Wednesday, April 30, 2008

John Derbyshire has Bill Buckley rolling over in his grave

If you believe the rhetoric from ID critics about the lack of integrity on the part of the producers of "Expelled," you ought to check out the reviewers. John Derbyshire at National Review has written a negative review of Ben Stein's "Expelled"--without actually having seen the movie! So far no outrage from the Darwinist Truth Patrol, which, of course, would pounce on the same indiscretion if an ID proponent committed it. In fact, Ed Brayton gives it a nod of approval.

I wonder what Brayton would do if someone posted a criticism of Darwin's Origin of Species without ever having read the thing.

But isn't there a level of hypocrisy to which even the critics of ID will not descend in the criticism of the movie? For example, certainly the National Center for Science Education, which runs a site called "Expelled Exposed" to criticize the shortcomings it sees in the movie would think it was just a little too blatant a move to include the review on its site. But no, it's there too!

My only regret in reading Derbyshire's review is that I cannot now criticize it without having actually read it.

In fact, I know the anti-ID putties will find some way of defending Derbyshire, and I'm fine with that. But here are rules: I will not accept any comments on this post unless you haven't read it (this post that is). I will only approve it if your comments are based exclusively on what others have said about this post. Got that?

Okay, let's see what you can do.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

ID: It's a Creationist Plot

There are people who apparently have a deep-seated need to believe that Intelligent Design proponents are really creationists in disguise, and that once they have control over the nation's schools, they're going to rip off their clever scientist disguises to reveal men in short sleeve dress shirts and horn-rimmed glasses who believe that the earth is only 6,000 years old. Acting on a preordained set of instructions, this view seems to suggest, they will proceed to outlaw any mention of evolution in schools, and will execute plans that involve, among other things, taking students on weekly field trips to Ken Ham's Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky.

It is a frightening vision of the future: a flood of creationism let loose on the nation's schools. The end of science is near, and to ride out the crisis, ID critics are building themselves a rhetorical ark and bringing the fallacies aboard two by two.

The charge that ID is part of some creationist conspiracy was recently reiterated by Larry Arnhart, the author of Darwinian Conservatism. Arnhart, a professor at Northern Illinois University, writes in a recent post about the "Rhetorical Blunder in Ben Stein's 'Expelled'," a blunder which has to do, he thinks, with what is really behind Intelligent Design.

The first thing you should do when you write about someone else's blunders is not to make them yourself in the process of doing so. It just looks silly. But Arnhart makes one that he repeats throughout his entire discourse on the inadvisability of blunders.

Arnhart makes the following statement about "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed":
This movie is the latest project of the Discovery Institute in promoting the political rhetoric of "intelligent design theory" as the alternative to Darwinian evolutionary science.
It is? In fact, Discovery Institute did not produce the movie. It was included in the movie, but so was Richard Dawkins, who, last time anyone checked, wasn't involved in the production of the movie either. If he had been, he would have had one less excuse not to know what the movie into which he walked with both his eyes wide open was about. The movie was actually produced by Premise Media, which has no organizational connection with Discovery.

But Arnhart's main objective in the article is to bolster the "It's a Creationist Plot" theory about Intelligent Design. "The folks at the Discovery Institute," he asserts, "have made a big mistake in their production of this movie." The mistake (which Discovery doesn't make) in making this movie (which it didn't make either) is a contradiction Arnhart claims to have detected:
On the one hand, the rhetorical strategy of the Discovery Institute is to say that "intelligent design" is not a creationist religious belief but pure science, and therefore teaching "intelligent design" in public high school biology classes does not violate the First Amendment's prohibition on establishing religion. On the other hand, the popular success of the Discovery Institute's rhetoric depends on appealing to Biblical creationists who assume that "intelligent designer" is just another name for God the Biblical Creator.
In other words, Arnhart is asserting that a position should be judged on the basis of who supports it, not by what it actually holds. This is rather strange reasoning for someone like Arnhart to use. If we applied this logic to Darwinism, of course, we could conclude that it is really atheism in disguise, since atheists unanimously support it. But if we did that, people like Arnhart would fuss and fume, and point out that a position should be judged on the basis of what it asserts, not who supports it.

Darwinists have clearly not developed a sense of consistency. Maybe Nature is saving that for the next step up in the evolutionary progress of their species.

In "Expelled," which Discovery made but really didn't, this contradiction, says Arnhart, is on full display:
When Bruce Chapman--President of the Discovery Institute--is interviewed by Stein, Chapman says that journalists distort the true position of intelligent design by saying that it's a creationist religious belief, because the "intelligent designer" is clearly God. Chapman vehemently denies this. But then for the rest of the movie, it's asserted that anyone who denies "intelligent design" is therefore an atheist who denies the existence of God!
Asserted by whom? Chapman? Maybe Arnhart could provide some evidence of this. I've seen the movie twice, and I don't recall this assertion being made by anyone in the movie. I could see, if the assertion was really made, that it wouldn't matter who made it, since Arnhart is operating under the assumption that the whole thing was produced by Discovery, and therefore any such assertion could be laid at the feet of Chapman, who is Discovery's director. But then we have already determined that that assumption is erroneous, haven't we?

I think what Arnhart means to say here (I'm trying to bail you out here Larry) is that the movie claims that anyone who is a Darwinist is an atheist who denies the existence of God. But note that it isn't proponents of ID who make this claim in the movie, but proponents of Darwinism in the form of people like Richard Dawkins. This has, of course, sent the ID critics into paroxysms of indignation because they seem to think that casting Dawkins in a lead role is somehow misrepresentative of the public debate over Intelligent Design.

The only adequate response to this is to point them to the sales figures of Dawkins books. And those by his fellow Neo-Atheists--Christopher Hitchins, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett--haven't been too shabby either. The Darwinists who disagree with the Neo-Atheists, like Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Educators (NCSE), get upset every time anyone talks to Dawkins about this issue on the grounds that she and her more presentable colleagues are the ones people should be listening to.

