Monday, April 21, 2008

Ben Stein bombs

By Capt. Fogg

I used to watch the Comedy Central quiz show Win Ben Stein's Money; not because I liked the guy, but because I liked to be amazed at what he didn't know. Of course not knowing all kinds of political and historical trivia isn't an indication of being a dumb schmuck, but letting one's name be affiliated with a movie like Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed is proof positive. It's slightly gratifying that the public largely has ignored Ben Stein's turd of a film although divine intervention in some really ghastly way would have been more gratifying.

The premise that "intelligent Design," the resurrected, quasi-Deist argument that life and perhaps the universe is too complex to have arisen through natural processes, has been so soundly, thoroughly and often humorously debunked over the last two centuries that it shouldn't be necessary to note that existence not only predates our inability to understand it but isn't subject to reducing its complexities to the level where a religious person can understand. Yes this is a religious argument and that's why it's only applied to Human evolution and not to the equally difficult aspects of quantum physics, general relativity and advanced mathematics. Imagine my saying that Tensor Calculus is flawed because it's beyond my ability!

Comprehensive denunciations of Intelligent Design have been around for centuries. It's a buried fallacy now exhumed like some hollow zombie only because our culture has lost touch with itself and the majority of us are as ignorant if not more so than we were 200 years ago. Percy Bysshe Shelley's refutation of Deism and his Necessity of Atheism not only makes Ben Stein's vaunted brain look dull and pedestrian, but illustrates the ironic appeal to victimhood that is this movie's argument. Shelly was thrown out of school for his brilliant efforts; thrown out by the same militantly dishonest dullards who claim to be unfairly treated by science.

The argument from Ignorance has it that biological structures like the eye cannot have originated without guidance from a supernatural intelligence because, say the the proponents of God, they don't understand the process. This proposition begins with the absurd and doesn't need to be reduced far for one to notice that according to such arguments, the greater the ignorance, the more true the propositions must be. To the ignorant, all things are equally possible.

Of course nature can be difficult to understand and even when understood, it can be counterintuitive. Humans took a long time to accept that up and down were relative directions and they roasted scientists alive for showing evidence that myths were incorrect. Battles were fought over such things as atomic theory and of course the heliocentric universe. Being less and less able to do so today, those who cling to and insist that others must cling to myth, have to create an additional saga of their own persecution: hence this movie.

If you buy into it of course, you cannot avoid admitting that you value comfort above honesty; that you see evidence as less valuable than comfort and that you want to punish anyone who disagrees. There is not only no evidence for order in the universe much less order than can only be a design, but the conjecture does not provide for the design of the designer. It's like the classic rebuff to the argument that there is no giant turtle upon whose back the Earth rests: it's turtles all the way down says the little old lady to Bertrand Russel. It's not an argument, it's a hysterical fugue. Imagine arguing for the existence of a "Firmament" or for a world that floats on water or a heaven one can walk into from a mud brick tower! Although ID may require only the Deus Absconditus of the Deists; a God who created things and moved on, there is no evidence, there is no science, nothing that can be demonstrated, nothing that can be inferred from demonstrable fact. ID is of the same ilk as magic, voodoo, deception, outright stupidity and pathological delusion.

The evidence for the origin of species through natural selection is sufficient that no alternative explanation can compete fairly, hence the unfairness, the dishonesty and the outright sleaziness of Steins movie. Do I need to repeat that there is no evidence whatever for the Divine hand other than the argument ad ignorentiam? If we must give equal opportunities for bogus theories and reject all standards for truth in education, we must abandon the notion of education altogether and return the universities to the Churches we took so long to dethrone. Ben Stein has bet his money that we will. I hope he loses every dime.

Cross posted from Human Voices


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Blogger Brian said...

I didn't read through your evaluation of the film, because it's not interesting, but your statement that the film "bombed" financially is false.

It's been out for a few days, and it's made over 3 million, making it the 26th best grossing documentary. Now, 26 isn't too impressive, but if it keeps on this trajectory for about 3 more weeks, it will be the 3rd most successful documentary, behind only Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 and March of the Penguins.


10:42:00 AM  
Blogger Capt. Fogg said...

You weren't interested? More likely it offended your chickenshit religious beliefs and so you were afraid to read the links - yet you had to try to feel superior, didn't you?

Both Fahrenheit 9/11 and Sicko made about $24 million in their opening weekend despite playing in very few venues.

