Monday, March 31, 2008
Posted by Rich Rodriguez at 11:39 PM
On Wednesday, my colleague Maggie and I went to an advance screening of Ben Stein's upcoming documentary, Expelled: No intelligence allowed. It purports to be about threats to academic freedom, but it seemed more like a pro-religion, pro-intelligent design propaganda film that looks like a bad Michael Moore rip-off.
Are ID proponents being silenced?
The film was just silly, with virtually zero scientific content, which, of course, is not surprising coming from Ben Stein - a comedian, speech writer and game show host . . . but not a scientist.
I'm hopeful that anyone with the least bit of intelligence (no pun intended) will see straight through the film's hokey attempts to distract viewers from the lack of scientific credibility with appeals to their emotions - like the dark lighting, foreboding music and harsh camera angles that set the scene for Stein's interview with - dun dun dun - biologist Richard Dawkins, an avowed atheist.
Or worse, the countless images and references to Nazis that culminate in Stein dopily wandering through the Dachau concentration camp pondering the ways in which the "Darwinian gospel" was a "necessary but not sufficient condition" for the atrocities that took place there.
But the real silliness came after the credits rolled, when the audience had a chance to pose questions to Mark Mathis, the film's producer.
One woman said it was morally reprehensible to equate the death of six million Jews with Darwin. I clapped, and was astounded when nearly everyone else remained silent.
I shot my hand up to ask a question. "The intelligent design movement has gone to great lengths to argue that intelligent design is not religion, that it's science. And you made a whole film arguing that it is religious. How do they react to that?"
"Well," Mathis said, "I guess it makes them a little uncomfortable."
Some arguing ensued concerning the scientific merits of ID, and someone asked, "Where's the evidence? Where are the peer reviewed papers?" to which Mathis proudly proclaimed, "Actually, there are ten peer reviewed papers."
A guy in the front row scoffed. "Ten papers?" he asked sarcastically.
Mathis told the guy not to interrupt, and then mockingly called him "Mr Darwinist." Zing!
He began calling on others in the crowd, who asked friendlier questions. But Maggie and I quickly realised that we'd seen some of these people before - earlier that evening, in fact, working at the movie's registration table. These friendly audience members worked for the film? Had Mathis planted questioners?
People asked what they could do to help the film succeed, and a young woman in the front row inquired: "How can I pray for you and for the movie?" Mathis grew excited. "We need to start a grass roots movement!" he said, encouraging people to tell their "networks" about the movie and to get as many people as they could to go on opening weekend.
Another man in the front row wondered about the film's premise that supporters of ID are being silenced. He pointed out that a recent trial about the teaching of intelligent design held in Dover, Pennsylvania, gave supporters of intelligent design all the time in the world to make their case, but most of the 'leading lights' of ID didn't even show up.
When Mathis was responding, the guy asked another question, and the producer shot back, "How about you let me finish talking?" Then, a security guard for the film approached the calmly seated man and told him, "I may have to ask you to leave."
"Does anyone else see how ironic this is?" the guy asked.
"Shut up!" someone shouted from the back.
I had another question to ask and held my hand up high, but Mathis called on anyone and everyone else who appeared to be more sympathetic. Finally, he looked at his watch and said, "Well, I think that's all the time we have," and began to walk out. I followed him out into the lobby to speak with him.
I said that the film spent a lot of time making the point that proponents of evolution can't explain how life arose from non-life, and asked how intelligent design explains it.
It doesn't, he acknowledged. "Then don't you think it's strange that you tried to pin that on the scientists?" I asked.
"Well, it's a real hole in their theory," he said.
"Actually, it's not - the theory of evolution never purported to touch on the issue of how life arose from non-life, it's about how species arose from other species."
I said that in science, criticising someone else's theory doesn't make your theory right, and that the film never bothers to say how intelligent design explains anything at all. He countered that intelligent design says there are things that are too complex to be explained by natural selection.
I asked how ID explains the complexity, but he said, "I don't have time for this," and walked away.
Throughout the entire experience, Maggie and I couldn't help feeling that the polarised audience in the theater was a sort of microcosm of America, and let me tell you - it's a scary place. I also couldn't help thinking that the intelligent design folks aren't being silenced, so much as they're being silent. Because when it comes to actually explaining anything, they've got nothing to say.
15-month-old girl died from untreated infection, authorities sayMon., March. 31, 2008
OREGON CITY, Ore. - A couple whose church preaches against medical care are facing criminal charges after their young daughter died of an infection that authorities said went untreated.
Carl and Raylene Worthington were indicted Friday on charges of manslaughter and criminal mistreatment in the death of their 15-month-old daughter Ava. They belong to the Followers of Christ Church, whose members have a history of treating gravely ill children only with prayer.
Ava died March 2 of bronchial pneumonia and a blood infection. The state medical examiner’s office has said she could have been treated with antibiotics.
Dr. Christopher Young, a deputy state medical examiner, said the child’s breathing was further hampered by a benign cyst on her neck that had never been medically addressed, The Oregonian reported.
Laws passed in the 1990s struck down legal shields for faith-healing parents after the deaths of several children whose parents were members of the fundamentalist church.
Since those laws took effect in 1999, “We haven’t seen any cases of significant medical neglect ... until now,” said child abuse Detective Jeff Green of the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office.
The Worthingtons could face more than six years if convicted on the manslaughter charges and up to a year on the mistreatment charges, said Greg Horner, chief deputy district attorney. They were released on $250,000 bail, he said.
Horner said he didn’t know whether the couple had lawyers to speak for them. A number listed for the couple was disconnected. A man who answered the phone at the church Monday would not identify himself and said: “We’ve been told ’No comment.”’
The Worthingtons also lost a baby boy in 2001, but an investigation was closed after family members told police the child was stillborn. Several other Followers of Christ children have also been stillborn or died during home births in recent years, and none of the deaths resulted in criminal charges, authorities have said.
Saturday, March 29, 2008
If you are an educated Christian, I would like to talk with you today about an important and interesting question. Have you ever thought about using your college education to think about your faith? Your life and your career demand that you behave and act rationally. Let’s apply your critical thinking skills as we discuss 10 simple questions about your religion.
MOSCOW - Seven women who had holed up in a cave for months with other members of a Russian cult awaiting the end of the world emerged Friday night and were being treated by emergency workers, regional officials said.
More than two dozen others remained behind but were expected to come out as early as Saturday, the governor's office said.
About 35 members of the Christian cult entered the cave near the village of Nikolskoye, 400 miles southeast of Moscow, in early November to await the end of the world, which they expected in May. They threatened to detonate gas canisters if police tried to remove them by force.The vice governor of the Penza region, Oleg Melnichenko, said in televised comments that the seven women came out voluntarily, carrying satchels with their belongings. He said the cult leader, the self-declared prophet Pyotr Kuznetsov, was brought from a local psychiatric hospital to help persuade the women to leave.
He said the women walked on their own nearly a mile to a prayer house, where emergency workers were talking with them, the RIA-Novosti news agency reported.
"There is no reason to urgently hospitalize any of them," Melnichenko was quoted as saying.
Four children still reported in cave
Melnichenko said officials feared that melting snow could eventually lead to the collapse of the cave, but there was no immediate threat to those who remained behind.
Officials had repeatedly enlisted the help of priests from the Orthodox Church in an effort to persuade the group to leave, communicating mainly through a small chimney pipe that poked up through the snowy hillside.
Earlier this week, Melnichenko told reporters that some of the cult members had indicated they might leave the cave on Orthodox Easter, which is April 27.
Leader in psychiatric hospital
An engineer from a devout family, Kuznetsov, who goes by the title of Father Pyotr, declared himself a prophet several years ago. He left his family and established the True Russian Orthodox Church and recruited followers in Russia and Belarus.
He reportedly told followers that, in the afterlife, they would judge whether others deserved heaven or hell.
Followers were not allowed to watch television, listen to the radio or handle money, Russian media reported.
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Monday, March 24, 2008
I just got back from the American Atheist Convention in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I had a great time, and was completely surrounded by the company of intelligent and enlightening personalities. The convention started with an impassioned speech by Ellen Johnson (president of American Atheist). She reminded those present, that we non-believers comprised 11% of the voting population in 2004. She declared that we should remind politicians of our influence and demand that they cater to our voting block (which is larger than the Hispanic and Jewish block).
(Nicole Smalkowski and myself at the convention)
(Discussing the future)
3 Atheist Musicians (Cello - Piano - Cello)
Eddie Tabash gave a variant of his famous 1stAmendment speech – This speech had the whole of those present standing in ovation to his amazing message.
Here is a link to version of it:
Richard Dawkins was of course a crowd favorite. Richard started his speech with a recounting of the Expelled movie screening, he and fellow biologist PZ Meyers attended the previous night. Dawkins announced that PZ Meyers had been expelled from the screening of Expelled! Apparently the film’s producer threatened to have PZ arrested if he attempted to enter the theater. You can read more about that story here:
A few authors present at the convention were Rene Salm and Lawrence Krauss.
Rene’s new book is called The Myth of Nazareth – The invented Town of Jesus. In the book, Mr. Salm claims that new archeology has conclusively shown the town thought to be where Yeshua was born to not have been in existence at the time of his so called birth. It was a very interesting presentation and peeked my interest enough for me to buy the book.
Lawrence Krauss’s presentation was 2nd only to Mr. Tabash at the convention. Krauss is a world renown cosmologist and has recently been featured in Scientific American for his “End of Cosmology” piece. His new book is titled “ Hiding in the Mirror “ and was highly sought after following his humorous but enlightening presentation on the subject of Cosmology.
(Will Lardinois, Margaret Downey and myself)
Last but not least, I have to say the brightest light at the convention was the ever charming and eternally witty – Margaret Downey. Two minutes with the Goddess of Reason can change any man’s life – She is the most openly friendly, charming and intelligent woman I have ever met. Even though this was my second encounter with her, the Siren was just as enthralling as ever.
(36 Oz Fat Tire - L'chayim!)
Overall, it was a great time and I look forward to the AAI convention in Sept.
P.S. This is what happens when your the first to pass out:
(OJ dreaming of Moroni and his Magic underpants)
From the Huffington Post:
He did not say that the mess he is in has as much to do with religion as with racism--and, indeed, religion is the reason why our political discourse in this country is so scandalously stupid. As Christopher Hitchens observed in Slate months ago, one glance at the website of the Trinity United Church of Christ should have convinced anyone that Obama's connection to Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. would be a problem at some point in this campaign. Why couldn't Obama just cut his ties to his church and move on?
Well, among other inexpediencies, this might have put his faith in Jesus in question. After all, Reverend Wright was the man who brought him to the "foot of the cross." Might the Senator from Illinois be unsure whether the Creator of the universe brought forth his only Son from the womb of a Galilean virgin, taught him the carpenter's trade, and then had him crucified for our benefit? Few suspicions could be more damaging in American politics today.
The stultifying effect of religion is everywhere to be seen in the 2008 Presidential campaign. The faith of the candidates has been a constant concern in the Republican contest, of course--where John McCain, lacking the expected aura of born-again bamboozlement, has been struggling to entice some proper religious maniacs to his cause. He now finds himself in the compassionate embrace of Pastor John Hagee, a man who claims to know that a global war will soon precipitate the Rapture and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ (problem solved). Prior to McCain's ascendancy, we saw Governor Mitt Romney driven from the field by a Creationist yokel and his sectarian hordes. And this, despite the fact that the governor had been wearing consecrated Mormon underpants all the while, whose powers of protection are as yet unrecognized by Evangelicals.
Like every candidate, Obama must appeal to millions of voters who believe that without religion, most of us would spend our days raping and killing our neighbors and stealing their pornography. Examples of well-behaved and comparatively atheistic societies like Sweden, Finland, Norway, and Denmark--which surpass us in terrestrial virtues like education, health, public generosity, per capita aid to the developing world, and low rates of violent crime and infant mortality--are of no interest to our electorate whatsoever. It is, of course, good to know that people like Reverend Wright occasionally do help the poor, feed the hungry, and care for the sick. But wouldn't it be better to do these things for reasons that are not manifestly delusional? Can we care for one another without believing that Jesus Christ rose from the dead and is now listening to our thoughts?
Yes we can.
Happily, Obama did a fine job of distancing himself from Reverend Wright's divisive views on racism in America, along with his fatuous "chickens come home to roost" assessment of our war against Islamic terrorism. But he did not (and should not) acknowledge that the worst parts of Reverend Wright's sermons, as with most sermons, are his appeals to the empty hopes and baseless fears of his parishioners--people who could surely find better ways of advancing their interests in this world, if only they could banish the fiction of a world to come.
Obama did not say that religion's effect on our society, and on the black community especially, has been destructive--and where it has seemed constructive it has generally taken the place of better things. Religion unites, motivates, and consoles beleaguered people not with knowledge, but with superstition and false promises. Surely there is a better way to bring people together in the 21st century. The truth is, despite the toothsomeness of his campaign slogan, we are not yet the people we have been waiting for. And if we don't start talking sense to our children, they won't be the ones we are waiting for either.