Well, maybe they should. But are they? And who is Eugenie Scott anyway? Richard Dawkin's The God Delusion hit #4 on the New York Times bestseller list. How many books has she sold? If Eugenie Scott wants to be a big star in the next Ben Stein movie, then she's going to have to do a better job getting her literary career off the ground. That's all there is to it.

Eugenie, we'll be pulling for you.

To keep asserting that the Neo-Atheists are not at the heart of the debate over ID is to simply have ignored the press coverage of this issue over the last couple of years. These are, in fact, the people who are among the most visible opponents of Intelligent Design. And it isn't as if people like Scott were not included in the movie: they were (despite their lack of star power).

But Arnhart and other critics of the movie feel somehow that the makers of an admittedly partisan movie about Intelligent Design have some kind of obligation to comprehensively state their opponents' case for them in their little hour and a half. Here is a group of people who have control of virtually every scientific professional association, every public university science department, and every secular textbook publishing house--and they want the producers of "Expelled" to use the 90 minutes of equal time they paid for to make the other side look good.

Go figure.

I suppose we should be happy that ID critics have gotten religion on the issue of accuracy in the media, and are now so intent on preaching it to the mulitudes. But their conversion has come a little late, hasn't it? Where were the Defenders of Truth like Arnhart when PBS was doing a hatchet job on Intelligent Design in NOVA's "Judgment Day," which was supposed to be, not a partisan, but an unbiased account of the controversy? Well, the one most like Arnhart--namely, Arnhart himself--was praising it.

Arnhart attempts to sound unbiased on the Intelligent Design debate--a pose he strikes often on his blog:
The problem, however, is that both sides of this debate are caught up in a frenzy of rhetorical posturing that makes it impossible to have a thoughtful exchange of competing ideas.
If Arnhart is serious in his concern for ensuring that the debate over Intelligent Design is being conducted on Marquis of Queensbury rules, he would presumably observe them himself. But when, in the very act of condemning Intelligent Design proponents for misrepresenting evolution, he repeats the tired and discredited argument that ID is really disguised creationism, he descends to the very behavior that he laments in others: misrepresentation.

I'll have to admit, Arnhart does look noble in his objective pose. But if you're looking for an unbiased view of the debate, you'll have to look to someone other than Arnhart, whose claim that he is monitoring both sides of this debate for rhetorical posturing is, alas, a rhetorical posture.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Ben Stein vs. Yoko Ono

Ben Stein's response to Yoko Ono on Ono's suit against the movie "Expelled" for using a short clip from John Lennon's song, "Imagine":
So Yoko Ono is suing over the brief Constitutionally protected use of a song that wants us to "Imagine no possessions"? Maybe instead of wasting everyone’s time trying to silence a documentary she should give the song to the world for free? After all, "imagine all the people sharing all the world…You may say I’m a dreamer But I’m not the only one I hope someday you’ll join us And the World can live as one.”
We're going to put Ono's lawsuit in the file with clips from rock groups that go around spouting socialism at their concerts--which you have to pay $40 to attend.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Ten ways Darwinists help Intelligent Design

An excellent rundown of how ID critics mishandled the campaign against ID and the recent movie "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed." I'm telling ya', their lack of fitness for survival becomes more evident every day.

Part I
Part II
Part III

Richard Weikart on Darwinism and its consequences

Richard Weikart summarizes the findings in his recent book on the historical and philosophical connection between Darwinian ideas and Nazi eugenics policies.

Friday, April 25, 2008

KY high court rules marriage trumps biology

In a split 4-3 decision, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled today that, legally, a child born in a marriage is the child of the marriage and not of the biological father, according the Louisville Courier-Journal.

KY Chief Justice retires

Judge Joseph Lambert has announced his retirement as Chief Justice of the Kentucky Supreme Court. The proximate cause of this decision seems to be that, because the legislature did not pass an extension of the Senior Judge program, and Lambert, by retiring now, gets to take advantage of additional retirement benefits that he wouldn't be able to receive if he were to retire after the program expires.

What happened is fairly evident. Senate President David Williams doesn't like Lambert, and Williams must have known that if he prevented the extension of the program, Lambert would be forced into this decision. David Williams wins--again.

Although it is being reported that Lambert is popular among the states' judges, I have my doubts. As one judge told me, the sole and only purpose of the chief justice is to get along with the General Assembly. Why? Because of programs like the senior judge program. The Chief Justice is the judiciary's advocate with state lawmakers, and if he can't operate with them, then he can't do his job.

I still have not figured out what Williams has against Lambert, but Lambert's inability to smooth down William's ruffled feathers basically neutered his effectiveness with the Legislature. I have had my share of personal experience dealing with the Senate President. All it generally requires is going into his office and getting gnawed on for 5 or 10 minutes. It's his way of testing you. If he sees you can sit there and take it, then he's content, and you can proceed to talk turkey. The biggest problem people have in dealing with Williams is that they are not willing to do this.

I could be wrong, and there may be something more deep-seated here than meets they eye here, but I have a feeling Lambert wasn't willing to take the test. So now he's headed for retirement.

Lambert, in addition to being Chief Justice, is a nice guy: I hope his retirement is happy.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Physician, Heal Thyself: Dembski on accusations that Darwinists were treated unfairly in the movie "Expelled"

William Dembski, on the accusations that Darwinists were treated unfairly in "Expelled":

I find it remarkable that the Darwinists are belly-aching about the treatment they received from EXPELLED producers. Our side experiences far worse. When the BBC interviewed me for their documentary on ID, they didn’t tell me it would be titled A WAR ON SCIENCE and that my colleagues and I would be portrayed as those trying to destroy science. Whereas the Darwinists were filmed in their offices and made to look professorial, they had me walking down a railroad track, Behe suspended in mid-air on a carnival ride looking ridiculous, etc. Finally, they spliced in commentary by Ken Miller ostensibly critiquing my work on probabilities, which he then was forced to repudiate since the criticisms were so patently off target with respect to my work — he attributed the fault to bad editing on the part of the BBC. I blogged on this here and here.

