I think the creationists would rather just forget about Expelled

As I’ve already mentioned, the makers of the Expelled movie have gone bankrupt, and the movie itself is on the auction block…and a few people on the side of goodness, light, and knowledge are making a bid to buy it. There’s some reasonable interest there: the Expelled crew did a lot of interviews, and only a small portion of them actually made it to the screen. Personally, I can tell you that they spent about three hours with me one afternoon, and maybe a minute of that total made it to the movie. I was actually surprised that that one bit was all that made the cut, and even it was absurdly innocuous — it made me suspect I’d been doing my teddy bear imitation that afternoon again.

Anyway, it’s a reasonable interest to get all the other stuff that was left on the cutting room floor, as the Panda’s Thumb bidders have already explained:

The auction promises that besides all available rights and interests in the finished film itself (there is an existing distribution contract), the winner will get all the production materials and rights to them. Want to know what was in the rest of the interviews with Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers? I know I would like to have that material archived and made available to the public, among other things that Premise Media found inconvenient to include in their film.

Alas, one of the writers for the movie, Kevin Miller, is having a hissy fit over this right now. It’s pathetically amusing. He’s now comparing his dishonest failure of a movie to The God Delusion, which he claims was also a forgotten flop, just like Expelled.

That said, it does strike me as rather odd to see all of you obsessing over gaining access to this film. If Expelled truly is an inconsequential piece of horseshit, I fail to see why it’s so important to gain access to the archives. I can’t imagine how pathetically you would view Christians who set about to do the same if they had the chance to get their hands on the original drafts, notes, etc. behind Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion,” for instance. The book was a full frontal attack on religion. But it’s arguments were so easily defeated that its relevance (and perceived threat to theism) quickly faded from view. I defy you to find a group of theists hunkered down in a shady corner of the internet talking about it right now. And I can hardly conceive of a group of Christians gleefully plotting to gain control of the rights so they could publish their own annotated version of the book. And if they did, I can hear you people mocking them mercilessly. And it would be well deserved, b/c it would be a pathetic form of behavior fear-based behavior. It would also be extremely telling in terms of the perceived threat “The God Delusion” represented. The fact that you’re still hunkered down over here chortling about “Expelled” three years later, full of vitriol and immediately defensive at the slightest criticism of your behavior is the most telling of all. Just an observation.

A full set of drafts and notes for The God Delusion would be a fascinating bit of scholarly minutia! It’s fairly common for well-known scholars to leave their notes and works to a library, because many people will be interested in how the ideas formed. And I think a collection of unused footage of Dawkins would have some interest; he’s also made public unused footage from his documentary “Root of All Evil?” in the past, to good reception. He’s not afraid to reveal the full content of his interviews.

It’s extremely silly to claim that The God Delusion has lost its relevance and faded from view. It’s sold over two million copies, and was on the New York Times bestseller list for almost a year. I’ll note, too, that Richard Dawkins isn’t the one gone bankrupt and left with a dud property on his hands that he’s trying to sell off to appease his creditors. And yes, Christians obsessed and are still obsessing over it. Look up “Dawkins’ fleas”: he practically sparked a whole industry of Christian apologists writing desperate rebuttals of the book. The Dawkins Delusion, Beyond the God Delusion, The Dawkins Letters, The God Delusion Revisited, Deluded by Dawkins, The God Solution, A Catholic Replies to Professor Dawkins, Darwin’s Angel, The Argument Against Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, The New Atheist Crusaders, The Truth Behind the New Atheism, The New Atheists: The Twilight of Reason and the War on Religion, God is no Delusion, Challenging Richard Dawkins, Mysterious Reality: God, the World and Ourselves in the Light of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, God and the New Atheism…you get the idea. I guarantee you, there are theists hunkered down right now kvetching about it.

We’re chortling over Expelled now, but for a different reason. It was a flop. It’s backers lost money and their reputation over it. It’s writer was exposed as an incompetent hack. The content of the movie was revealed to be a dishonest hash of mangled interviews. Their PR was a disaster from day one. And now my side is considering seizing it as a trophy. We’re chortling because it was a triumph for our side. I can understand why poor Kevin Miller might feel disgruntled about evolutionists cheering over the tattered corpse of his beloved baby…just as I can understand how Napoleon might have been a bit disgruntled about Waterloo, and found the British revelry entirely unsettling and annoying.

Too bad, Kevin. You lost.

Jonathan MacLatchie really is completely ineducable

It’s like talking to a brick wall: MacLatchie is appallingly obtuse. When last I argued with him, I pointed out that the major failing of his entire developmental argument against evolution was that it was built on a false premise. As I said then,

I can summarize it with one standard template: “Since Darwinian evolution predicts that development will conserve the evolutionary history of an organism, how do you account for feature X which doesn’t fit that model?” To which I can simply reply, “Evolution does not predict that development will conserve the evolutionary history of an organism, therefore your question is stupid.” It doesn’t matter how many X’s he drags out, given that the premise is false, the whole question is invalid.

So now MacLatchie revisits the debate, and what does he do? He just reiterates his flawed premises!

For those who want the bottom line, here it is. Myers thinks I’m worried about Haeckelian recapitulation. But that’s completely wrong. Neo-Darwinism itself predicts that early development, starting with fertilization, should be conserved.

And then just to make himself look even more stupid, he restates it in simple-minded logical terms.

The logic of my position takes a modus tollendo tollens form of argument:


1 If P then Q
2 ~ Q
3 ~ P

By instantiation in A


1 If the theory of common descent is true then early developmental stages should be conserved.
2 Early developmental stages are not conserved.
3 The theory of common descent is not true.

The argument is impeccable: Whence the disagreement?

And as if that were not enough, he closes his post by reiterating a variation of the same argument:


1 If the theory of common descent is true then mutations to early developmental stages should be beneficial.
2 Early developmental mutations are not beneficial.
3 The theory of common descent is not true.

Good god. After I lectured him about how early developmental stages are not conserved, after I wrote the same thing, after I posted a refutation of his claims by pointing out that his premise is false, he somehow thinks he can win me over by repeating his premises a little more loudly?

Let’s make this equally simple-minded and clear.

Neo-Darwinism does not predict that early development will be conserved.

If it did, since it is trivially observable that there is wide variation in the status of the embryo at fertilization, then neo-Darwinism would be refuted, and would have been falsified prior to its formulation. Yet somehow, people like me, like Pere Alberch who he cited last time and like Rudy Raff who he cites this time, have no problem with evolution while openly discussing the divergence in early embryos.

Think about that, MacLatchie. Isn’t it obvious that you must be missing something?

Here’s another counter-example: Ernst Mayr, about as authoritative a source as you can find on the neo-Darwinian synthesis, wrote a very negative assessment of the likelihood of any molecular homology in the 1960s, before lots of sequence information became available.

Much that has been learned about gene physiology makes it evident that the search for homologous genes is quite futile except in very close relatives (Dobzhansky 1955). If there is only one efficient solution for a certain functional demand, very different gene complexes will come up with the same solution, no matter how different the pathway by which it is achieved (Mayr 1966:609).

Mayr died in 2005, at a time when there was a wealth of comparative information on the ubiquity of conserved genes in development: not only wasn’t conservation of homologous developmental genes a prediction of evolutionary theory, but discovery that there were homologous sequences didn’t induce Mayr to recant evolution on his deathbed.

Is it sinking in yet?

Neo-Darwinism does not predict that early development will be conserved.

It is just freakin’ bizarre to see these guys falling all over themselves to declare that a specific prediction of evolutionary theory has been falsified, when they can’t even comprehend that it is the scientists studying the phenomenon who are handing them all the data that they think invalidates the scientists’ science. The closest thing I can find to it is those crazy creationists who claim that evolutionary theory requires junk DNA, so every time a minor function for any piece of DNA is found, they can claim evolution is refuted.

MacLatchie is hopelessly confused. That early stages should be more resistant to change is not a prediction of evolutionary theory; it’s an inference from molecular genetics, that genes at the base of a long chain of essential interactions ought to be less likely to vary between species. What that doesn’t take into account is that genes are part of the great cloud of environmental interactions that go on to generate a selectable function, and that if the environment in which the gene is expressed changes, it can enable great changes in the activity of the gene.

These early genes are a classic example of this phenomenon: what we see in many lineages is variation in the degree of maternal investment in the egg. It can be yolky, it can be low in yolk, it can have cytoplasmic determinants directly imbedded by maternal factors in the egg, or it can be mostly uniform and regulative. The early zygotic genes can be freed up for evolutionary novelties if their functions are assumed by maternal genes, so we can correlate a lot of this variation with variation in maternal investment.

It wouldn’t be a creationist paper without a quote mine, and MacLatchie does not fail: he quotes Rudolf Raff to support his claims. Rudolf Raff! One of the founders of the whole field of evo-devo! Dragooned into supposedly supporting an Intelligent Design creationism claim! These guys have no shame at all.

Unfortunately, I haven’t read the specific paper MacLatchie cites, but I’m familiar with the work: this is Raff’s beautiful examination of two closely related urchin species, Heliocidaris erythrogramma and H. tuberculata, which are practically indistinguishable in their adult morphology but have radically different embryos. Here’s the abstract, at least, from the paper MacLatchie chose to distort:

Larval forms are highly conserved in evolution, and phylogeneticists have used shared larval features to link disparate phyla. Despite long-term conservation, early development has in some cases evolved radically. Analysis of evolutionary change depends on identification of homologues, and this concept of descent with modification applies to embryo cells and territories as well. Difficulties arise because evolutionary changes in development can obscure homologies. Even more difficult, threshold effects can yield changes in process whereby apparently homologous features can arise from new precursors or pathways. We have observed phenomena of this type in closely related sea urchins that differ in developmental mode. A species developing via a complex feeding larva and its congener, which develops directly, have different embryonic cell lineages and divergent patterns of early development, but converge on the adult sea urchin body plan. Despite differences in embryonic developmental pathways, conserved gene expression territories are evident, as are territories whose homologies are in doubt. The highly derived development of the direct developer evidently arises from an interplay of novel organization of the egg, loss of expression of regulatory gene involved in production of feeding larval features, and changes in site and timing of expression of a number of genes.

I’ve highlighted the relevant part of the story for poor blind MacLatchie. One species is a direct developer: it lays a large yolk-rich egg which develops directly into the round spiky adult form. The other is an indirect developer, which lays a less yolky egg which first forms a feeding ciliated larva which swims about eating before making a metamorphosis into the adult form. These are radically different embryonic forms.

Gosh, I guess evolution is false.

But no! Remember, neo-Darwinism does not predict that early development will be conserved.

The explanation is given right there in Raff’s abstract, which MacLatchie must have read, and equally obviously must not have understood. Raff does, though: he understands that there were evolutionary changes in “novel organization of the egg, loss of expression of regulatory gene involved in production of feeding larval features, and changes in site and timing of expression of a number of genes,” all phenomena entirely compatible with evolutionary theory.

As one last instance of the muddled logic of Jonathan MacLatchie, I will leave you with two quotes from him. The first is from his last article on this subject:

At best, all his case demonstrated was common ancestry — a proposition which is perfectly compatible with intelligent design.

This is a common statement from creationists like Behe, who also say they have no problem with common descent, it’s just that they don’t accept that mutation and selection and natural processes could possibly have done the job. So MacLatchie is just stating the nominal, default, superficial position of many Intelligent Design creationists.

This time around, though, he says this:

If common descent is true, however, early development must somehow evolve via mutations.

Oh, really? Which is it going to be? Does he think common descent is true or not true?

He doesn’t need to answer, I already know it: whichever claim suits his current rhetorical purposes.

I’m so over Pirates of the Caribbean now

I finally saw Pirates of the Caribbean 4: On Stranger Tides tonight, and I’ve got to say…Tim Powers was robbed. It was a mess of a movie that wobbled from point to point, with no sense behind it, and a plot that had nothing to do with what I expected.

Skip the theater and read the book, On Stranger Tides, instead. This movie could have been stunning if it had simply used that wild and thrilling story from Powers, instead of stealing only the title, giving a feeble acknowledgment (“Story suggested by Tim Powers”), and then ignoring everything in the book.

Someday, I would like to see something by Powers given the full movie treatment. If not On Stranger Tides, somebody should take a shot at The Anubis Gates, the best damn time-travel novel ever written. It would beat the pale and hackneyed writing that characterizes most SF movies nowadays, that are little more than clumsily plotted vehicles for CGI and confusingly violent action.

Also, this movie didn’t have any cephalopods in it. Not a glimpse of even a single tentacle.