This turkey brought in a little over a million on its opening night and made about $3 million over the weekend, That makes teh Michael Moore films about 20 times as successful doesn't it? It added up to about a thousand dollars a night for the theaters that showed it which wouldn't cover the overhead in most decent venues and may well have been less than the popcorn take.

After the lawsuits for copyright violations are considered, perhaps the film will be as much of a loser as it deserves to be although I'm sure it will have an afterlife on video selling to the idiots at creationist websites. The "trajectory" for such things of course, is initial curiosity and subsequent plunge, not continued rise. This didn't have enough initial curiosity to cover expenses.

Thanks for your inventive and wishful comments.

1:18:00 PM  
Blogger mynym said...

Your second paragraph:
[ID] is argument that life and perhaps the universe is too complex to have arisen through natural processes...

That's incorrect. ID is based on the notion that forms of complexity that is specified for reasons that can be known (whether such knowledge is the function of an organism, the information content of a bit of text or the functional nature of apparent technology) may be designed by intelligence. Sentience and intelligent agency is all that is known to have a knowledge of reason and purpose, therefore its involvement may be evidenced in any artifact specified based on reason and purpose.

In contrast, if it is true that we must limit ourselves to explanations that seem "natural" then the text that you write here traces to brain events which have more to do with natural selection operating on ancient worm-like creatures than intelligent agency.

Yes this is a religious argument and that's why it's only applied to Human evolution and not to the equally difficult aspects of quantum physics, general relativity and advanced mathematics. Imagine my saying that Tensor Calculus is flawed because it's beyond my ability!

ID proponents are not saying that something is beyond their understanding, apparently you're merely referring to the way that you would argue for ID. They're saying that they understand specified forms of complexity well enough to infer intelligent design based on knowledge of function. This is a position based on knowledge and understanding which may be falsified and tested for just that reason.

At any rate, the main issue here is your apparently lack of understanding and ignorance of the symbols and signs of design typical to intelligence, a Darwinian form of ignorance by which one would conclude that the text which you write here is an artifact of brain events which are an artifact of natural selection operating on the reproductive organs of ancient ape-like creatures and so on. If that's not the case, then biologically speaking what is the cause of the text that you write here? If it is the case, then why should anyone read it?

5:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I for one cannot wait to read Fogg's response to the last comment. Will "tear a new asshole" apply?

You are right on the money about the trajectory of the film. The first week will be acceptable box office only because of the curiosity and the fact that Ben Stein's name is on it. The very fact that that could attract viewers is proof positive of how utterly ignorant people have become. Numbingly ignorant in fact.

On the other hand, Cap, perhaps you should just save your breath. It hasn't and never will matter what evidence exists that proves that the mythical god of the bible does not exist. These die hards will always create another ridiculous explanation that justifies their efforts and makes them feel all safe and comfy.

This tired old mythology that the truly ignorant cling to will never go away. They will fight more bloody wars, commit more immoral acts, enslave more poor people and steal their money all in an effort to prove that "their god" is the only true one.
You would think that if they are so "intelligent", they could at least put that one to bed.

7:31:00 PM  
Blogger Capt. Fogg said...

How do you tear someone like that a new asshole? It's like digging the Colorado a new canyon.

It's all gibberish and pompous, poorly written gibberish at that - and it's all been torn to pieces by much better writers than I am a long long time ago.

"Sentience and intelligent agency is all that is known to have a knowledge of reason and purpose, therefore its involvement may be evidenced in any artifact specified based on reason and purpose."

Go look up tautology.

11:08:00 PM  
Blogger Libby Spencer said...

Mother of God, I've heard about these ID people but I've never seen any "live" ones before. I wonder if they still believe the earth is flat too?

Brilliant post Fogg. I've never understood why anyone would watch Ben Stein myself but you judge the quality of their beliefs and their confidence in them by the way they treat their critics, which is to ban them at the gate. I'm still chuckling over the PZ Meyers story.

9:15:00 AM  
Blogger mynym said...

It's all gibberish and pompous, poorly written gibberish at that - and it's all been torn to pieces by much better writers than I am a long long time ago.

Apparently given a limited intellect you argue that it's not understandable, yet it's all been refuted before. Given the mythology of natural Progress often woven into the Darwinian creation myth, your Mommy Nature probably "selected" for it to be refuted a long, long time ago. But if such ideas have been refuted, why not specify how?