So, if you want to debunk dishonesty and sleaze in documentaries, the BBC is far more worthy of your attentions. The worst that can be said about the producers of EXPELLED is that they didn’t tip their hands early. In consequence, we find Darwinists with their pants down and looking unimpressive. I’m sure that hurts. Take the pain.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Will "Speaker Hurst" do any better with the Clinton campaign in KY than he did with the KY House?

Louisville Courier-Journal reporter Joe Gerth reports that Jonathan Hurst, Speaker of the House Jody Richard's (D-Bowling Green) right hand man in the House, is slated to be Hillary Clinton's Kentucky campaign director. Hurst wielded so much power in the House Caucus that he was often referred to as "Speaker Hurst." Richards is thought by many observers to take his political cues from Hurst. But the last two sessions have been a disaster in terms of administration and Democratic political strategy.

Hillary better hope Hurst does a better job for her than he has done with the House in recent years.

This is quote-mining? C'mon

One of the Darwinists' favorite chants against ID advocates is "quote-mining". "Quote-mining" in the Darwinist lexicon, means quoting something they don't like. They repeat it like a mantra. The most recent example is from our old friend Evil Bender. In a recent post, he attacks Richard Wiekart when Wiekart quotes Darwin saying, in his Autobiography, that one “can have for his rule of life, as far as I can see, only to follow those impulses and instincts which are the strongest or which seem to him the best ones.”

Bender, indignant that anyone could take Darwin at his word, begins the chant: "Quote-mining, Quote-mining..."

And his proof that Weikart is "quote-mining"? A passage which not only does not contradict what Weikart said, but actually backs it up. For some reason which I cannot comprehend, Evil Bender thinks the following passage backs up his point that Darwin believed in fixed, immutable moral standards:
A man who has no assured and ever present belief in the existence of a personal God or of a future existence with retribution and reward, can have for his rule of life, as far as I can see, only to follow those impulses and instincts which are the strongest or which seem to him the best ones. A dog acts in this manner, but he does so blindly. A man, on the other hand, looks forwards and backwards, and compares his various feelings, desires and recollections. He then finds, in accordance with the verdict of all the wisest men that the highest satisfaction is derived from following certain impulses, namely the social instincts. If he acts for the good of others, he will receive the approbation of his fellow men and gain the love of those with whom he lives; and this latter gain undoubtedly is the highest pleasure on this earth. By degrees it will become intolerable to him to obey his sensuous passions rather than his higher impulses, which when rendered habitual may be almost called instincts. His reason may occasionally tell him to act in opposition to the opinion of others, whose approbation he will then not receive; but he will still have the solid satisfaction of knowing that he has followed his innermost guide or conscience.
Wow. What a statement of fixed moral principles this is. "Feelings." "Desires." "Recollections." "Social instincts." This is the basis of moral absolutes? Since when is "the approbation of ... fellow men" and the "the love of those" with whom you live the basis of moral objectivity?

I suppose Evil Bender is hanging his hat on the last part of this quote, where he talks about those special occasions on which someone follows their "reason." And what, precisely, does Darwin mean by this? Apparently something having to do with one's "innermost guide or conscience." Now there's something solid and unchanging. Makes you feel like putting on a tie dye t-shirt and firing up the ol' bong.

If this is quote-mining, I hope people like Wiekart keep digging.

I haven't read Darwin's Autobiography, so I can't say what precisely Darwin did or didn't believe about the foundations of morality. But from this passage, it doesn't look terribly hopeful. We know as a matter of history that Darwin was a decent person. On that, as far as I can tell, there is no debate. The debate is over whether a theory that postulates that a completely naturalistic origin of man undermines the rational foundation of moral belief. On that question the answer seems fairly apparent to some of us--and passages like this don't do anything to make it any less so.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Jacques Barzun on the relation of Darwinism and "woe in our day"

There are some people who seem to think the charge that Darwinism has some ideological connection with totalitarian regimes of the 20th century is an invention of Ben Stein. Here is Jacques Barzun, the legendary cultural historian, writing while these regimes were still in power:
[T]he evil world we live in is not a world which has been denied access to the science of Darwin and Marx and the theories and art of Wagner. Had their answers truly solved the riddle of the Sphinx, no obscurantism could subsist, for we are animated by--I will not say, the precise ideas of the three materialists--but surely by their deeper spirit, their faith in matter, their love of system, their abstract scientism, and their one-sided interpretation of Nature:
Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object of which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life ...
This is not Mussolini speaking, but Darwin, and his voice re-echoes in our ears:
War is not in contrast to peace, but simply another form of expression of the uninterrupted battle of nations and men. It is an expression of the highest and best in manhood.
This is the comment of Dr. Robert Ley, head of the Nazi Labor Front, on the war of 1940.

I am not saying that Darwin would have accepted the results of his "philosophy of nature," nor am I seeking three individual scapegoats in the past to bear the burden of our present ills, but I do say that the ideas, the methods, the triumph of materialistic mechanism over the flexible and humane pragmatism of the Romantics has been a source of real woe in our day.
Jacques Barzun, Darwin, Marx, Wagner: Critique of a Heritage, 1941, pp. 15-16

An opportunity for the Darwinists to charge the Village Voice with hypocrisy. Will they take advantage of it?

Dembski makes an interesting observation on his blog today: While the Village Voice is condemning the movie "Expelled" for drawing a documented historical connection between Darwinism and Naziism, it is praising the movie "Constantine's Sword" for saying that Christianity in general, and Catholicism in particular, fostered religious hatred that "culminated in the holocaust."

Who'll give me odds that the people who are always charging Intelligent Design advocates with hypocrisy with the least little provocation will make excuses for the Voice?

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Expelled critics: so bored they can't see straight

I saw "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed," the controversial new documentary film by Ben Stein on the Intelligent Design debate, at one of the private screenings that was part of the grass roots marketing for the film, and I was disappointed. That's right. Here I made a trip all the way to Louisville, Kentucky from my home in Danville (almost 2 hours away), I go get a big bag of popcorn and a drink, climb the steps in the stadium seating at the Tinseltown Theater for the private screening and, as it turns out, not a single, solitary Darwinist tried to sneak past the big, scary looking octogenarian security guards to try to get in.

