I generally favor the idea of teaching comparative religion…

…but there is a good argument against it: many religions are sickening.

Wow, that set you guys on fire. Just to clarify: I think Wilders is a flaming nutcase; I deplore his racist angle and his desire to exclude and oppress rather than educate.

However, here is the problem: when people ask me if we should keep religion away from kids, I say no: I think comparative religion classes are an excellent idea. Think about this, though. Would such a class show beheadings? How about voluntary crucifixions in the Phillipines? Jim Jones? Suicide bombings? I think we know the answer. Even here, where there is little sympathy for religion, people are horrified at the idea of showing the worst of religion — “oh, that’s not real Islam,” they say, but I have to reply that yes, that’s the reality of faith. Of course not everyone favors violence and it’s only a minority that commit the real atrocities, but the oppression is there.

Anyway, my point was that if we did teach comparative religion, it would be weak tea that favored faith by censoring out the worst of it, or it would be a class tainted with such appalling horror that all of us liberals would be yanking our children out of it.

(But no, Wilders’ film would not be appropriate as educational material either — it’s too dishonest. Some of the elements in it, including some of the most shocking bits, are genuine, though.)

Point and laugh

Sometimes, people wonder if criticizing creationists brings more attention to them than they deserve — it’s a weird dynamic on the web, where we measure popularity by traffic (unfortunately), so referencing the bad guys sends them traffic, which seems to increase their apparent popularity. There’s no way around it, because that’s the way it works.

So we’ve always got people urging stasis — don’t raise a ruckus, keep mum, hush, don’t draw more attention to the crappy, crazy creationists — and they mean well, but they’re wrong. I say we need to be loud and tell everyone about them. We need to point and laugh. Really, it works. It does bring more attention to them, and I think there is a certain movie that will have more viewers than it would otherwise, but it’s all people seeing people point and laugh and going into it with a more skeptical, critical attitude, and that’s a win for us. They get to take home a little more money, but we have more people willing to point and laugh, and that’s the currency I’m gambling for.

One of the rascals at AtBC (not the one who is a witch) dug up an interesting Alexa comparison of traffic to my site (actually, the whole of scienceblogs, but I own an embarrassingly large percentage of that — please do go to the entry page and say hello to some other worthy blogs, won’t you?) and to that movie site. Guess which one is the gently rolling prairie beneath the craggy mountain peaks?

At a recent phone conference, the possessors of the tiny little red line claimed to have achieved massive popularity on the web last week, and even said they had the #1 spot for popularity at that time…but I think you can tell who was actually winning that little competition for eyeballs, and who was fibbing again.

You can go ahead and tell me to shut up, but you better be careful — I might point and laugh instead.

By the way, I mentioned that a bunch of reporters had contacted me about the recent chaos at the conference call — almost all of them are from very small outfits, mostly religious newspapers and sites. I suspect that the big newspapers have given up on Expelled as fluff and noise, and no longer newsworthy. We’re getting our cake and eating it, too! It’s also amusing that the producers are still trying to buy an audience.

Carnivalia and an open thread

The Tangled Bank

The next Tangled Bank will be at Further Thoughts on 2 April — it’s time to send those links in to me or host@tangledbank.net.

Meanwhile, get inspired to write some Tangled Bank-worthy posts by reading these fine carnivals.

I’m off at this conference, so my time is a little tight right now. But I will mention that I had a nice panel discussion yesterday with Aaron Barlow and Barbara Fister, organized by the great minds at Free Exchange.

The simple falsehood at the heart of Expelled

I have to make this really, really simple for the “Hitler was an evolutionist” dimwits.

There is a central, incredibly obvious fact in Darwin’s insight.

If members of a population die or are killed off, they will leave no descendants for subsequent generations.

It isn’t razzle-dazzle genius. Any idiot can figure that one out — and many idiots have. Farmers have known it for millennia, when they set aside particularly fruitful seed stock or especially robust farm animals for breeding, and eat the rest. Nazis used this elementary logic when they decided to exterminate Jews, gypsies, and homosexuals. Eugenicists used it when they wanted to argue for shifting the distribution of certain properties in a population.