David Berlinski noted this ridiculous argument typical to biologists:When physicists come to defend the Landscape [multiple universes], they use language more commonly heard from biologists, Lee Smolin has argued that deep down there is little evidence in favor of string theory, and even less in favor of the Landscape. So, what of it? Leonard Susskind responded: “The level of confidence that string theorists have for their theory is based on a web of interconnected pieces of evidence that is so compelling that genuine mathematicians have no doubt about its validity.”
Sentiments of this sort must be appreciated for their speculative inventiveness, if nothing else. Evidence so compelling that no part of it need be produced is not evidence at all. (The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions by David Berlinksi :128)(Emphasis added)

10:37:00 AM  
Blogger mynym said...

Go look up tautology.

It's telling that those who seek to explain away intelligent selection based on natural selection come across the same criticism. But if there are self-evident truths that are evident in the Self based on logic, like sentience, then they are important even if they are tautological because at the end of a chain of logic sits the issue of intelligent agency. As scholarly critic of scientism once pointed out:Electrons and nucleons are not known to be sentient, while the higher animals are. If a rat laps up a solution of saccharine, the rational ex planation of this lies in the fact that the solution tastes sweet and that the rat likes that. The tasting and liking are facts that physics and chemistry as known today cannot explain.
And this conclusion gives the whole show away. Because it acknowledges a conscious desire by an individual capable of such desire, it leads on further to the recognition of deliberate actions by in- dividuals and the possibilities of error on their part. Thus a whole series of conceptions emerges that are absent from physics and chemistry as known today. Indeed, nothing is relevant to biology, even at the lowest level of life, unless it bears on the achievements of living beings: achievements such as their perfection of form, their morphogenesis, or the proper functioning of their organs; and the very conception of such achievements implies a distinction between success or failure—a distinction unknown to physics and chemistry.
But the distinction between success and failure is present in, and is indeed essential to, the science of engineering; and the logic of engineering does substantiate in fact what I am saying here of biology.
[...] if the rules of scientific detachment required that we limit ourselves exclusively to physical and chemical observations, we would remain forever unaware of frogs or of any other living beings, just as we would remain ignorant also by such observations of all machines and other human contrivances.
The achievements which form the subject matter of biology can be identified only by a kind of appraisal which requires a higher degree of participation by the observer in his subject matter than can be mediated by the tests of physics and chemistry. The current ideal of “scientificality” which would refuse such participation would indeed destroy biology but for the wise neglect of consistency on the part of its supporters.
(Scientific Outlook: Its Sickness and Cure by Michael Polanyi
Science New Series, Vol. 125, No. 3246 (Mar., 1957), pp. 482)

Similarly, if one took the pseudo-science of Darwinism seriously and applied it consistently then we ought to imagine that the text that you write here to natural selection operating on ancient ape-like creatures and ultimately trace it out into fields of energy, all the while failing utterly to deal with its informational content based on a knowledge of meaning and purpose.

Apparently you have nothing to say.

10:51:00 AM  
Blogger mynym said...

I've heard about these ID people but I've never seen any "live" ones before.

Given your ignorance you probably haven't read a single book written by a proponent of ID.

I wonder if they still believe the earth is flat too?

Who do you think believed that the earth was flat in the first place? Given the mythologies of Progress that Darwinists are prone to inventing based on their way of merely imagining things about the past a little history may be in order. Apparently you need to read the book: (Inventing the Flat Earth: Columbus and Modern Historians by Jeffrey Burton Russell)

10:55:00 AM  
Blogger Capt. Fogg said...

Desunt nonnulla, old chap. It's evidence. Even with it, the lies and misrepresentations and irrelevancies would need to be checked at the door, lest they stink up the place.

You know, I haven't read any books by the people who insist that the ratio Pi is the integer 3 upon Biblical authority either although such things and such believers do exist. If they did offer something other than peremptory proclamation and preposterous pleonasm I might, but of course they can't and neither can you. All you can do is insult and deny evidence in favor of conjecture based on ignorance.

The claim of Intelligent design in nature requires massive proof and the burden is yours, not mine. You absolutely cannot offer anything more than conjecture, false characterizations and appeals to authority. Not one of these things are arguments -- not one. This farrago of double talk and innapposite references to string theory is clumsy sophistry and I'm being kind by saying that.

The claim of intelligent design requires a designer for the designer far more than does the observable and repeatable separation of one species into two. Is it really "designers" all the way down? That' question has been asked and not answered for about 200 years.