So instead, I had to turn my attention to the movie itself, which was excellent. It was effective in its presentation of its views, it was in turns funny, ominous, clever, illuminating, and entertaining. Now I know why the Darwinists are having such a fit--and spending so much time and effort throwing it: this is a powerful expose of academic intolerance. If this one gets wide exposure, they get a well deserved black eye. Whether it does get wide exposure is uncertain at this writing, but I wonder about their strategy, since the more public indignation they manufacture, the more attention they give the movie.

What are they thinking?

People who have doubts about Darwinism (and their numbers are not inconsiderable in this country) have an obvious motivation to see the movie. But this is a movie the Darwinists aren't supposed to like, much less go see. But if I were a Darwinist, what with all the hoopla, I'm going to lay down my 5 bits just to see what all the fuss is about. I'm guessing that their strategy is to convince people that the movie is not very good, which they have spilled a lot of ink trying to do.

There are several things the critics are saying to accomplish this apparent objective, some of which have nothing to do with the quality of the movie at all.

The movie, say the Darwinist critics, wasn't honest with the Darwinists who were interviewed for the film. In other words, they lied. They didn't tell them what the film was about. The producers, of course, dispute this, and point out that they not only told them what the film was about, but gave them the questions in advance and answered whatever questions they had about the film. But they didn't reveal to them the title, say the critics. No, and they probably didn't tell them who the clapper loader and lighting gaffer were either. So what?

What difference does that make to what people like Dawkins would have said? Would they have been less honest about what they believed? If so, then wouldn't not telling them what the movie was about at all have been a greater contribution to the truth about which the critics say they are so concerned? Would Dawkins, et al. not have been willing to state their case at all if they knew more about the film than they apparently wanted to know? Well that would have been big of them.

But the main point is that that has nothing to do with the quality of the movie. Even if it were true, it has nothing to do with whether, when you leave the theater, you thought the hour and a half was well spent.

The film, some say, is intellectually garbled. Read: it it didn't come to a conclusion they agree with. Are there really people going to this movie to witness a visual academic treatise? They only wish. Look, the movie is self-consciously (and self-confessedly) channeling Michael Moore--with the appropriate ideological adjustments. This is infotainment folks, get used to it.

There's the charge that the film doesn't give a definition of Intelligent Design. This could be a problem for dull minds that can't put two and two together to make four. But I have asked myself the question, if I did not know what Intelligent Design was before I saw this film, would I know afterward? I certainly would. What I would not think, after seeing this film, is that Intelligent Design is creationism, which is what the reviewers making this charge wanted to see, and are now upset because they didn't.

In fact, this is the best thing about this movie: it completely dispels the notion that Intelligent Design is just warmed over creationism. Let's face it, it's just hard to the square the image of, say, David Berlinski, the polymath Princeton PhD from, postdoctoral fellow at Columbia University in mathematics and molecular biology, analytic philosophy, and philosophy of mathematics, and former professor at Stanford, Rutgers, the City University of New York, and the Universite de Paris with the stereotype of the creation scientist--particularly when Berlinski, a secular Jew, is shown being interviewed casually slouched back in a chair in his exquisitely decorated Paris townhouse.

Then there is the assertion that no definition of evolution is offered. But evolution is discussed again and again, in detail, with shades of meaning parsed and commented on. Again, the lack of a definition isn't the problem for the critics: rather, it's the lack of a positive portray of Darwinism as they see it is.

The movie, say others, caricatures Darwinism. Well let's face it: any 90 minute movie covering any topic is going to caricature anything it deals with. Caricature is when you take the significant aspects of something and exaggerate them for dramatic effect. And the alternative is? Besides, if the Darwinist critics of this film don't like caricature, they ought to check out their portrayals of ID sometime. They can start with the charge that ID is the same thing as creationism.

In fact, ID critics seem to find it singularly profound to judge this movie on criteria that have little to do with the purpose of the movie. The movie doesn't prove ID; the movie doesn't give an accurate and detailed scientific description of this or that; the movie doesn't give a balanced treatment of the issue; yada, yada, yada. Of course, these are not things the movie even purports to do, much less attempt. This is not a movie about Intelligent Design or evolution. This is a movie about the debate over Intelligent Design and evolution. Any criticisms that don't take account of this are simply nonsensical and irrelevant.

If you slog through the comments from critics and keep your eye peeled, you can find an occasional criticism that, right or wrong, actually belongs in a movie review. The film, say some, is "boring". C'mon. Unless you fall within the category of totally ignorant of the issue of evolution and uncaring (in which case you didn't buy a ticket to go see the movie in the first place), you're going to be mad--either at the Darwinists' ideological cartel, or at the producers for making the movie. You're either going to be cheering Ben Stein on or gnawing on knuckles in frustration. But bored? No way.

In fact, one wonders how such a boring film can elicit such hostility. Peter McWilliams once defined boredom as "hostility without enthusiasm." But these people are not only hostile, they are enthusiastic in their hostility. If they're bored, they sure are worked up about it.

The negative reviews of Expelled are primarily written by people who disagree with the film's central contention, just as the positive reviews are largely from people who agree with it. When it comes to a film like this, there is little room for objectivity. Darwinists aren't going to give this film a positive review any more than a conservative would give a positive review to a Michael Moore film. If you agree with it you like it, if you don't you don't. It's pretty simple.

I actually went to the movie not expecting much. Call me gullible, but I actually believed some of the rhetoric coming from the critics. I was thinking, okay, here these people were nice enough to invite me to the sneak preview and I'm going to walk out feeling obligated to write up something nice about it when I may think it was just a shameless piece of propaganda. Maybe I just won't say anything. Yeah. That's what I'll do.

I needn't have worried.

The thing that I was expecting to be particularly turned off by was the communist and Nazi allusions I had heard were in the film. The film, said one reviewer, "wanders off to blame the theory of evolution for Communism, the Berlin Wall, Fascism, the Holocaust, atheism and Planned Parenthood." Well, to say that this constitutes "wandering off" is, I suppose, the right of the critic concerned about the integrity of a film, but I doubt that is the motive behind the criticism. The point of the film is whatever the filmmaker wants the point of the film to be, and if part of the point is to analyze the ideological origins and implications of the idea of Darwinism, then it's not "wandering off."

