for the pre-Darwinian Conception of Evolution by Natural Law,” Journal of Theoretical Biology 219 (2002): 325-342.

    D. A. Axe, “Extreme Functional Sensitivity to Conservative Amino Acid Changes on Enzyme Exteriors,” Journal of Molecular Biology, Vol. 301 (2000): 585-595.

    Lönnig, W.-E. Dynamic genomes, morphological stasis and the origin of irreducible complexity, Dynamical Genetics, Pp. 101-119. In Dynamical Genetics by V. Parisi, V. de Fonzo & F. Aluffi-Pentini, eds.,(Research Signpost, 2004)

    I suspect that people with Creationist beliefs & PhDs in scientific disciplines are well aware of what they’re doing. They do not have equivalent beliefs in magic & science that they compartmentalize. They are trying to subvert Science. You might argue that Science is too well-structured to fall to their assaults. Science in academe, engineering, & medicine itself will be able to resist this, but Science in the media might not. If this becomes the case, then the Creationists will exploit it politically. Look at the appalling way the media in the UK treated the ‘MMR vaccine causes autism’ nonsense. The media seems to have a policy of giving both sides equal weight, even when one side is barking mad, or not well-supported by evidence.

    We need to be able to fight back. I believe that the next stage in their campaign is to persuade the media that they’ve got a degree of scientific integrity & support that they do not have. They will then try to use the media to influence public policy.

    They appear to be well-organized. Perhaps the only way to combat this is through national science bodies, in the USA, Canada, & UK and anywhere else where these scumbags are active?

  21. djlactin says

    zeilinga. I’m not going to debate you, i’m going to challenge you.

    explain the origin of your deity.

  22. Mena says

    Re #24:
    Your comment reminded me of some of the comments that I have seen about GM foods. The most laughable one was one guy on tv talking about how he was opposed to them because, I kid you not, they contain DNA. Somehow this DNA can affect your body more than the DNA that you normally eat is one thing but not seeming to realize that all food contains DNA is just too amazing.

  23. David Marjanović says

    Great explanation, Hank! I can only nitpick:

    And how can that British guy be Freed Rick Bome?

    That au part is more like the “ow” sound in “howl” or “ouch”, just don’t open the mouth that far.


    s. zeilenga, go ahead. I’m listening.

  24. David Marjanović says

    Great explanation, Hank! I can only nitpick:

    And how can that British guy be Freed Rick Bome?

    That au part is more like the “ow” sound in “howl” or “ouch”, just don’t open the mouth that far.


    s. zeilenga, go ahead. I’m listening.

  25. Graculus says

    s. zeilenga

    Go over to talkorigins and read. I suggest you start with the Index of Creationist claims.

    Most (not all) of the self-identified creationists that we run into online are not interested in engaging*, and one of the first clues to this is their refusal to read talkorigins.

    *They are interested in smiting the heathens and bloating their ego.

  26. says

    Regarding the Science Fair:

    The gentleman in the Safari Suit runs the company that is pretty much behind all of this … He’s Russ McGlenn.

    I put up on my site a few photos from previous years, but I’m disappointed that you can’t see much of what the kids are really doing in them. Where you can see the topic, it seems that most of the time it is a regular science fair type project. But there seems to be an Ark replica in two of the years, and one poster on “where was Jonah” which is a study of Cetacean digestive physiology.

    I put a plea out for people to give me better photos. I may have a chance to snap a few myself Sunday PM.

  27. mothra says

    About mentioning salvation– minimally subtle sardonic humor apparently missed by Kristina, or that person’s response to my post was insufficient for my understanding. So. . . a wee bit of elaboration. My point was that the ‘science’ on offer was baffoonery– AND SO WAS THE RELIGION. The ostensibly ‘science’ talk did contain the perverted spirituality I alluded to. A non humorous rendition (loaded word these days) of the same principle can be found in Mark Twains ‘The War prayer’ experted as follows:

    “O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle-be Thou near them! With them, in spirit, we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it-for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.”

    The obvious point: any event that affects people has a myriad of consequences, ‘salvation’ from the horrific ash storm as if the speaker was somehow blessed is an ethical perversion- there were victims. I used the term ‘salvation’ and not ‘rescue’ because the speaker used the term ‘salvation.’

    Finally, and about ethics: the presenter, Brian Young, has a set of about 40 powerpoint talks he delivers to churches and religious groups across the country. The talk he was slated to give at St. Andrews church was ‘The Evidence against evolution.’ He was (unfortunately) informed that three scientists- a mathematician and two biologists from the local University would be present. He switched talks (pulled a different CD from his travel case) at the last minute. All the churchgoers were expecting the evolution scree. There are three lessons here: 1) Creationists must be confronted at places where they feel ‘safe.’ 2) This situation has happened to Brian before and he is prepared (to duck). 3) Creationists are polished public speakers (slicksters/ huxters) with a convincing demeanor and facile delivery. Verbal engagement must be so devastating factually that the speaker has no appeal to the emotions of an emotive audience.

  28. says

    Phew. I try to hit the ScienceBlogs site over the weekend more often. I am gone for 2 days and I have like 20 of PZ’s posts to read and 15 people respond to. Yikes.

    Ok, well, let me try to respond to a couple of your posts. I probably won’t be able to answer everyone though. It would take too long.

    Steve C~ Well, I don’t think the comments section of PZ’s blog is any place to make a case for anything. Especially one that has potential to range anywhere from biology to astronomy to geology to history. I would rather hang around here, chat with people occasionally, and when PZ posts something that I can nail down a point about then I will. That way these posts don’t go all over the charts and take up too much space. Keep the conversations a little more focused.

    Hank Fox~ ok, um. Great analogy. I had to read it a few times to figure out what I wanted to say to it. Really, I would agree with you. Recent history, like what you are using as an example, is fairly easy to nail down. There are documents and historical accounts to back up fact. But evolution supposedly happened millions of years ago. Far from observable past. So, I don’t see why discussion shouldn’t take place between creationists and evolutionists when all we are doing is duscussion how the findings can be interpretted. I would write more on this but I don’t want to ramble.

    djlactin~ yeah, I will walk right into your well laid trap. My deity had no beginning. He always has been and always will be. Eternal in every way. :) heh. There you go, run with it.

    David M~ sorry, I was busy over the weekend so I didn’t get to answer anyone’s comments.

    Graculus~ yeah, I love talkorigins. I actually go there quite often. Although, as a designer, the site is horribly ugly. :)

    Well, I guess I will wait til next post now to say more.