It ain’t “Darwinism”. It’s self-evident, obvious, selbstverständlich, apparent, évidente, transparent. The KKK knows it, farmers know it, dog and horse breeders know it, the Nazis knew it, they didn’t need Darwin to spell it out for them. Blaming that on Darwin is awesomely stupid.

Darwin’s real contribution, the one that had everyone smacking themselves in the forehead and wondering why they didn’t think of it first, was the realization that the natural environment does the killing — that natural selection shapes heredity. The idea of culling populations is not only so easy that a hate-mongering cretin can think of it, but that weather, bacteria, viruses, parasites, predators, etc. have been doing it for eons, with no intelligence required, and that mindless microorganisms have been far greater agents of hereditary change than the worst the Nazis ever accomplished; does Charles Darwin also get the blame for that? Darwin realized that the environment has consequences and can shape the generation-by-generation passage of hereditary traits in populations, and that examination of the natural world reveals that it has been doing exactly that. He realized that ubiquitous forces that are so simple we take them for granted have been quietly and slowly sculpting our heredity since the beginning of life on earth.

When clueless creationists argue that Darwin led to Hitler, or worse, throw away buckets of money making elaborate propaganda films arguing such nonsense, it’s worse than inane. It’s as if they have completely missed the point of the idea they are damning.

I always aim to misbehave

Some of you know that the producers of Expelled had a conference call this afternoon…a carefully controlled, closed environment in which they would spout their nonsense and only take questions by email. I listened to it for a while, and yeah, it was the usual run-around. However, I dialed in a few minutes early, and got to listen to a tiresome five minutes of Leslie and Paul chatting away, during which time they mentioned the secret code (DUNH DUNH DUNNNNH!) for the two way calls. I know. Sloppy, unprofessional, and stupid, but that’s the way they work.

So … I redialed. (DUNH DUNH DUNNNNH!)

Then I listened along quietly until I could take no more.

They repeated the usual lies (the Minneapolis event was a private screening [which was publicly linked on the web, where any idiot could get to it]; their blog was #1 on blogpulse [near as I can tell, it wasn’t—it was my exposure of their hypocrisy that was #1]; they didn’t lie to get interviews [totally bogus], etc.). They made amusing contradictions. Walt Ruloff first claims that the genesis of the movie was in 2006, when he claims to have started investigating biotechnology and discovered that there are “questions that can’t be asked” and that people were suppressing information that called Darwinism into doubt — note, though, that he never stated what those unnameable questions are. A moment later Mark Mathis comes on to say that the subject of the film was a work in progress, that they hadn’t settled anything, and that the name wasn’t even decided upon. Come on, they registered expelledthemovie.com in early 2007, well before they asked us to be interviewed.

They threw out a bunch of softball questions to Ben Stein: “How can you be so intelligent and question Darwinism?”, I kid you not.

One good question got through on email: KMOX radio contested the claim that there was no distortion of the interviews of Dawkins and Myers because they surrounded the interviews with film clips of Nazis — I think it’s obvious how they were trying to bias the discussion, and I was floored by Stein’s reply. He wanted more goose-stepping Nazis all over the place.

This was all a great deal to stomach, but I restrained myself. Then Mathis really started to lie: he said that all anybody ever blogged about was distractions, and several times he claimed that we never addressed the content of the movie. Let’s set aside the rank hypocrisy of expelling the people interviewed in the movie from screenings so we couldn’t see it; it’s simply not true. We have blogged extensively on the ridiculous premise at the heart of the movie, that the Holocaust was a consequence of evolutionary theory.

Here’s one of my entries in this subject.

Here’s Richard Dawkins’ review, which discusses the bogus Nazi connection quite a bit. Josh Timonen, of the RDF, also saw the movie.

John Wilkins has an excellent post on Darwinism and racism.

The Panda’s Thumb has discussed the false connection several times.

So I interrupted. I said, in essence, hang on — you guys are spinning out a lot of lies here, you should be called on it. I gave a quick gloss on it, and said that, for instance, anti-semitism has a long history in Germany that preceded Darwin, and that they ought to look up the word “pogrom”. There was some mad rustling and flustering about on the other side of the phone some complaints, etc., and then one of them asked me to do the honorable thing and hang up…so I said yes, I would do the honorable thing and hang up while they continued the dishonorable thing and continued to lie.

Then I announced that if any reporters were listening in, they could contact me at pzmyers@gmail.com and I’d be happy to talk to them.

So excuse me, I’ve got a few dozen emails in my inbox right now.

More accounts of the press conference:

Why we need academic freedom…to question Newtonism

I’m writing this at an altitude of 37,000 feet, 7 miles up in the air. Now I’m not really afraid of flying — I am entirely confident that I’ll be able to post this sometime after I land — but if you think about it, it’s grounds for trepidation. This is insanely high, and I’m in this fragile tin can that is reliant on a constant stream of exploding jet fuel to keep from simply falling out of the sky … an event which I and the other passengers would not survive. I don’t want to dwell on it, of course, but I have put myself in a potentially lethal situation, and I have to do this regularly as part of my job. Why? Who is at fault for creating this culture of risk?

I blame Newton.

Newton was a wild-eyed lunatic, cruel and inconsiderate to his peers (actually, he was so arrogant he seems not to have regarded anyone as his peer), and he documented in excruciating, obsessive detail the behavior of falling objects, which includes the falling of living, breathing, caring people. He plotted mathematically and with complex formulae the rates that objects, including people, would fall, and the force with which they would strike the ground — it’s hard not to imagine him cackling with glee like a psychopathic child pulling the wings off flies as he calculated the trajectories of objects, like people, flying through space. He was a horrible man.

Look back over the worst tragedies of the twentieth century, this period of time when Newtonists have run amuck. We’ve been lofting people into the sky for well over a hundred years, and quite often, they’ve fallen down. How many have died due to the tyranny of the gravity Newton put into the hands of conscienceless materialist scientists? Examine Hitler’s record, for instance. He was an ardent Newtonist who put his Wehrmacht to evil purpose, building machines that used the wicked geometries of Newton to shatter Europe. Nazi artillery and tanks used Newton’s tools to strike at his righteous opponents. Who can forget the V2 rockets lofting into the air on tongues of F=ma (another Newtonist “theory”!) to then fall along Newtonian trajectories, showering death on the good Christians of England. Hitler also dreamed of firing his evil Newtonist weapons on America, and if we’d given him enough time, he would have succeeded…thanks to Newton.

Perhaps you want to argue that Newton is not to blame, that someone would have said the same thing; or perhaps you want to make the claim that the world would have been the same without his work. But that neglects an important fact: Newton killed hope. Once, I might have thought that I could survive falling if I watched my diet and were as light as a feather, but no — Newton’s cold equations dictate that no matter what I weigh, I’d fall just as fast, so in despair I have let myself go, just as, I can see, many of my fellow Midwesterners. We despair because of Newton, and seek forlorn solace in trying to increase our wind resistance.

And those equations! The force of gravity is described as g•M1•M2 / d2, and those little letters don’t stand for God, motherhood, marriage (heterosexual), and devotion. There is no room in Newtonism for the reassuring idea that my airplane is being cradled in the loving, supportive hands of an intelligent anti-gravity agent. Just the idea of opposing gravity is anathema to the intelligentsiac — they think gravity is a great thing, and don’t want to question it.

Try polling university physics departments sometime: you won’t find the faculty questioning Newton at all. Gravity is over and done with those people, with nothing left to learn, and they won’t tolerate even the slightest deviation from Newtonist dogma. An open-minded physicist who suggests even the tiniest revision to the “theory” — for instance, suggesting that maybe Newton got the exponent a little bit wrong, and gravity varies with the cube of the distance, and they laugh at you and refuse to give you tenure. Shouldn’t these questions be discussed? Are they so intolerant that they will allow no dissent at all?

Don’t be fooled. The catastrophic social consequences of falling demand that we question all of Newtonism.

*For instance, those feminists. Little known fact: bra-burning is actually an act of submission to Newtonist theories of gravity.