In fact, the Nazi and communist imagery was perfectly appropriate to the filmmakers' point. They were talking about ideological totalitarianism. So why isn't imagery that shows totalitarianism in its political form not relevant to it? While I think the more relevant comparison is McCarthyism here, I'll also readily admit that that analogy is not nearly as dramatic, and probably less useful for a filmmaker.

Is the imagery overdone? Perhaps. But those critical of this aspect of the film have to answer the charges included in the film that, in fact, National Socialism and communism relied on a Darwinian view to help ground their political ideologies. Are they denying that they did? All I've heard is squealing that the charge was made. Was Charles Darwin a Nazi or a communist? Of course not. And, being the gentleman that he was, he would undoubtedly have been appalled at the use to which his theory was put.

But he was not just a gentleman: he was a Victorian gentleman. And the whole Victorian project was to try to maintain the traditional moral system without the religious system that engendered and undergirded it. In that respect (and a few others) Darwinism was a product of its time. But the Victorian project was accounted a failure: this moral system could not be maintained without the religious foundation, as Friedrich Nietzsche had predicted. Darwin himself accepted it, good Victorian that he was, but his theory only served to undermine it.

The film doesn't give us a complete account of all this, partly because it can't. But it does call attention to the historical connections, and to connections with the eugenics movement as well. The question is whether these connections are a coincidence or not? Is there something about Darwinism that lends itself to this? When morality is undermined, are we supposed be surprised when it is violated?

The reaction to "Expelled" has not only been hostile, but sometimes ugly (not that that should come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the rhetoric of those opposed to Intelligent Design). The review that ran in my local paper was by Roger Moore of the Orlando Sentinel, who urged readers not to see the film because Ben Stein might profit from it: "Ben Stein wins your money if you go to his expose on bias against Intelligent Design." One wonders whether that is an equally good reason not to read Moore's reviews.

Then there is FOX News' Robert Friedman: "After seeing a new non-fiction film starring Comedy Central's Ben Stein, you may not only be able to win his money, but also his career ... But that career may be over come April 18." If Friedman were a university department chair and Stein was a professor, he could ensure that, now couldn't he?

Whatever Darwinism's ramifications for morality, it certainly doesn't do much for politeness.

If man is what he eats, then...

Ludwig Feuerbach, who was famous for the phrase, "Der mensch ist was er isst" ("Man is what he eats"), attributed the failure of the worker's revolution of 1848 in Europe to their dietary dependences on potatoes. "Shall we therefore despair," he asks, in one of his more materialist moods:
Is there no other foodstuff that can replace potatoes among the poorer classes and at the same time nurture them to manly vigour and disposition? Yes, there is such a foodstuff, a foodstuff that is the pledge of a better future, which contains the sees of a more thorough even if more gradual revolution. It is--beans!
--From Hegel to Marx: Studies in the Intellectual Development of Karl Marx, Sydney Hook, 1938, p. 260.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Will Durant's definition of civilization

"Civilization is social order promoting cultural creation. Four elements constitute it: economic provision, political organization, moral traditions, and the pursuit of knowledge and the arts. It begins where chaos and insecurity end. For when fear is overcome, curiosity and constructiveness are free, and man passes by natural impulse towards the understanding and embellishment of life."

Will Durant, Our Oriental Heritage, p. 1

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Twelve books that changed the modern world

The following is a list of books by modern thinkers that have had a long-lasting and deep impact on the way we act and think.
  • Discourse on Method, by Rene Descartes. Descartes was the father of modern rationalism as Francis Bacon was the father of modern empiricism, the two branches emerging from the nominalism of William of Ockham. Descartes establishes the modern quantitative view of reality that, in conjunction with empiricism, dominates all later Western thinking. The quantitative view sees all reality as a sort of mechanism. His method of completely ignoring all previous thinkers in his philosophizing and relying entirely upon individual reason to the exclusion of tradition also provides the model for the method of most modern thinkers.
  • Emile, by Jean Jacques Rousseau. The Ur-text for modern public education objectives and methodologies. It is this book, a tract on philosophic romanticism, that influences modern ideas on education more than any other except possibly Democracy and Education, by John Dewey. His book The Social Contract performed an almost as influentual role in modern political philosophy.
  • Phenomenology of Spirit, by Friedrich Hegel. Famous for its explication of the "Hegelian dialectic," this book established idealism as a major school of philosophy and served later to provide on of the excuse for Marxism, Fascism, and modern atheistic existentialism.
  • Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin. Established the theory of evolution as a biological theory, and used later to under gird a broader philosophical evolutionism that is now taken as dogma (and defended as such) by many thinkers in various disciplines.
  • Utilitarianism, by John Stuart Mill. Explication of the ethical and political theory of utilitarianism, the idea that action should be judged the best which results in the greatest good for the greatest number. The theory is broadly assumed in modern political discussions.
  • Das Kapital, by Karl Marx. A manifesto of social and political theory that is the basis for much of modernist and postmodernist thought. Although Marxism, a materialist dialectic ("turning Hegel on his head" was how Marx put it) applied to society and political systems, has not had the success in the West as a practical political theory that it has had in the East, it has at times dominated in Western academic institutions and still survives either as a positive principle or, in the case of postmodernism, a foil against which much of its theory is a reaction.
  • The Will to Power, by Friedrich Nietzsche. The book thought to constitute the "end of philosophy" (although some would attribute that honor to Heidegger's Being and Time) explicates Nietzsche's repudiation of traditional premodernist notions of truth and morality as well, ironically, as modern scientism and issues a call for a transvaluation of values. This is where atheism eventually leads--for those intellectually honest enough to take their beliefs to their logical conclusion.
  • Democracy and Education, by John Dewey. Despite Dewey's sometimes incomprehensible prose (which William James termed "damnable; you might even say, God-damnable"), his instrumentalist ideas were hugely influential on American thought in general and on the public education establishment in particular. Considered the father of the progressive movement in education--the idea that schools should be used as a means to change society, he later repudiated the movement when it was taken over by the pragmatist faction, which saw schools not as a means to change society, but as a way to adjust children to society as it existed. The perennial contest between the progressivists and pragmatists still largely dictates what happens in the nation's schools.
  • The Ego and the Id, by Sigmund Freud. In which Freud inverts the traditional privileging of the conscious over the subconscious, resulting in the idea that the subconscious has the major influence over our thoughts and actions. This book, among others, helped to establish the most influential of the three great modern schools of psychology, along with with Carl Roger's humanist psychology and Jungianism. Freud's views are now broadly assumed and applied well beyond the sphere of human psychology, and, along with Marxism, are the touchstone for post modernism.
  • Pragmatism, William James. James' explication of his pragmatist philosophy that the value of a truth depends on its usefulness to the individual. Another philosophical speculation taken now as dogma.
  • Principia Mathematica, by Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead. A book which every competent logician was expected to read for close to 100 years which sets forth the ultimate scientific language first proposed by Gottfried Leibniz. Made up in large part of a sort of logical calculus, Russell and Whitehead proposed that rational thought could be captured in a formal system. This quantitative idea of logic conflicted with the classical view of logic held since Aristotle that it was a descriptive, not a prescriptive discipline. One of the step children, one might say, of Descartes quantificationism.
  • Being and Time, Martin Heidegger. Heidegger, building on and reacting to Nietzsche and others, such as phenomenologist Edmund Husserl, tried to bring philosophy back to the question of being as such, rather than just beings. His view of truth--as aletheia, the Greek idea of truth as an "unveiling," was set forth as a response to the modern view of truth as a "correspondence with reality." Heidegger's active support of National Socialism in the Germany of the 1930's and 40's, although reprehensible, seems to have been more a function of practical politics than of the ideas which constituted his academic writings. Heidegger's philosophy provides a contrast to the positivism of Russell and Whitehead (as well as A. J. Ayer and the earlier Ludwig Wittgenstein) and is the basis of much of modern existentialism and post modernism.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Who's being violent to whom?

