Dracil’s BlogJournal

May 4, 2008

Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial

Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial is a must-watch for anyone interested in learning more about Intelligent Design.  Since it’s part of PBS’s Nova series, you can watch it for free online, but it’s also available by DVD if you prefer that.

The show covers the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial from three years ago, from the the events leading up to the trial to a little afterward.  One thing to note which is interesting since Ben Stein and co. don’t mention it in Expelled is just how many anti-Intelligent Design people received death threats over just this trial, including the judge and the lead plaintiff.  And that’s not including the hate mail and other forms of hateful slander they received, nor the amount of lying done by the pro-ID people, including the regular folks.  Really makes those six people in Expelled (none of who were fired BTW) seem like nothing, and it highlights the REAL side that needs free speech in the United States.  There’s a large list of people who have been fired, forced to recant, physically assaulted, and received death threats just for teaching evolution or speaking out against Creationism/Intelligent Design.  Again, not a peep from Ben Stein about it at all.

Anyway, as far as the film goes, since cameras were not allowed at the actual trial, they had to hire actors to reenact the trial proceedings, but it catches all the major events of the trial.  From how the Discovery Institute pulled out of the trial after realizing that they were about to be crushed by the scientific evidence brought on by the plaintiff’s witnesses, to the infamous “cdesign proponentsits“, to Michael Behe admitting that under his definition of a scientific theory, even astrology would be a scientific theory.  About Behe, it’s really a shame that the Discovery Institute hung him out to dry, because he was actually quite a likable guy in Flock of Dodos, and of course, he was one of the only ones with the courage and conviction to stay and fight for his beliefs.

Again, if you’ve seen Expelled, you owe it to yourself to watch this, as well as Flock of Dodos to understand what the rest of us know about Ben Stein and co.’s motives with Expelled that you may not.

May 3, 2008

Florida anti-evolution bill dies

Evolution bills die in Legislature as session ends

But it’s like the evil dead.  We all know it’s going to crawl back from the grave, so keep those shotguns and chainsaws ready.  :)

It’s funny though.  John West of the Discovery Institute actually thinks there’s some massive conspiracy and the House intentionally voted on the version with “critical analysis” so that it would be rejected by the Senate.  He even called “critical analysis” a “poison pill“.  Now hold on a minute.  “Critical analysis” is one of Discovery Institute’s favorite terms that they gladly trumpet when it suits their purpose, such as when gloating about which states now require it in their classes when teaching evolution.  In other words, he’s advocating lying to Congress about the true motives of the Intelligent Design movement just so he can sneak some bills in.

But as we have learned from the people arguing for the bill during the proceedings, none of the people there truly believe in “academic freedom”.  Otherwise they should be all too happy to extend “academic freedom” to sex education so that alternatives to abstinence are taught.  It’s also telling that they only talk about “academic freedom” and “critical analysis” in the context of evolution.  What about the rest of science?  Don’t we deserve the “academic freedom” to teach alchemy in chemistry classes, astrology in astronomy classes, phrenology in neurology classes, and Intelligent Falling in physics class?  Shouldn’t we be “critically analyzing” all these fields as well?

Nah.  That’s because all these politically loaded terms, including “Intelligent Design”, are nothing more than a trojan horse for Creationism, which the Supreme Court ruled was unconstitutional in 1987.

May 2, 2008

Flock of Dodos: The Evolution-Intelligent Design Circus

Flock of Dodos: The Evolution-Intelligent Design Circus, by Randy Olson, came out 2 years ago.  As the title states, it explores the debate between evolution and intelligent design.  However, unlike a certain other film in theaters right now, this film is actually rather balanced and funny. It treats the people it interviews with respect, even if they’re on the other side, which again, is quite unlike that other film.  I think the following quote given by John Cashill, one of the ID supporters in his film, states it perfectly:

The good thing was that Randy did not hide his biases.  You know it wasn’t like one of these fake, neutral observers.  You know, he was part of it, and we knew where he was coming from.  But he did not, what I liked, is that he did not betray anyone’s trust. I mean, he made everyone look like they thought they looked, rather than what you could do in an editing room, and turn anyone into a monster if you wanted to.

Olson even invited the ID people to panel discussions after some film showings.  Again, something in direct contrast by what Mark Mathis of the other film did. Not only did Mathis not invite the interviewees from the other side, but he kicked PZ Meyers out just so he could generate some additional attention for his film.

Of course, the Discovery Institute hated Flock of Dodos (no surprise) and even set up a website to attack Olson and the film.  Their misunderstood (which is putting it nicely, it was quote mined) complaint about Haeckels Drawing was addressed in both the Pulled Punches: Outtakes in the DVD and by PZ Meyers.  As for their complaint about misrepresenting DI’s funding?  Someone found some of their tax returns.

Anyway, this film was not hyped up and was limited to mostly single screenings at film festivals and academic settings, which is certainly a shame.  The DVD came out the same year and contains a lot of goodies, like the Pulled Punches: Outtakes mentioned above, as well as a Top Ten Questions segment, which is probably the most educational part and lasts almost an hour.

Like Cashill said, Olson laid his bias straight out, and even wore an “Evolutionist” hat in the film.  But he was fair and treated people with respect.  He didn’t try to paint the ID supporters unfairly and he didn’t hold back on his portrayal of the scientists either.  In fact, he showed that for the most part, these ID supporters were nice, likable people you could sit with and play a game of poker.  In contrast, the scientists, while they certainly knew their stuff better, were shown to be rowdy and bad at communicating their knowledge, which is one of the main points of the film.  Scientists may have the knowledge and better evidence, but if they cannot get it out to the public, they will lose to the public relations firms and sound bites employed by places like the Discovery Institute and eventually go the way of the dodos.  It’s a good film, and I’d certainly recommend watching it.

As a bonus for the curious, the top ten questions addressed in the DVD are:

1. Why is this controversy so uniquely American?
2. Can a Christian accept biological evolution?
3. Why do people fear evolution?
4. Should the bible be taught as literally true?
5. Isn’t it only fair to “Teach the Controversy?”
6. What is the difference between creationism and intelligent design?
7. Do intelligent designers practice good science?
8. What is “irreducible complexity?”
9. What is the difference between a “law of nature” and a theory?
10. Has the media done a good job with this issues?

May 1, 2008

Finding Darwin’s God

A good way to stir up some random conversation at the office is to leave a book lying around on your desk.  Sooner or later, someone’s bound to comment on it.  :)

Anyway, I finished Ken Miller‘s book Finding Darwin’s God several days ago.  Generally speaking, I’d split the book into two sections.  The first half talks more about the science of evolution.  In particular he goes through several Creationist positions, describes what sort of God such a position would entail (Charlatan, Magician, and Mechanic) and then explains why their positions are faulty.  Along the way, he even gives several examples of how evolution could have been disproven, but instead the evidence showed the theory of evolution was indeed correct.  This part of the book is excellent, with many great examples such as radioactive isotopes as evidence of an old earth, or the experiment where the genes that allows bacteria to break down lactose is removed, and then not only did the bacteria evolve to handle lactose again, it handled it even better!

In the second half, he goes into his theological reasons for believing.  This part is definitely the weaker of the two parts.  His argument pretty much relies on the uncertainty principle.  While it is true that this presents a barrier we’re unlikely to overcome through science, and it helps answer some theological problems, it has the eerie shadow of a God of the Gaps.

Still, matters of Faith are a matter of faith after all, so it’s expected that it’s not going to be fully grounded in solid evidence.  Despite that, the rest of the book is cleverly argued and definitely worth a read.

April 30, 2008

Florida’s anti-evolution bill

Update: The bill has died

The NCSE has some news on Florida’s anti-evolution bill. It’s clear to anyone who’s looking at this that the proponents of the bill have ulterior motives. This isn’t about academic freedom at all. They claim that the bill will not allow the teaching of intelligent design, but their words betray them.

To begin with, their wording is rather suspicious:

“As passed by the council, the bill would require teachers to provide a ‘critical analysis’ of evolution, a phrase that the Associated Press (April 28, 2008) recognized as ‘one used by intelligent design advocates,’ although noting that its sponsor claimed that it would neither require nor allow teaching ‘intelligent design.'”

Also, as the Florida Citizens for Science put it:

“What are some examples of critical analysis of evolution that have no religious connotations and are based on legitimate, up-to-date scientific ideas?”

I would certainly love to see the answers to that. But continuing with the original discussion, Representative Alan Hays also said this:

“Too many people are afraid to even mention the theory of intelligent design.”

Wait. What? Didn’t you guys just say this bill wouldn’t allow teaching intelligent design? Then why does that even matter? Also, intelligent design is not even a scientific theory. Finally, their silence to some questions is simply deafening:

“Opponents have voiced concerns that Storms’ bill will open the door to teaching religious-based theories, like intelligent design, in public school classrooms. But Storms, one of the Senate’s most conservative members, repeatedly refused to answer questions on whether that could happen.”

This whole thing stinks of “cdesign proponentsists“. But kudos to Senators Ted Deutch and Nan Rich for speaking out against the bill, in particular Deutch for the following:

“We’re talking about academic freedom … In an abstinence-only sex education program, a teacher may wish to answer a student’s question and provide additional information that may protect a life or stop an unwanted pregnancy.”

Not surprisingly, Senator Ronda Storms slippery sloped the argument:

“I’m concerned about prematurely deflowering kindergartners and first and second graders.”

Interesting, I had no idea Storms was interested in educating kindergartners, first, and second graders about sex! That certainly says a lot about her. ;)

But I think Deutch’s argument is a good one, and I’ll start employing it against the conservatives who still naively think this issue is really about “academic freedom”.

That said, all this may end up being a non-issue since they only have two more days to pass this (Senate and House versions of the bill must agree).