Sure, there are more elements to your crusade against honesty than argumentum ad ignorentiam: but in response to your grandiose self estimation, the odds of your having my IQ is fairly close to a million to one, but even if you are that one, your insults make you seem as foolish as you are obnoxious, but the real issue isn't me, is it? or that your "argument" doesn't rise to the level of fallacy; it isn't your rearrangement of my words to suit your evasive dependency upon unqualified authority or your attempt to hide behind this self-referential and rebarbate circumlocution, but that there is no - I repeat NO evidence for any supernatural intelligence at work in the universe: none. That leaves you no platform on which to stand and hurl insults. Not that I don't enjoy the specticle.

There is nearly inexhaustible evidence for the origin of species through natural selection whether you choose to recognize it or not. It's not up to me to give you a syllabus, it's up to you to provide real and consistent evidence and as nobody ever has done so, I suggest it's time you took off your genius costume and went home.

I'm really not required to give you a course in scientific method or paleontology or genetics although you're sorely in need of it. I'm not about to refer you to all the writings of the European Enlightenment debunking Deism; observable evidence demands evolution - all of it. Were you not so willfully unaware of these things you might blush at the imbecility of your illegitimate and dishonest reduction of Darwin's assertions to conjecture. The irony of course is delightful, even though evolution ceased to rely only on Darwin's work a long, long time ago.

Of course that I give a shit for you or your nauseatingly irrational ideas, your lies, evasions and bullying appeals to ignorance, is only another one of your unwarranted assumptions.

Reply if you have the requisite lack of shame, but I have to go bury my Mother this evening and will leave you with the hope that evolution will eventually divide us into separate species - yours to be exploited by mine as a source of cat food.

12:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If that was not "tearing a new asshole" then I don't know what is!

Mynym, as a debate teacher I must say, regardless of the subject of this current discussion, you are so far out of your league here that you best go find someone less likely to spot all of the fallacies that your argument is so riddled with.

Indeed, as Fogg says, the burden of proof that some intelligent wisp of cosmic dust has designed nature is upon defenders of ID. So far, you have all done a miserable job of presenting any.

Go back to the drawing board and come back when you have a little more to stand on than biblical reference, personal attacks and a blatant misunderstanding of the relationship between cause and effect.

7:43:00 PM  
Blogger Kevin McKague said...

This argument is not unlike the abortion debate. Each side starts with a premise that the other side is unwilling to accept, but they continue to talk past each other, unable to debate because they are fighting in completely different rings.

First of all, ID fails because many of its proponents are trying to prove an unprovable hypothesis. This fact alone makes it very, very unscientific.

Secondly, nothing in evolution even attempts to explain the very beginnings of species, merely how they adapt over time. Having said that, there is nothing incompatable with evolution religion, and the fact that many who teach evolution will profess a faith in God is proof of this.

What is most objectionable about tactics used by those in the ID movement is not that they believe that God created the universe, it is the fact that for some strange reason, they feel that they need to knock evolution to promote religion. They will confuse people about the nature of science and accuse the scientific community in order to do it. When somebody makes claims that evolution that requires a boatload of faith in the imaginary, they are not doing the ID movement any favors, they are showing a lack of understanding about the scientific method, and the scientific community.

Consider that much of what we now consider to be fact about our ecosystem, and even our medicines, would be unknowable if we had not first understood evolution. How's that throat infection, Mr. ID guy? Whatever you do, don't take an anti-biotic, we wouldn't have them if not for Mr. Darwin's evolution. Having trouble with your garden since the Weed-be-gone spray stopped killing weeds? Surely the weeds aren't simply adapting to the spray. Maybe the garden simply wasn't "intelligently designed" by its gardener.

If you want to suggest that God created the universe, by all means, go ahead. Just leave the science to the scientists.

12:39:00 PM  
Blogger Kevin McKague said...

Then again, maybe I'm being hasty.

After all, isn't gravity just a "theory", just like evolution. There are just too many things about gravity that can't be proven by science, so lets throw that out too.

I now believe in "Intelligent Grappling", that angels are actually responsible for holding us to the earth. If "Big Science" refuses to give IG equal time in science classes, well, that's just proof of a wide-ranging conspiracy among the scientific community to support the unsupportable idea of gravity.

Maybe I should make a movie!

12:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Damn, Kevin. Well said.

7:58:00 PM  
Blogger Capt. Fogg said...

It's very refreshing to hear from intelligent people - thanks.

1:00:00 PM  

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