In the comments section of my previous post responding to Evil Bender on the issue of violence against gays, Mr. Bender (Sorry, I can't resist saying that) responded to the remark on my post questioning how many cases there were similar to the Matthew Shepherd murder, which was a hate inspired crime which I, like every other civilized human being, condemns. In fact, I'm for the death penalty for such people. I wonder if Evil Bender is willing to go as far as I am in prosecuting the perpetrators of the crimes about which he professes to be so concerned.

What I originally challenged in my post was how many incidents there were similar to that of Matthew Shepherd. Now I'll give Evil Bender one guess as to what is similar to a murder motivated by anti-gay hatred. I'll give him a minute to think about this ...

... Ready for the answer? The answer to the question, "What is similar to a murder motivated by anti-gay hatred?" is ... "A murder motivated by anti-gay hatred"! Now in response to this he provided a link to a 2006 FBI report on Hate Crimes that lists the following number of murders motivated by anti-gay hatred:

Zero. There were no murders motivated by anti-gay hatred in the report Evil Bender cites.

Then, after making what he thinks is decisive blow against my argument (which, curiously, consists of actually confirming what I said), he waited for a response from me, and when he didn't get it on his time schedule, he challenged me once again:
I notice you still haven't admitted that violence against homosexuals is a real and continuing problem. I'm still waiting for you to do the honest thing and admit you were wrong.
Now despite the fact that my original question is about on the level of a first round question in "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" Bender goes off on the whole broad question of anti-gay hate crimes, and declares a national emergency. Now I question whether the statistics in the FBI report constitute a national emergency, particularly when far less than half of the low number of incidents it reports are not physical violence--and none are the type of crime I asked about: murder.

Again, those who commit these crimes should be locked up and forced to repeatedly have to point out to people who comment on their blog that their data actually supports their own case, over and over and over again. That'll teach 'em.

But then Evil Bender made the following statement:
I suggested that you were downplaying actual violence in an attempt to make anti-gay bigots look like victims and homosexuals looks like the perpetrators, when the opposite is true.
Really? What Evil Bender needs to do is put down the FBI report on hate crimes and take a look at the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs report on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Domestic Violence in the United States in 2006. Notice that that is the same year as the FBI report Evil Bender points to that reports all of that anti-gay violence, so we have a good comparison.

While the FBI report lists 1,195 incidents of anti-gay hate crimes (most of which are not violent crimes against someone's person, and many of which are "intimidation," a definition for which I could not find on the site)--and, again, no murders, the number of gay domestic violence incidents for the same year is 3,534.

Oh, and four murders. That's ... let's see ... four more gay on gay murders than there were murders of gays by gay haters, of which there were none. And by the way, the report states that murders were underreported in their study. In addition, there were almost three times the number of violent incidents--maybe more, depending on the percentage of these that were incidents of "intimidation." In fact, the organizations reporting these kinds of statistics (which are themselves gay organizations) commonly list gay on gay violence as one of the top three health concerns of gays and lesbians.

Now Evil Bender says that I was making the perpetrators of anti-gay violence look like "victims" when I have now said several times that I'm for prosecuting them to full extent of the law--curious coming from a person who has charged several times now that I have misrepresented him. But he also charges that I have made homosexuals look like "the perpetrators" of violence against gays.

Well, I don't remember saying that, but for what it's worth, I will say it now: Most reported incidents of violence against gays are perpetrated by gays. If he doesn't believe it, then his argument is with gay organizations who are reporting these facts and not with me. If Evil Bender is so concerned about the well-being of gays, he would have more of an impact trying to convince gays to stop committing it against each other.

In any case, if Evil Bender is wanting an admission from me that I was wrong, I suggest he do a little more research.

Friday, April 11, 2008

A balanced view of the "faith of our fathers"

Richard Brookhiser's review of Founding Faith: Providence, Politics, and the Birth of Religious Freedom in America, by Steven Waldman from the New York Times.

Can the humanities be saved?

