Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Expelled - No Entertainment Allowed

I'm going to put preparing to believe on hold for a little while in order to appropriately review the blockbuster documentary Expelled - No Intelligence Allowed. Since Ken the Ham doesn't have much truck with the Intelligent Design guys I think I can honestly critique this mess without losing ground in changing my worldview to a more fundamental perspective.

The whole thing is fairly well done in a Michael Moorish way, complete with badly lit, heavily edited, sweaty, atheistic "Darwinists" with bad teeth and I'm sure equally heavily edited, glowingly lit, earnest, reasonable young scientists whose only crime is that they apparently can't do science. And the reason they can't "do" science is not because they lack a coherent testable hypothesis but because they are being suppressed by some sort of monolithic Darwinist establishment. What is Intelligent Design? Beats me. It is apparently a mystery to its practitioners, too. Along the way someone mumbles something about Intelligent Design being the theory that some structures are better explained as a result of actions by an Intelligent agency. Which structures is left unsaid, not to mention how or when. Dembski assures us he has a reliable design detector and it's only a matter of applying engineering principles to ferret out the details. Let's get crackin', Bill. We see novel structures emerge all the time in bacteria. We should be able to catch that pesky designer in flagrento designo. Using engineering principles, of course. Nowhere are we given a review of modern evolutionary theory except for a cartoon version of mutation and selection. At one point, someone (I think it's Berlinski) says evolutionary theory is so inconsistent that it can't even identify what a species is (which would seem to be a point in favor of common ancestry to me) . A little later, Jonathan "the Rev. Moon wants me to destroy evolution" Wells defines evolution as change within species. It is almost as though these Discovery Institute guys have been beaten about the head so severely by Darwinists that they have forgotten everything they ever learned about evolutionary theory.

My favorite part of the movie involves Ben Stein flying to Paris to interview Super Dave Berlinski. As usual, Ben meets him in the street and they wander over to Dave's pad to get the lowdown. This is one major quibble I have with the film's production values. It seems for every two minute interview we get a five minute preliminary of Stein wandering around the scenery looking either confused or, later in the film, doggedly determined and even later, determinedly confused. This all had me doggedly looking for the fast forward on my remote. On the stroll over we learn what a giant cranium Berlinski has. Princeton, Stanford, Rutgers. This guy has done it all and, to listen to him, knows it all. He also lives in the oldest house in Paris and he can even say "After you" in French (I guess). Stein can say "Thank you." (I'm sure of that one). Being a douche bag in one language isn't enough for these two Type A intellects. During the interview Berlinski reclines in this bizarre futuristic papa-san chair which gives us a great look up his nose while he's looking down his nose at evolutionary biologists. Stein perches at his feet like a puppy, knowing that, at least on this occasion, he has been out polymathed. Berlinski suffers from "Smartest Guy in the Room Syndrome", a syndrome which I myself have also fallen victim to. Only it was a small room. and it was just me and the dog (badda boom). Leaning back against the chair to increase blood flow and for added support of his huge, overactive melon he pontificates on the hierarchy of the sciences: pure mathematics first, followed by physics, and with evolutionary theory bringing up the rear, somewhere behind phrenology. I guess tens of thousands of lifetimes spent gathering data and thousands of tests and fulfilled predictions don't qualify as rigorous. If only there were someone with a massive enough intellect to spot the problems and turn this ship around before another 150 years are wasted. Maybe Berlinski is the One. Somebody call Oprah.

We start the film with a complete non-sequitor from Stein as he smugly asks "How did life begin?" (a chemistry question in an evolutionary biology class), transition to a series of outright lies concerning Sternberg and Crocker losing their jobs (Sternberg was never employed by the Smithsonian which makes losing a job at the Smithsonian kind of problematic and Crocker didn't have her contract renewed for refusing to teach what she was hired to teach), wander off the rails a little bit with more smug non-sequitors directed at the religious beliefs of famous biologists and somehow end up with Darwin and his damned finches being responsible for the Holocaust. Not a mention of Collins, Miller, and countless other scientists who seem to find room for religion and evolutionary biology in their lives. Along the way Ben becomes increasingly concerned and emotional (I guess, hard to tell) and ends up burying his head in his hands when he realizes it was Darwin, not Hitler, who killed off his relatives. Not only does this propaganda piece hit all the logical fallacies, it adds a patina of misinformation so subtle that it takes quite a bit of digging around to get the real story. Goebbels would be proud.

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. "

Thursday, November 06, 2008

America Gets Group Hug from Obama Nation

If all politics is local, effective politics is personal. The local paper is scratching its head trying to explain the precipitous decline in support of the Republican nominee from 77% in 2004 to a mere 66% in Tuesday's election. For a party that has had a stranglehold on our local elections since Lincoln, the lack of any sort of ground game, especially a face to face outreach to any undecideds, is astonishing. The Republican effort seemed limited to an ample supply of yard signs, one Sarah Palin's Traveling Circus rally just north of here and the annual chicken corn soup picnic. At no time was I ever contacted by an actual person acting on behalf of the McCain campaign. What I received was an unending series of robo-calls from anonymous voices telling me why Obama is wrong for American. I can't recall receiving any telling me why McCain was right for America. I even got suckered into participating in what I thought was a voter's survey. I should have realized right off that something was fishy when the lead question was whether I was more concerned about the economy or partial birth abortion. Being one of the duller knives in the drawer, I played along until I realized any answer to any question led to a canned negative statement about an Obama position. Wasting a couple of minutes until I had my "Hey, wait a second...." moment just ended up pissing me off. I imagine I was not alone in this. I got exactly one robo-call from the Democrats, a message from my buddy Bill Clinton urging me to vote and telling me where and when the polls opened.

My wife volunteered for the Obama campaign. She took the day off work to help get out the vote, work the polls and volunteer at the headquarters. Since the convention she would receive text messages from the campaign, asking what she thought of the debates or telling her where rallies were going to be held. Multiply that by thousands of districts, with tens of thousands of volunteers being made to feel that they count and are part of something bigger and more importantly, that they are making a difference. This happened all over the country, in latte sipping burbs and hillbilly heavens alike.

That was the brilliance of the Obama campaign. They used high tech communications to advance old style politics. They humanized the process. My district may never become one where Democrats can compete but there is a big foot in the door now. And it can't bode well for the future of the Republican party that, for the first time ever, the local high school went for the Democratic candidate. People will remember the smiling lady with the Obama button who offered them coffee while they were standing in line at the polls or the polite young black students who came to their door to offer them some literature. The "other" has a face now and somehow they seem not so very different.