Obama was surely wise not to mention that Christianity was, without question, the great enabler of slavery in this country. The Confederate soldiers who eagerly laid down their lives at three times the rate of Union men, for the pleasure of keeping blacks in bondage and using them as farm equipment, did so with the conscious understanding that they were doing the Lord's work. After Reconstruction, religion united Southern whites in their racist hatred and the black community in its squalor--inuring men and women on both sides to injustice far more efficiently than it inspired them to overcome it.
The problem of religious fatalism, ignorance, and false hope, while plain to see in most religious contexts, is now especially obvious in the black community. The popularity of "prosperity gospel" is perhaps the most galling example: where unctuous crooks like T.D. Jakes and Creflo Dollar persuade undereducated and underprivileged men and women to pray for wealth, while tithing what little wealth they have to their corrupt and swollen ministries. Men like Jakes and Dollar, whatever occasional good they may do, are unconscionable predators and curators of human ignorance. Is it too soon to say this in American politics? Yes it is.
Despite all that he does not and cannot say, Obama's candidacy is genuinely thrilling: his heart is clearly in the right place; he is an order of magnitude more intelligent than the current occupant of the Oval Office; and he still stands a decent chance of becoming the next President of the United States. His election in November really would be a triumph of hope.
But Obama's candidacy is also depressing, for it demonstrates that even a person of the greatest candor and eloquence must still claim to believe the unbelievable in order to have a political career in this country. We may be ready for the audacity of hope. Will we ever be ready for the audacity of reason?
Sam Harris is the author "The End of Faith" and "Letter to a Christian Nation." He can be reached at www.samharris.org
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
ScienceDaily (Mar. 19, 2008) — If you are reading this, you did not start your life by hatching from an egg. This is one of the many traits that you share with our mammalian relatives. A new article explores the genetic changes that led mammals to feed their young via the placenta and with milk, rather then via the egg, and finds that these changes occurred fairly gradually in our evolutionary history. The paper shows that milk-protein genes arose in a common ancestor of all existing mammalian lineages and preceded the loss of the genes that encoded egg proteins. There are three living types of mammals: placental mammals (you, me, dogs, sheep, tigers, etc.), marsupial mammals (found in Australasia and South America, including kangaroos and possums), and monotremes (the duck-billed platypus and two species of Echidna). The reproductive strategies of these three groups are very different. Placental mammals have long pregnancies and complicated placentas that provide nourishment to the embryo, followed by a relatively short period of lactation. Marsupials have a simpler form of placenta and much shorter pregnancies, followed by an extended period where the offspring is fed milk that changes in composition to meet the baby's altering nutritional needs. Monotremes--once a diverse group, but now restricted both in species number and distribution--have a much more reptilian beginning, as they lay eggs filled with yolk. While they do feed their young with milk, it is secreted onto a patch of skin rather then from a teat. How did these different strategies arise from our reptilian ancestors?
A new paper by David Brawand, Walter Wahli, and Henrik Kaessmann investigates the transition in offspring nutrition by comparing the genes of representatives of these three different mammalian lineages with those of the chicken--an egg-laying, milkless control. The authors found that there are similar genetic regions in all three mammalian lineages, suggesting that the genes for casein (a protein found in milk) arose in the mammalian common ancestor between 200 and 310 million years ago, prior to the evolution of the placenta.
Eggs contain a protein called vitellogenin as a major nutrient source. The authors looked for the genes associated with the production of vitellogenin, of which there are three in the chicken. They found that while monotremes still have one functional vitellogenin gene, in placental and marsupial mammals, all three have become pseudogenes (regions of the DNA that still closely resemble the functional gene, but which contain a few differences that have effectively turned the gene off). The gene-to-pseudogene transitions happened sequentially for the three genes, with the last one losing functionality 30-70 million years ago.
Therefore, mammals already had milk before they stopped laying eggs. Lactation reduced dependency on the egg as a source of nutrition for developing offspring, and the egg was abandoned completely in the marsupial and placental mammals in favor of the placenta. This meant that the genes associated with egg production gradually mutated, becoming pseudogenes, without affecting the fitness of the mammalian lineages.
Journal reference: Brawand D, Wahli W, Kaessmann H (2008) Loss of egg yolk genes in mammals and the origin of lactation and placentation. PLoS Biol 6(3): e63. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0060063
Monday, March 17, 2008
Machines 'to match man by 2029'
By Helen Briggs | news.bbc.co.uk
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Monday, March 10, 2008