Lydia McGrew at What's Wrong with the World?--a title which implies a certain Chestertonian aspect, which is always good--has a great post on saving the humanities. She asks whether there is any hope for them in a time when, outside of older professors who still cling to the permanent truths, the humanities professor with a traditional outlook is an endangered species.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

John David Dyche's conservative case for liberalism

John David Dyche continues to demonstrate why he is the Kentucky media's favorite conservative. In today's Courier-Journal, he writes that it is a mistake for Republicans in the Kentucky General Assembly to refuse to raise taxes. His immediate concern was the Republicans refusal to commisserate with the House Democrats to raise cigarette taxes.

"Properly understood," he says, in a George F. Willian manner, "conservatism is an attitude of realistic prudence toward politics and society, not a rigid position on any single issue." This is true enough, and a sentiment to which Edmund Burke would give a hearty, "Amen." But his argument falls apart the longer it proceeds. Ronald Reagan, he claims, raised taxes and prospered. Well, yes. He raised taxes. But is they why he prospered?

Dyche's main argument is that, while it is consistent with conservative principles to oppose taxes at the federal level, such anti-tax sentiment is out of place on the state level, on account of federalism. Opposing taxes on the federal level makes sense, he says, since the federal government is bloated. On the state level, however, it's a different story.

It is? Has he visited Frankfort lately? I suggest visiting the Cabinet for Families and Children building. See if there is any other place in the state with a bigger parking lot. State government gets accused of a lot of things, but it is a rare thing for it to be called efficient. It is an even rarer thing to be called efficient by a Republican. And even rarer when it is a "conservative" Republican.

Why, argues Dyche, is a tax on cigarettes a good idea? Because it would have good consequences, that's why. Oh, is that right? Now I've never heard the argument that taxes can be used for good except by ... Democrats. Liberal ones.

Dyche somehow thinks that the Republican opposition to new state taxes is inconsistent with conservatism, and he laments the passing of an earlier, more "diverse" Republican Party:

Kentucky formerly featured more philosophical diversity among its Republican politicians. Many will argue that is the very reason why the GOP was so long in the minority. Perhaps aggressively pairing an inflexible anti-tax stance with fundamentalist Christian positions on social issues is the key to a renaissance of Republican political success.

But nothing in the conservative intellectual tradition requires any such linkage. And little, if anything, in Kentucky's quality of life or future prospects proves that the commonwealth is better off because of it.

This stagnant state is in desperate need of a new "third way" alternative to its current partisan political gridlock. Pragmatic Republicans with the courage to reclaim real conservatism from the misguided ideology that has consumed it can point the way.

Why is it that anytime anyone invokes "diversity," it is never in an argument for the consideration of conservative ideas? Dyche wants to make a "conservative" argument for state level taxes, just like he makes "conservative" arguments for casino gambling. Oh, and there are his "conservative" arguments for same-sex marriage too. In fact, there are an amazing number of liberal positions for which Dyche seems to have conservative arguments.

To say that an absolutist anti-tax position is not a conservative position is not outside the realm of plausibility. Conservatism, as I have argued elsewhere, is not an ideology. But Dyche doesn't even come close to making a case that it is time for tax increases on cigarettes or anything else so long as there is a government that drastically needs trimming. I don't know about Dyche, but my state tax bill is a shocker every year, and I see very little of it that helps me, and whole lot that seems to benefit the able-bodied guy who lives across the street from me who doesn't work and is too lazy to even clean up his yard.

Dyche is an intelligent and articulate writer. He's a gentleman too: last time I lambasted him about something, he wrote me a nice note (Don't you hate when people do that?) But it would be nice if every now and then, instead of spending time offering conservative arguments for liberal positions, he would offer conservative arguments for conservative positions.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

He Was Legend: Charlton Heston, R.I.P.

I was discussing movies with a friend recently, and he told me the story of Lawrence Olivier's remark to Dustin Hoffman on "method acting" on the set of Marathon Man. Method acting is the idea that an actor should internalize the persona of the character he is playing in order the play that character more effectively. Marlon Brando is one of the most famous of the method actors, along with Al Pacino, Paul Newman, and Robert DeNiro. It originated at the Group Theatre in 1930s New York, and was furthered by Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio in later decades.

Hoffman was supposed to play a character who was tired and worn out, so he stayed up all the previous night. When Hoffman explained to Olivier, his costar in the movie who had a distaste for method acting, why he was so exhausted, Olivier allegedly quipped, "Try acting sometime."

Charlton Heston, who died Sunday at the age of 83, tried acting sometime. He was definitely of an older school, and once said of method acting, "If you get tied up with your own psyche, digging into your own belly button, you may learn something about yourself, but I'm not convinced you're going to find significant creative truth about some other character."

Heston, like other classical actors, didn't rely on channeling the emotions of the character; instead, he mastered the craft of acting. If you want to see this on display with another actor of this more traditional school, pop in a DVD of the Ten Commandments some time, and watch the scenes in which Yul Brunner, another practitioner of the craft of acting, and Heston played opposite each other. This was true acting by men who had mastered their art. They didn't need to feel what their characters felt: they knew how to act.

In today's cinema, you see the product of the increasingly advanced technology, which can make up for an actor's weaknesses. Today's actor does not have to pay as much attention to where he is facing or how he moves in a scene. The camera and fx people can take care of that. Actors like Heston, trained classically on the stage, needed no special effects or inventive camera work to do the job for them. They made the scene all by themselves.

Heston thrived in a cinematic era tailor-made for the square-jawed, athletic actor: the age of the epic. Who else could play Moses and improve on him? (Moses stuttered) The movies Heston made could not be done today. Although of all the forms of media movies are the least prone to the postmodernist denial of the grand metanarratives (those box office receipts do have their allure), such movies as Heston is best known for are an endangered species: historical epics in which the hero fights for the Good--and wins. We still have epics today, but for some reason filmmakers feel constrained either to place them in a fantasy setting, or, if they attempt history, they seem to feel obligated to pollute it with ludicrous politically correct anachronisms. You get either the Lord of the Rings (for which, let me make clear, I am sincerely thankful), in which heroes live--in another world, or The Kingdom of Heaven, in which you get Orlando Bloom making a speech to the besieged residents of Jerusalem which sounds less like a rallying cry and more like Jimmy Carter's "malaise" speech.

