ADL makes an official statement

After all the pious nonsense from certain quarters blaming scientists for the Holocaust and other atrocities, it seems appropriate to take note of the Anti-Defamation League’s response:

The film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed misappropriates the Holocaust and its imagery as a part of its political effort to discredit the scientific community which rejects so-called intelligent design theory.

Hitler did not need Darwin to devise his heinous plan to exterminate the Jewish people and Darwin and evolutionary theory cannot explain Hitler’s genocidal madness.

Using the Holocaust in order to tarnish those who promote the theory of evolution is outrageous and trivializes the complex factors that led to the mass extermination of European Jewry.

Poor Ben Stein, rebuked. Oh, well, he’ll recover … he’ll just notice that there are a heck of a lot of Jews in academia, and they’re in on the whole ‘Darwinist” conspiracy.

In related news, several sites are talking about this one quote from a Stein interview:

When we just saw that man, I think it was Mr. 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.

Wait…what? I say something nice about scientists, somewhere in the vault of his cranium wheels are turning and Stein is fantasizing about Nazis poisoning people, and this is my fault? It’s projection taken to an extreme.

I cannot blame Stein, however; he may be a stupid, illogical man with a serious derangement disorder, but I have a confession to make. I do the same thing. Not Nazis, specifically, but there is some evil imagery that does a slow dance in my brain now and then.

When I see those Visine commercials and hear Stein droning about “get the red out,” I picture Ben Stein sliding a cold razor across the eyes of a screaming victim, and then urinating in their face to wash the blood away. I can’t help it. It’s a natural connection to make, obviously.

Then there are those Alaskan sea food commercials. They are especially sinister. When he says, “Grab a fork, and eat all you want. There’s a lot more out there,” I picture the bodies of Stein’s victims sinking in the cold dark, pale and soft and bloated, down to the sea floor swarming with huge crab, their claws upraised and clicking enthusiastically as their meal drifts down towards them. And then I imagine Ben at a table with a plastic bib around his neck, feasting gluttonously on the fatted flesh of the crabs, butter and ichor and flecks of soft white meat drooling down his chin.

Oh, and when I hear the words “Bueller? Bueller?”, I … but no. It’s too appalling to be expressed in public. But I have nightmares about the kittens for days afterwards.

It’s perfectly OK for Stein to make these irrational and unwarranted accusations in response to innocuous, unconnected statements, because, after all, we all do it … don’t we? Isn’t that what the advertisers who hire Mr Stein as a pitchman are hoping for, that viewers will associate their product with the unrelated values that Stein represents, such as boredom, dishonesty, stupidity, water sports, serial murder, and flammable household products and baby animals?

Another expulsion vindicated

Last December, I mentioned the case of a creationist named Nathaniel Abraham who was fired from his job at Woods Hole — he had the gall to apply for a post-doctoral position in an evolution and development lab, and the PI dismissed him for being incapable of supporting the full range of “evolutionary implications and interpretations” of the work he would have to do. Abraham sued him for a half million dollars in reply.

The judge’s decision has been delivered.

A Massachusetts federal court judge last week (April 22) dismissed the case against a researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution who allegedly fired a postdoc in his lab because of the postdoc’s creationist beliefs.

The postdoc, Nathaniel Abraham, was dismissed from his position in the lab of molecular toxicologist Mark Hahn in November, 2004, after revealing that he believed in the literal truth of the Bible and considered evolution to be not a fact but a theory. Hahn’s lab studies the evolution of molecular mechanisms of chemical signaling and adaptation to chemical exposure.

Abraham filed a discrimination complaint against Hahn, which was rejected by the Massachusetts Commission against Discrimination. He then filed suit against Mark Hahn and the institute last November, arguing, according to court documents, that he had been hired to work in Hahn’s lab because of his expertise in zebrafish developmental biology, toxicology, and programmed cell death, and that “acceptance of evolution as scientific fact rather than theory (in contravention of his sincerely held religious beliefs) was in no way a bona fide occupational qualification of employment.”

The defendants, however, argued that Abraham did not file the lawsuit within the timeframe specified by law. Furthermore, the court documents stated, research in Hahn’s lab “would have involved application of evolutionary principles without qualifications concerning the acceptance of evolution.”

Good work!

As big as dinner plates?

Why is it that every time a journalist writes about large squid eyes, they’ve got to compare them to dinner plates? It’s so trite. How about hubcaps? Frisbees? How about just giving the dimensions and leaving it at that? Oh, well, I’ve had to miss most of the live webcasts of the colossal squid anatomy lesson, just because my schedule is horrid this week, but I’ve caught up with some of the details, thanks to the most excellent Te Papa Blog, which has nicely fleshed out the lessons with lots of photographs.

Last night’s Café Scientifique here in Morris was discussing the dumbing down of traditional media, and comparing coverage of scientific issues on TV and in newspapers (usually execrable) with new media, like blogs (which at least have the potential to actually provide depth.) I was struck by that difference here. Read the USA Today article on the colossal squid eye, which boils down to basically, “Oooh, they’re big!”. Then compare it to the blog entry on the colossal squid eye, written by a scientist. The latter is much more informative, and contains more specific details, and isn’t afraid to challenge the reader with words longer than a single syllable.

Evolution, with teeth

My last Seed column is online, which reminds me (as if I weren’t uncomfortably aware already) that I have to finish up the next one today, which actually isn’t the next one, which is already done and submitted, but the one after that. These long leading deadlines force one to live a few months in the future…

You know, if you subscribed to the print magazine, you’d be halfway to my future already instead of living in my distant past.

Wheaton is a weird place

Wheaton has a good academic reputation, but man, it’s the little things that make it frightening. I would not want to live in the theocratic world it represents. Hank Fox has a couple of stories about Wheaton.

The first is the blog of a recent graduate of Wheaton who determined halfway through his undergraduate education that he was an atheist. It sounds like it was rough. He’s ended the blog, though, with a statement that “…now that I’m slightly closer to the real world, I just don’t think it’s that important whether you’re an atheist or a Christian” — which is true. The differences are accentuated when you’re wrapped up in a culture that makes religious belief central to everything; when Christians back off and don’t make their ridiculous superstitions a prerequisite to participation in politics and everyday life, they are entirely tolerable. I think the anonymous student is a little bit optimistic in his confidence that religion won’t intrude on him as much in wider American culture, but perhaps compared to Wheaton, that’s also true.

The second is more disturbing. A professor of English at Wheaton got a divorce from his wife — which the university considers grounds for firing him. The college actually has staff people who assess faculty divorces to determine whether they meet “Biblical standards,” and if they don’t, pffft, you’re gone. This isn’t a guy who was doing substandard work, nor, as his comments reveal, did he abandon Christianity. Other faculty have lost their job for converting to Catholicism. This is just plain freaky: “Wheaton requires faculty and staff to sign a faith statement and adhere to standards of conduct in areas including marriage.”

Has anyone noticed that our evil secular universities do not monitor the personal beliefs of their faculty, and do not consider going to the church of your choice grounds for dismissal? We even let our students believe whatever they want!

If you’ve been wondering what Sean B. Carroll thinks of Expelled…

Here’s an interesting review of the movie that gets Carroll’s perspective on it. It mostly gets it right, especially in its argument that this movie is an attempt to swiftboat science.

“If you have a losing hand, you’re going to use every amount of rhetoric you can to distract people from the fact that you don’t have any facts,” Sean B. Carroll, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, told me in his lab last week. “And that’s what ‘Expelled’ is all about.”

Carroll is little too generous here…

Carroll had similar advice for today’s biologists: “The biology community will tell you that understanding genetics and evolution is fundamental to being a literate biologist. … Do you want your kids to be taught by people who are living in the 18th century? I don’t think so. They have a right to think these things or believe these things, but they have an obligation to be technically competent.”

18th century? Hah! In my recent debate with Angus Menuge (I keep meaning to write it up, but every time I recall that evening I fall asleep), I pointed out that one of the goals of the ID movement was to redefine science; he agreed, but said that what they wanted to do was restore the true meaning of science, to that of … Aristotle. I had to reply that apparently, then, they wanted to roll back progress by 25 centuries.

I do have to disagree with this bit in the review, though:

The movie also prods several interviewees who happen to be outspoken atheists – such as biologists Richard Dawkins and P.Z. Myers as well as philosopher Daniel Dennett – to indulge in some metaphysical speculation that goes beyond the biology (thus demonizing them for the movie’s core audience). The perspective from respected scientists who happen to be religious (for example, Francis Collins and Ken Miller) is largely lacking, although physicist-turned-priest John Polkinghorne is a welcome exception to the rule.

The result is that the film casts the debate largely along the false battle lines of science vs. religion. That rhetorical approach ironically builds up the very wall Ben Stein says he wants to tear down.

We were not indulging in metaphysical speculation — we were actually addressing the stated purpose of our interviews, which we were told were specifically about the intersection of science and religion, not about the scientific validity of intelligent design. We would have given very different interviews if we’d been asked about ID; that’s a subject both of us can discuss at length without mentioning religion at all, as the primary objection to it is that it isn’t science, and good science refutes it. It’s a little annoying to be constantly told that we were straying from the central premise of this movie, when we were actually doing our best to address the subject of the nonexistent movie for which we were told we were being interviewed.

But as for that last bit, the line separating science and religion is not a false one. That is ultimately the actual, central source of the conflict: how are you going to figure out how the world works, from inquiry into natural causes, or from metaphysics, superstition, and evidence-free revelation? That is a significant piece, even the central piece, of this long-running argument in our culture.

Solid Condell


I don’t know about this. All this concentrated wit and venom in one place could be dangerous … and three straight hours of Pat Condell? Whew. Get copies for your local ministers, and either they’ll die of fuming apoplexy or they’ll give extremely animated and entertaining sermons the next Sunday.

That’s right, the Richard Dawkins foundation is selling a DVD containing the distilled, consecutive output of Pat Condell’s youtube rants. Get one for your mother. Play them at your atheist group’s next meeting. I might just rip out the audio and put it on a CD for my next long drive. Hey, we’ve got these loud chimes that play hymns every hour in my neighborhood — I could crank up the speakers, aim them out the window, and play Condell in reply. I can think of quite a few militant activities I could carry out with wall-to-wall Condell.

Proposed site redesign

Since I changed my profile photo, the ideas for radical revision of the site have come pouring in. Here’s a possible new logo:

What do you think? I thought it was keen, until I read all the new speculation about why I was kicked out of a movie theater. Oh, no!

In the same freakishly weird spirit, here’s a new poll for you to crash: it asks what your favorite marine animal is, and the choices are otter, squid, blowfish, and “land animals are far superior”. You know what to do.

Can we please just establish this one principle?

Prayer doesn’t work. Enshrine it in the law — prayer is not a helpful action, but rather a neglectful one. Teach it in the schools — when the health class instructs students in how to make a tourniquet or do CPR, also explain that prayer is not an option. Faith in prayer kills people.

The Wisconsin parents who allowed their daughter to die in a diabetic coma because they believed prayer was sufficient aid have been charged with second degree reckless manslaughter. That seems about right to me.

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