Anti-Defamation League denounces Expelled

It’s about time! I think it’s saying a lot when Ben Stein (who’s Jewish) has basically been called out by the Anti-Defamation League for defaming Jews.

Anyway, they issued the following statement in their press release:

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.

Note that this isn’t the first time they’ve spoken out against those who’ve tried to Godwin Darwin for their own agendas. They blasted Coral Ridge Ministries two years ago for doing pretty much the same thing that Expelled‘s doing now.

April 29, 2008

Even Creationists think Expelled is bad

First read about this over at The Dawn Treader.  Apparently, Hugh Ross‘s Reasons to Believe has the following to say about Expelled.

In Reasons To Believe’s interaction with professional scientists, scientific institutions, universities, and publishers of scientific journals we have encountered no significant evidence of censorship, blackballing, or disrespect. As we have persisted in publicly presenting our testable creation model in the context of the scientific method, we have witnessed an increasing openness on the part of unbelieving scientists to offer their honest and respectful critique.

Our main concern about EXPELLED is that it paints a distorted picture. It certainly doesn’t match our experience. Sadly, it may do more to alienate than to engage the scientific community, and that can only harm our mission.

Even though my own crevo position differs from RTB (they believe in progressive creationism), I must say my respect for Hugh Ross and RTB has greatly increased.

April 28, 2008

Expelled’s performance: Weekend 2

If you read my entry on Friday’s numbers, not too much has changed since then, but we now have the numbers to properly compare weekends.

Looks like Expelled‘s fallen into a more regular movie trend. Unlike its embarrassing revenue drop on Saturday last week, it managed to perform like other movies this Saturday and show an increase in revenue though it didn’t buck the trend to drop on Sunday.

In light of that, a possibly better explanation is that it didn’t underperform last Saturday. Rather, it performed better than it should have on its opening day, which is probably a result of all the hype that was built up over the film. Put another way, the positive hype was not warranted and people got suckered into watching a critically abysmal film. That would also explain the drop in ratings by users after one week.

But enough talk, on to the weekend-to-weekend numbers!

Number of theaters: 1041 (-11)
Weekend gross revenue: $1,394,940 (-$1,575,908)
Weekend rank: #13 (-3)
Weekend revenue/screen: $1340 (-$1484)
Rotten Tomatoes Critical Rating: 9% (3/33) (-3%)
Rotten Tomatoes Top Critics Rating: 0% (0/13) (3 more rotten tomatoes)
Rotten Tomatoes Community Rating: 50% (321 votes) (-3%)
IMDB rating: 3.7/10 (2933 votes) (-0.4)
Boxofficemojo rating: B- (316 votes) (down from B)
Yahoo movies community rating: B- (3488 votes) (down from B)
Yahoo critics rating: N/A (None!)

It’s extremely odd that Yahoo still has no ratings by critics. Last weekend, I remarked that perhaps this was because critics did not want to be associated with this film or didn’t feel like it was worth their time. But the 33 reviews by critics on Rotten Tomatoes shows that this is not the case. Instead, I now wonder if the film’s producers or someone at Yahoo asked that the critics reviews not be put up because of the incredible discrepancy between the critics’ ratings and the users’ ratings.

Speaking of ratings, looks like they removed the poll on their Myspace page asking if Intelligent Design should be taught. I guess the 98% No and <1% Yes was too much for them.

April 26, 2008

Expelled’s Performance: Week 2, Friday

I must confess, I woke up this morning with a nightmare. I dreamed that Expelled had somehow made $178m yesterday, taking the #2 spot (first spot was $180m).

Thankfully, it was just a dream, and Expelled has actually been dropping like a large one. But what exactly’s dropped? Pretty much everything. Since last weekend, we have the following changes:

Number of theaters: 1041 (-11)
Friday estimated revenue: $450,000 (-$758,748 )
Friday daily rank: #13 (-5)
Friday estimated revenue/screen: $432 (-$717)
Rotten Tomatoes Critical Rating: 9% (3/32) (-3%)
Rotten Tomatoes Top Critics Rating: 0% (0/13) (3 more rotten tomatoes)
Rotten Tomatoes Community Rating: 53% (286 votes) (0%)
IMDB rating: 3.8/10 (2630 votes) (-0.3)
Boxofficemojo rating: B- (284 votes) (down from B)
Yahoo movies community rating: B- (2971 votes) (down from B)
Yahoo critics rating: N/A (None!)

I think it’s safe to say that Expelled’s a flop.

Mark Mathis continues to make a fool of himself

Unevolved (scroll down for the article)

In short, Mark Mathis, when confronted with direct evidence for evolution, decides that he doesn’t care about that argument.  Later, he also admits he is unqualified to speak about evolution despite making a film about it.  Finally, he admits that he kicked PZ Meyers out of the Expelled screening so he could generate some “additional attention” for the film.

He makes such a wonderful role model for budding Creationists out there, doesn’t he? *rolls eyes*

BTW, this is the same Mark Mathis who made some eye-raising comments about Ken Miller.

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