There are exceptions to this generalization, the most remarkable of them being Gladiator, which, ironically, was produced by the same director as The Kingdom of God.

Ben Hur was probably Heston's best film, and was one of the best films of any era. I saw it again recently, and was struck by the power of every aspect of the film. I showed it for some of my students at our monthly "Classic Movie Theatre" at Highlands Latin School, and although it was long, there wasn't a student in the room (and I shouldn't need even to mention how tough a crowd modern students can be) who wasn't riveted by it.

He also became an unlikely star of the science fiction genre, playing the lead in one of the best science fiction films ever made: The Planet of the Apes. He also starred in Soylent Green and the Omega Man (based on the same book as was Will Smith's I am Legend), both of which are classics of the genre.

Heston was a conservative in a Hollywood dominated by the political left. In the 1980s, at the height of the scare over a "nuclear winter" (one in a long series of scares which includs global cooling, but the most recent example of which is global warming), Paul Newman took it upon himself to preach the nuclear winter gospel around the country. Heston hit the road to follow Newman, giving the other side at Newman's every stop. The controversy was consummated in a live television debate between Heston and Newman which turned out to be the most informative and articulate expression of both sides of the issue that had yet been seen.

Heston's death comes within a few weeks of that of his friend William F. Buckley. But is wasn't only their conservatism that united them. Heston read one of Buckley's columns on a matter of mutual interest: "Here I'd thought all along that it was your prose that impressed me," he told Buckley, in a letter that ran in the June 12, 1981 edition of Buckley's National Review Magazine, "or your magazine, or even your wry and disheveled urbanity." He continued:
Not so, I now perceive. Our bond is far deeper and more instinctual: we are Brothers in Peanut Butter. Think of the happy hours we can spend debating the merits of Skippy versus Deaf Smith County. When you add peanuts to commercial blends, should they be dry-roasted or salted? Does cashew butter count? ... Why do hotels laugh when you order peanut butter from room service? (Because they are knaves and fools, that's why. You must carry your own in a plastic container, Bill, surely you know that.) In any event, I see our relationship has entered a new dimension. I look forward to exploring it.
He was, in other words, in addition to being a famous actor, a normal person--a very extraordinary normal person. It says something about him that, in a Hollywood famous for its serial relationships, he was married to his wife Lydia for 64 years.

Heston narrated a popular recording of the New Testament. But he not only read it: he believed it. He was a confessing Christian, and now that he is dead, he has undoubtedly met Someone who looks more like God than he did.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Obsessed with obsession with obsession...or something like that

Evil Bender seems positively obsessed with my obsession with claiming Brayton is obsessed with anything gay. And why do I call Evil Bender obsessed? For the same reason he calls me obsessed: because I occasionally post on my blog about it. If I'm obsessed, why isn't he obsessed? For that matter, why, under this logic, isn't Ed Brayton obsessed? In fact, it's sort of ironic that Evil Bender would charge me with saying that Ed is obsessed (which I have never said) when the only argument under which Ed could be considered to be obsessed is the one laid down on his own blog.

In fact, the funny thing is that posts like Evil Bender's are not only that they are logically self-defeating, but that they prove my point: that any time you question the Approved Opinions on homosexuality, you get a hysterical response.

In response to my comment that gays get upset merely because you disagree with them, he invokes Matthew Shepherd. What is his argument? And what does it have to do with what I said? It is hard to tell. Matthew Shepherd was killed by idiots, he seems to suggest, therefore anyone who disagrees with the political agenda of gay organizations is an idiot. Evil Bender seems to find this logic singularly compelling.
I guess Cothran has never heard of Matthew Shepard. Or maybe Shepard’s killers aren’t the homosexuals who Cothran is discussing. Or maybe he’s thinking of the vicious gangs of lesbians that Bill O is so afraid of. Cothran loves rhetoric, so I have to wonder how he could be so blind to the realities of homophobia that he would accuse gay people of being “violent” in their disagreement–and this in a world where actual violence against homosexuals is a very real, very horrific problem.
To simply say "Matthew Shepherd," and repeat the formula often, is somehow seen as constituting an argument in defense of campus speech codes and other forms of intimidation toward people who disagree with the Tolerance Police. Apparently there is widespread violence against gays that will somehow be eliminated if we simply stifle free expression.

Or is there?

The only people who supported murdering Matthew Shepherd were the people who murdered Matthew Shepherd. Are there groups out there supporting murdering gays? Where? And how many other instances similar to the Shepherd case are there? I have asked this question before, and have yet to receive an answer. Gays are more likely to be celebrated in our popular culture than they are to be discriminated against in any form. In fact, it would be interesting to see who would be the more likely victim of discrimination in applying, say, for a media or academic job: a person who is openly gay, or a person who openly disagrees with gays.

Oh, and lest I forget, somehow this all undermines the case for Intelligent Design. Go and view his post and see if you can make sense of it. I can't.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Humanitas Forum on Christianity and Culture

Just learned of this today: The Humanitas Forum on Christianity and Culture in Nashville, Tennessee on April 11-12. And on the bill two of my favorite people: Ken Myers of Mars Hill Audio and Jeremy Beer of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. And it's dirt cheap.

Good Question

A great question from "Michelle" at michellespagefornonni:

I’ve been studying the logic of the atheistic scientists who scoff at Intelligent Design. If they are right, and you can’t infer a designer simply because something seems to have a design, then how can we so easily accept that Stonehenge was formed by some ancient civilization? There’s certainly nothing to point to that. There is no history, no evidence of the civilization, and it seems that to infer it was formed by humans is all based on the fact that it aligns with the sun at the solstice. Isn’t that an argument based on design? Why not just be strictly scientific and theorize natural causes such as movement by glaciers during the Ice Age, or that specific types of rocks arose in certain places during earth upheavals? Why go to the extreme of theorizing about how men moved the rocks, etc, and were knowledgeable about astronomy? Isn’t that delving into irrational belief, based on the evidence we have?

Bush declares new threat: Zombies

This was pretty funny: