More Fun With Hash Codes

CreditCard-01

A few months ago I posted an item about applied cryptography. That post got into a short explanation of what the MD5 algorithm does. In short, MD5 takes as input a string of data, essentially a sequences of binary digits, and computes a 32-digit hexadecimal string. In my example I executed the following text as input to MD5:

Furthermore, comparison of sequences for the different organisms show what should be expected from evolution. Although cytochrome c performs much the same function in the different organisms it shows these differences due to random DNA copying errors during reproduction. As long as the resulting protein performs a useful (and required) function in the descendent organism, the descendent will thrive and reproduce, and the error will be retained in the subsequent lineage. The further along the line of descent a particular organism is the more accumulated change there will be. If a lineage branches, as during the formation of a new species, the chain of differences will diverge, as well. The result is that the accumulated differences between two living organisms marks the amount of change since the two lineages diverged.

The computation produced:

54eb1c5086598e9f925bb3ec30c215f0

I then changed one character in the text and ran the computation again and obtained the following result:

ca27c1bb6311517eb3ed51129bec0804

A quick examination illustrates that a single-character change produces dramatic changes in the hash code. A like result would have been produced by a change of a single bit in the text file.

This is just one nice application of MD5 (and the related MD6). What are some other uses? Here is an example.

Suppose you have a watch for sale. Somebody says they want to buy the watch. They promise to pay on the 20th of next month. You are agreeable to this arrangement, because you have a list of people who have proven to be reliable in paying what they promise. You need to determine the purchaser is one of these people.

You ask, “Who are you?” the person identifies himself. You check your list and determine the person is on your list of reliable purchasers, and you complete the transaction, expecting to receive payment on the 20th of next month.

What this most resembles is a credit card transaction. You are a Best Buy store, and the purchaser identifies himself by means of a credit card. The credit card has a 16-digit decimal number on it that uniquely identifies the customer as being a valid participant.

The problem with all of this is that some nefarious person can get a glimpse of somebody’s credit card, make a note of the 16 digits, make up a phony card with the same 16-digit number and then proceed to make fraudulent purchases. Since the 16-digit identification is also encoded on the credit card’s magnetic strip, a crook can “skim” the card through a hand-held reader and perform the same operation without the trouble of copying the identification number down by hand.

The problem with the embossed number and the magnetic strip is that the identification is visible, either by eyeball or by magnetic skimmer. What you need is identification that is not visible. Here is one approach. I will illustrate with a mock scenario.

A person approaches you and offers to purchase your watch. You ask, “Who are you?” The person identifies himself. You check your list and determine the person is on your list. Now you need to make sure this is not an impersonator. That is, make sure this person is not presenting a phony credit card.

You say, “I know you. You are the only person who can answer the question I’m about to ask.” Then you ask the question. If this is the person he claims to be, then he can provide the correct answer.

How can this transaction be accomplished? Here’s one way.

The purchaser has a credit card with the standard identification. This tells the merchant who the purchaser is claiming to be. The credit card also contains some information that cannot be read by any means, except maybe by obtaining physical possession of the card and dissecting it (destructively). This hidden information is used to complete the identification. Something like MD5 can be used to accomplish this.

Embed in the credit card an integrated circuit (chip) that can do some computation. The chip also contains an identification number that is unique to the card. The merchant’s point of sale (POS) terminal is linked to the credit card company database.

  • The POS terminal reads the visible information from the card and transmits it to the credit card company.
  • The credit card company matches the identification with a copy of the card’s hidden information.
  • The credit card company sends a message to the POS terminal. The message contains information unique to this sales transaction.
  • The POS terminal sends the transaction identification code to the credit card.
  • The credit card combines the transaction identification code with its hidden identification code, producing a data string.
  • The credit card computes the MD5 hash code from the data string and sends this back to the POS terminal.
  • The POS terminal sends this hash code back to the credit card company.
  • The credit card company also combines the transaction code with the hidden card information and computes the MD5 hash code.
  • The credit card company compares the has code it has computed with the hash code from the POS terminal and approves the transaction if the values match.

At no time has the hidden identification code been exposed. It is very impractical for anybody to compute the hidden code from the transaction code and the hash code produced by the card. Except under the most concerted and expensive attack the hidden code in the card remains secure. This approach thwarts credit card fraud that involves phony cards produced from the visible identification codes.

Readers interested in data security and related themes may be interested in a book by Bruce Schneier, Applied Cryptography. Twenty years ago I was participating in an Internet discussion group, and I had a question about something. One of the participants was Bruce Schneier, and he recommended I get his book. I bought the paperback of the first edition. The above link is to a revised edition.

Christian Nation

True source of racism

From Google Images

I may have been a bit premature. Rash at any rate. Sometimes I make statements without getting all the facts. Like this time a few days ago:

So Ben Stein (and the CSC) want us to know that Darwinism contributes to racism. Really? I wonder if Stein and those at the CSC know what deep-dyed racism looks like. I decided to search out the soul of racism in America, and here is what I found.

What happened was I was reviewing the creationist video Expelled featuring Ben Stein, and in the video Stein and others, some of them creationists, were trying to make the case that Darwinism (otherwise known as the modern science of biological evolution) promoted racism and even contributed to Nazi suppression of Jews including the Holocaust. My impression, without checking my facts, was that a Christian source fostered racism in this country, and in a spirit of over exuberance I posted some photos of a popular American racist organization. That organization is the KKK, the Ku Klux Klan, and I wanted to give readers the impression that this was a Christian organization. I carefully picked for illustration photos that showed KKK members juxtaposed with Christian crosses. See, I wanted readers to think these people were all Christians. But, as I said, I didn’t check my facts. I should have waited:

The leader of the Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan is tired of “a few rogue Klansmen” ruining the group’s reputation, and argues that the group is a non-violent Christian organization.

There, I hope that corrects my earlier mistake. “Frank Ancona, the group’s Imperial Wizard,” went on to make sure it’s understood that they don’t hate other races (those that are not “white”). They just don’t want racial mixing. They want to keep the “white” race “pure.”

The KKKers have been catching flak for leaving recruitment fliers in people’s driveways.

“We want to stay white,” Ancona said. “It’s not a hateful thing to want to maintain white supremacy.”

Similar activity by the Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan wasreported in Tinley Park, a suburb of Chicago, in December, after promotional fliers were found in several driveways throughout the town.

“You can sleep tonight knowing the Klan is awake!” the fliers said, according to the Chicago Tribune.

And I don’t know about the rest of you readers, but I know I’m going to sleep tonight knowing Ben Stein and the other creationists are awake and protecting us from Darwinism and other forms of knowledge.

Ferris Bueller Gets Expelled

This is the eighth and final installment of my review of Expelled, the video produced by Premise Media and featuring Ben Stein. In the previous installment I dealt with the creationist argument that Darwinism (the modern science of biological evolution) has provided a basis for racism and genocide. Dr. Michael Egnor, a prominent neurosurgeon alluded to a relationship between Darwinism and racism, and narrator Ben Stein visited scenes of Nazi euthanasia and genocide atrocities to make the case that Darwinism was to blame. The video (not exactly a documentary) cites six people who have been “expelled” for fostering creationism or else for doubting Darwin. Ben Stein goes forward to argue that Darwinism leads to racism and genocide and finally to the war on religion.

The War On Religion

This is the crazy part. See, the Intelligent Design people, especially those at the Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture (CSC) insist Intelligent Design is not a religious concept. This was the argument put forth by the defense in the case Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District. The CSC was originally interested in this case but dropped out before it went to trial. At the end, Federal Judge John E. Jones III ruled that Intelligent Design is a religious concept, and this brought forth all manner of objections from the CSC people.

Judge Jones offered three mains reasons for his conclusion that ID isn’t science, all of which fall apart on close inspection.

Jones asserted: “We find that ID fails on three different levels, any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science. They are: (1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation.” No. Design theorists argue that an intelligent cause is the best explanation for certain features of the natural world. Jones countered this point by noting that most design theorists believe in the Christian God, untroubled by the fact that he is here committing the genetic fallacy, dismissing an argument based on its source (here Christian scientists and philosophers). Commented one legal scholar, “It is worse than horrible, if that is possible. Essentially, what the judge has concluded is that if one is a religious citizen who offers an argument for a point of view consistent with your religious worldview, you will be segregated from the public square. But not because your argument is bad, but because of your beliefs and the company you keep or may have kept. I can’t believe this could happen in America.”

Ben Stein interviews Richard Dawkins

Ben Stein interviews Richard Dawkins

It is difficult to keep in mind that this video is supposed to be about science when watching this interchange between Richard Dawkins and Ben Stein:

Ben Stein: You have written that God is a psychotic delinquent invented by mad deluded people.

Dawkins: No, I didn’t say quite that. I said something better than that.

Stein: Oh, well, please tell me what you said.

Dawkins: Well, I would have to read it from the book.

Stein: No, please.

[Dawkins reads from The God Delusion]

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

Stein: – so that’s what you think of God.

Dawkins: – yeah.

Stein: How about if people believed in God?

This goes on for a while and gets into belief in a loving caring God. Ultimately Stein persuades Dawkins to attach a number to his the probability of no God. Here is where I believe Dawkins makes a big mistake. He says “99%.” That’s not enough for Stein, and he asks Dawkins why 99%. Why not 49%. Dawkins says no, he’s satisfied with 99%. Stein asks about 97%. You can see where this is going.

Professor Dawkins, the real number is 100%, and you should have said so.

Stein then asks, “Then who created the Heaven and the Earth.” Dawkins reminds Stein that this is begging the question. I like that in Dawkins. He is well schooled and knows the meaning of the phrase “begging the question.” Stein has asked the question “Who,” which question contains the answer, “Somebody.” That’s the definition of “begging the question.” Stein presses. How did it all get started? It turns out he means how did life get started. Dawkins answers that it was by a very slow process. Stein presses. What process? The first self-replicating molecule. Stein presses. He wants an answer. Dawkins can’t give him an answer.

Stein: So you have no idea how it started.

Here’s where Dawkins makes his second mistake. He is to generous in his response. He tells Stein that nobody knows. He should have been more direct. He should have paused dramatically, taken a deep breath, looked Stein straight on and said, “No, and neither do you, Mr. Stein.”

People debating this issue with religious people need to press home to them that they do not have the answer. If they respond with God, then they need to be told that if they do not know the answer they are not allowed to make one up out of thin air. They need to be bluntly faced with the fact that they are living a lie.

The dialog gets interesting. Stein presses Dawkins about the possibility that life on Earth had an intelligent origin. Dawkins, being a dead-on realist, concedes this is in the realm of possibility. Paraphrasing Dawkins: A long time ago in a galaxy far far away… There could have been an intelligent life form (created by purely natural processes) that for fun decided to experiment with life forms.

Stein takes what he has been given.

Wait a second. Richard Dawkins thought Intelligent Design might be a legitimate pursuit?

And he finally makes his point.

So, Professor Dawkins was not against Intelligent Design, just certain types of designers, such as God.

And that’s it. That’s what Intelligent Design is all about. It’s about God. All the posturing by the CSC people that Intelligent Design is not a religious movement evaporate with statements like that. Judge John E. Jones came to the same conclusion after hearing all the evidence put forward by the defendants in the Kitzmiller case. The Intelligent Design movement has the sole purpose of promoting God. It’s a religious movement. Teaching Intelligent Design in public science classes has the sole purpose of proselytizing for a particular religious view at public expense, and that is something we said over 200 years ago that we would not do.

Stein continues after his interview with Dawkins. He continues to drive nails into the coffin of the CSC’s argument:

But if the Intelligent Design people are right, God isn’t hidden. We may even be able to encounter God through science if we have the freedom to go there. What could be more intriguing than that?

Back at the podium from the video’s opening clip, Stein continues:

We take freedom for granted here in the United States. Freedom is what this country is all about. And a huge part of freedom is freedom of inquiry. But now, I’m sorry to say, freedom of inquiry is being suppressed.

The video shows President Reagan speaking in front of the Berlin Wall. The Berlin Wall, I presume, is a symbol of suppression. It’s also the wall that separates science and religion. But unlike the Berlin Wall, something is not being kept in. Something is being kept out. Religion is being kept out of science.

Stein at the podium:

There are a lot of people out there who want to keep science in a little box where it can’t possibly touch a higher power, cannot possibly touch God.

We see Jeffrey Schwartz:

If you believe in God, and you believe there’s an intrinsic order in the Universe, and if you believe that it’s the role of science to try to pursue and better understand that order, you will be ostracized.

Elsewhere he says:

When we see an elite – and it is an elite – an elite that controls essentially all the research money in science saying ‘There is no such thing as moral truth, science will not be related to religion.’ I mean, it’s essentially official policy at the National Academy of Sciences, that religion and science will not be related.

The video shows a clip of somebody knocking chips out of the Berlin Wall with a hammer.

Yes, the video is finally about science versus religion. And that is a matter that has given many people such wonder. Why is the entire business so couched in perfidy? Somewhere in Expelled Stein is talking about spirituality (meaning, I assume, the human spirit, the joy of life), and the moral benefits of religion. Where are these in the production of this piece of propaganda?

Serious scientists, including Richard Dawkins, PC Myers and Eugenie C. Scott were duped into participation in the production:

he movie has been criticized by those interviewees who are critics of intelligent design (P.Z. Myers, Dawkins, Shermer, and National Center for Science Education executive director Eugenie Scott), who say they were misled into participating by being asked to be interviewed for a film named Crossroads on the “intersection of science and religion”, and were directed to a blurb implying an approach to the documentary crediting Darwin with “the answer” to how humanity developed:

It has been the central question of humanity through the ages: How in the world did we get here? In 1859 Charles Darwin provided the answer in his landmark book, The Origin of Species. In the century and a half since, geologists, biologists, physicists, astronomers, and philosophers have contributed a vast amount of research and data in support of Darwin’s idea. And yet, millions of Christians, Muslims, Jews, and other people of faith believe in a literal interpretation that humans were crafted by the hand of God. The conflict between science and religion has unleashed passions in school board meetings, courtrooms, and town halls across America and beyond.

— Defunct Rampant Films site for Crossroads

[Some links deleted]

I get no indication this was a production sponsored by the CSC, but they surely carried a lot of water for it:

Organizations affiliated with the Discovery Institute helped publicize the film.[104] It used its evolutionnews.org website and blog to publish over twenty articles tying its promotion of Expelled to its effort to pass the “Academic Freedom Bill” in Florida.

Stein appeared in the cable television programs The O’Reilly Factor and Glenn Beck to talk about the film. In his interview on O’Reilly commentator Bill O’Reilly characterized intelligent design as the idea that “a deity created life”, and Stein responded that “There’s no doubt about it. We have lots and lots of evidence of it in the movie.” The Discovery Institute quickly issued a statement that when Bill O’Reilly conflated intelligent design with creationism he was mistakenly defining it as an attempt to find a divine designer, and lamented that “Ben referred to the ‘gaps’ in Darwin’s theory, as if those are the only issues that intelligent design theory addresses.”

[Some links deleted]

Continuing to illustrate the moral benefits of religion, Ben Stein leans heavily on quote mining to make his point. Found particularly galling is a use cited in the Wikipedia article:

In support of his claim that the theory of evolution inspired Nazism, Ben Stein attributes the following statement to Charles Darwin‘s book The Descent of Man:

With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated. We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination. We build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed and the sick. Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. Hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.

The original source shows that Stein has significantly changed the text and meaning of the paragraph, by leaving out whole and partial sentences without indicating that he had done so. The original paragraph (page 168) (words that Stein omitted shown in bold) and the subsequent sentences in the book state:

With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination. We build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself,hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.

The aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy, which was originally acquired as part of the social instincts, but subsequently rendered, in the manner previously indicated, more tender and more widely diffused. Nor could we check our sympathy, even at the urging of hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature. The surgeon may harden himself whilst performing an operation, for he knows that he is acting for the good of his patient; but if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with an overwhelming present evil. Hence we must bear without complaining the undoubtedly bad effects of the weak surviving and propagating their kind; but there appears to be at least one check in steady action, namely the weaker and inferior members of society not marrying so freely as the sound; and this check might be indefinitely increased, though this is more to be hoped for than expected, by the weak in body or mind refraining from marriage.

According to John Moore writing in the National Post:

Stein quotes from a passage in Darwin’s writing that appears to endorse the notion that for a species to thrive the infirm must be culled. He omits the part where Darwin insists this would be “evil” and that man’s care for the weak is “the noblest part of our nature.” When I asked Stein about this on my radio show he deadpanned, “If any Darwin fans are listening and we have misquoted him, we are sorry; we don’t mean to diss Darwin.”

Ben Stein apologize? Much too late:

But before the interviewees were approached, the movie had already been pitched to Stein as an anti-Darwinist picture:

I was approached a couple of years ago by the producers, and they described to me the central issue of Expelled, which was about Darwinism and why it has such a lock on the academic establishment when the theory has so many holes. And why freedom of speech has been lost at so many colleges to the point where you can’t question even the slightest bit of Darwinism or your colleagues will spurn you, you’ll lose your job, and you’ll be publicly humiliated. As they sent me books and talked to me about these things I became more enthusiastic about participating.

Plus I was never a big fan of Darwinism because it played such a large part in the Nazis’ Final Solution to their so-called “Jewish problem” and was so clearly instrumental in their rationalizing of the Holocaust. So I was primed to want to do a project on how Darwinism relates to fascism and to outline the flaws in Darwinism generally.

— Ben Stein, “Mocked and Belittled”, World Magazine

[Some links deleted]

If you are looking for one more reason to keep religion out of science, the low moral standards of religious supporters will be a significant addition.

Not strictly on the science versus religion topic, but worth mentioning at this point is a closing clip featuring Richard Sternberg:

What I’m asking for is the freedom to follow the evidence wherever it leads.

Does Sternberg really want to follow the evidence wherever it leads? Let’s see. Let me propose a scenario:

Out on the plain there is noticed a huge metal cube. It appears to be made completely of lead. It’s about 100 feet on each side. So massive is it that the very crust of the Earth sags under it’s weight. What is it? Where did it come from? Why is it here? People want to know.

People ask scientists. “Please explain this. Answer these questions.”

The scientists say they do not have an answer. They do not know where this object came from, how it got to be here or what purpose it might have.

People are sorely disappointed. Here is a riddle scientists cannot answer. But scientists do not need to answer these questions, because some other people have already supplied the answers.

  • The cube is the source of all life.
  • Its purpose is to give meaning to our lives and to caution us to live moral lives.

Scientists have considered a number of possibilities as to how this cube came to be here. They have been working to discover the answer for decades and have made little progress. They do, however, reject the answers posted above.

To scientists the assertion that there is an magical, invisible person who created the universe and all life and wants us to live a moral existence is in the same region of absurdity as the above.

Richard Sternberg and all those other people with the CSC already have the “freedom to follow the evidence wherever it leads.” They can do their own research. (They do.) They can hold their own conferences. (They do.) They can publish their work in their own journals. (They do.) What they cannot do is sidle up against legitimate science with the expectation that some of the luster will rub off onto them.

Sternberg and others want you to think they are being denied a voice. They are not. Their message is welcome at any number of pulpits in churches across this nation. Millions will come and listen with rapture. However, it is a mistake for these charlatans to think that serious people are going to pick up and carry their message for them or even to, in the face of all known facts, acknowledge that message has any scientific merit.

Expelled is posted on YouTube. Turn on the captions to see what is being said.

And may Jesus have mercy on our souls.

 

Ferris Bueller Gets Expelled

This is the seventh installment of my review of Expelled, the video produced by Premise Media and featuring Ben Stein. In the previous installment I reviewed the case of Dr. Michael Egnor, a prominent neurosurgeon who opposes the modern theories of biology. My review included some quotes from Dr. Egnor, one of which is interesting:

I call upon my “20 years [of performing] over 4000 brain operations” to attest that I have never once used evolutionary biology in my work. How could I since evolution is random and doctors look for patterns, patterns that lie far afield from the randomness that is evolution?

Dr. Egnor chooses to be ignorant of some basic biology and wants to make the case that this ignorance does not affect his work. It would seem that his work extends beyond his medical practice. He is a principal contributer to the Evolution News blog run by the Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture (CSC), a major proponent of creationism. A recent contribution includes the following paragraph:

Scopes’s legacy consists entirely of inviting prosecution by proudly teaching human evolution from a eugenic racist textbook. Coyne offers no explanation for his embrace of Scopes’s legacy. He instead assures us that his feelings weren’t hurt by our posts, and castigates David and me for lying “in service of Jesus” (I’m Catholic, and David is an Orthodox Jew). Coyne insists that “an apology is in order” — our apology to him — yet he believes an apology is “about as likely as Egnor confessing that he’s finally seen the truth of evolution.” Ironically, telling the truth about evolution — telling exactly what Scopes taught to his students — is precisely what David and I did. Coyne replies to our simple observation by dissembling, changing the subject, and pouting.

This quote and the one before indicate some of the hazards of stepping outside one’s area of expertise. In the first quote Dr. Egnor displays either basic ignorance of some basic science or else merely some carelessness in stating his case. He makes a point of calling biological evolution a random process, which is not a complete and therefore not an accurate description. The modern theory of evolution involves random processes that induce changes in the genome of a species, but that is about the extent of randomness. Dr. Egnor would have been more accurate, more erudite, if he had emphasized that biological evolution is undirected. The facts be known, what creationists object to so much about biological evolution is not the random processes involved, but the lack of direction. That there is no guiding hand (God) involved is what gives them (including Dr. Egnor) heartburn. What do not like is the absence of God.

The second quote displays an ignorance about the Scopes trial, an ignorance that could have been resolved by reading any of a number of books about the trial. Specifically, Dr. Egnor should have known that John T. Scopes did not teach evolution. His prosecution was a sham, set up by prominent citizens of Dayton, Tennessee, along with the ACLU, to test the legality of the Butler Act. Not knowing some basic information and then revealing this ignorance might not damage Dr. Egnor’s ability to practice medicine, but it dims his light as a commentator on public affairs.

The Hitler Connection

An anti-evolution work of any great length would be incomplete without diving into the Hitler connection, and Expelled has it. But first we are treated to a view from the past—a clip of Uncle Joe (Stalin) waving bravely from the reviewing stand at Red Square. Then we see Ben Stein visiting the Hadamar Euthanasia Center in Germany.

Beginning in 1939, the Nazis used this site as one of six for the T-4 Euthanasia Programme, which performed mass sterilizations and mass murder of “undesirable” members of German society, specifically those with physical and mental disabilities. In total, an estimated 200,000 people were killed at these facilities, including thousands of children. These actions were in keeping with the eugenics ideas about racial purity developed by German researchers. While officially ended in 1941, the programme lasted until the German surrender in 1945. Nearly 15,000 German citizens were transported to the hospital and died there, most killed in a gas chamber. In addition, hundreds of forced labourers from Poland and other countries occupied by the Nazis were killed there.

[Some links deleted]

Ben Stein interviews Uta George at the center. She explains why all these people were killed. They were deemed unfit or undesirable.

The scene cuts to a clip from a Nazi propaganda film. It shows a deer in a natural setting:

We humans have transgressed the law of natural selection in the last decades…

The clip goes on to show images of undesirable people. They are homely to the extreme, some would even say ugly. They may be Jews. We have allowed such useless people to propagate. The error needs to be corrected. Stein asks her to confirm that this is a “Darwinian concept.” She does. He suggests a Malthusian connection. She does not understand. He mentions the economic theories of Thomas Malthus. She does not know Malthus. He mentions “limited resources.” That idea connects. She understands these people needed to be eliminated because their existence strained at society’s limited resources.

Ben and Uta tour this relic of institutionalized murder to lay bare the inhumanity. Here is the corridor down which “patients” took their final steps. Here is the examining table where brains were removed from skulls. Here are the two ovens where bodies were cremated. Darwinism.

Next Ben Stein journey’s with Richard Weikart to that world renowned site of inhumanity, Auschwitz in Poland. As a Jew, this place has a more specific meaning. Jews were murdered here and at similar sites on an industrial scale until European Jewry was nearly eliminated. The two discuss Weikart’s view that Darwinism promotes, and has in the past promoted, racism. Weikart’s book is From Darwin to Hitler.

From Darwin to Hitler: evolutionary ethics, eugenics, and racism in Germany is a 2004 book by Richard Weikart, a historian at California State University, Stanislaus, and a senior fellow for the Center for Science and Culture of the Discovery Institute. The work is controversial. Graeme Gooday, John M. Lynch, Kenneth G. Wilson, and Constance K. Barsky wrote that “numerous reviews have accused Weikart of selectively viewing his rich primary material, ignoring political, social, psychological, and economic factors” that helped shape Nazi eugenics and racism.

“No Darwin, no Holocaust” is a quote that comes up in this video and frequently in anti-evolution propaganda. To those who mouth this phrase I reply, “You wish.” If you want that to be true then you might be required to explain where racism and genocide got its drive before 1849. I will give you something to start with. Here is where racism and genocide come from:

Zephaniah 2:12-15King James Version (KJV)

12 Ye Ethiopians also, ye shall be slain by my sword.

13 And he will stretch out his hand against the north, and destroy Assyria; and will make Nineveh a desolation, and dry like a wilderness.

14 And flocks shall lie down in the midst of her, all the beasts of the nations: both the cormorant and the bittern shall lodge in the upper lintels of it; their voice shall sing in the windows; desolation shall be in the thresholds; for he shall uncover the cedar work.

15 This is the rejoicing city that dwelt carelessly, that said in her heart, I am, and there is none beside me: how is she become a desolation, a place for beasts to lie down in! every one that passeth by her shall hiss, and wag his hand.

And here:

Judges 1:1-8King James Version (KJV)

Now after the death of Joshua it came to pass, that the children of Israel asked the Lord, saying, Who shall go up for us against the Canaanites first, to fight against them?

And the Lord said, Judah shall go up: behold, I have delivered the land into his hand.

And Judah said unto Simeon his brother, Come up with me into my lot, that we may fight against the Canaanites; and I likewise will go with thee into thy lot. So Simeon went with him.

And Judah went up; and the Lord delivered the Canaanites and the Perizzites into their hand: and they slew of them in Bezek ten thousand men.

And they found Adonibezek in Bezek: and they fought against him, and they slew the Canaanites and the Perizzites.

But Adonibezek fled; and they pursued after him, and caught him, and cut off his thumbs and his great toes.

And Adonibezek said, Threescore and ten kings, having their thumbs and their great toes cut off, gathered their meat under my table: as I have done, so God hath requited me. And they brought him to Jerusalem, and there he died.

Now the children of Judah had fought against Jerusalem, and had taken it, and smitten it with the edge of the sword, and set the city on fire.

This is where people learn to hate. There’s more if you care to look.

So Ben Stein (and the CSC) want us to know that Darwinism contributes to racism. Really? I wonder if Stein and those at the CSC know what deep-dyed racism looks like. I decided to search out the soul of racism in America, and here is what I found. Here is what racism looks like. I found these in Google Images:

And this:

kkk4-650x479

And finally these:

KKKandCross ku-klux-klan

This is what racism looks like, Ben Stein. Please note the symbol that is a common denominator in all these images. Do you feel more comfortable now?

I point out that these people are not Darwinists. They are dead sure that God created the Earth and also created man in his own image.

Next up in the review of Expelled—the war between science and religion.

And may Jesus have mercy on our souls.

Ferris Bueller Gets Expelled

This is the sixth of the series of reviews of Expelled, the video produced by Premise Media and featuring Ben Stein. In the previous installment I reviewed the case of Pamela Winnick, a journalist supposedly “expelled” for even mentioning the term “Intelligent Design.”

Winnick has written the book A Jealous God: Science’s Crusade Against Religion, published in 2005 by Thomas Nelson and sold by HarperCollins Christian Publishing (established in 2012). Thomas Nelson is a centuries-old publishing concern that now has a presence in America:

Thomas Nelson, now based in Nashville, publishes leading Christian authors, including Billy Graham, Max Lucado, John Eldredge, John Maxwell, Charles Stanley, Michael A. O’Donnell, Ted Dekker, John Townsend, and Dave Stone.

So why am I bringing all this up? Maybe it’s because I find it curious that an author setting out a case against modern science is seeming to market her work to a Christian readership. Her response to a critique by Wesley Ellsberry is also enlightening:

 Those of you out there accusing me of being a creationist merely because I gave the PBS series a bad review (deservedly so) and have a foundation to explore, from a media standpoint, the evolution debate out to know that I’m a practicing Jew and a liberal Democrat and a native of New York City.

I am also an attorney.

Also FYI, the paper I write for, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, has strongly endorsed the teaching of evolution (and properly so in my opion)–primarily because I was the only reporter in all of PA who scooped the story of how PA almost adopted standards that might have allowed the teaching of evolution.

I am, however, writing a book about the subject showing how the media and scientific elite has stifled meaningful debate on the subject. In doing so, I am indeed supported ($25,000) by the Phillips Foundation, an organization which takes absolutely no position on the subject of evolution, but which seeks to promote fair and balanced reporting in all subject areas.

Whoever out there who is mis-identifying my purpose a ought to have the courage to identify him/herself. There is terribly reminiscent of the McCarthy period and reflects terribly on all of who seek to defend Darwinism.

[This was an RSS post, apparently written in haste. I have left the typos in place.]

A liberal Democrat? That is interesting. I have been in the creationism business for 25 years, and I have found few Democrats and fewer liberals siding with creationism. I was not able to track down Ellsberry’s original critique, but his response to Winnick’s response is available. Some of his remarks are notable:

The Phillips Foundation clearly states that the fellowship is about exploring the lack of “tolerance” for “teaching creationism”. It says nothing about “meaningful debate”. This contradicts Winnick’s claim that the Phillips Foundation takes “absolutely no position on the subject of evolution”.

Further, the content of the Phillips Foundation site gives no support to the claim by Winnick that the Phillips Foundation’s only concern is promoting fair and balanced reporting. Consider, for instance, this page, which repeats the phrase, “liberal bias”, throughout.

Other pages which belie the stated goal of “objective journalism” include this page, which lists the projects picked out by the 1999 fellowship recipients. It’s not just me who can see this, for this page on Contests and Scholarships: Free-Market Conservatism lists the fellowship program of the Phillips Foundation right at the top.

Full disclosure: I am a Wesley Ellsberry fan. He worked with the National Center for Science Education in preparing a case for the plaintiffs in the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District case, and we have hosted him at the North Texas Skeptics in years back. It will be interesting in future posts to explore the Pamela Winnick controversy at greater length.

In the mean time I will get on to the next and the final of the souls who suffered expulsion in the Ben Stein video.

Michael Egnor

Dr. Michael Egnor on creationism website

Dr. Michael Egnor on creationism website

Michael Egnor is a prominent neurosurgeon and a professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Stony Brook University. He became inoculated against evolution (the science of biological evolution) after reading  Michael Denton‘s book Evolution: A Theory in Crisis. Egnor has aligned himself with the Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture (CSC), one of the leading creationist organizations in this country and likely the absolute leader in support of the Intelligent Design version of creationism. An excerpt from one of his posts on the CSC’s Evolution News blog may be characteristic:

Scopes was put on trial for violating the Butler Act, which prohibited teaching human evolution to schoolchildren in Tennessee. What Scopes actually taught, if anything, is unclear, because Scopes was untruthful about what he did, and the trial was a legal ploy to spur a Supreme Court ruling. The truth was a secondary consideration at best to Scopes and to his team.

Hunter’s textbook Civic Biology was racist and taught eugenics. It was vile stuff. If a teacher taught from it today, he would not be prosecuted for violating the Butler Act. He would be prosecuted for federal civil rights violations.

If Dr. Egnor had a great interest in laying out the facts about the Scopes Trial he could have further elaborated:

  • The ACLU advertised for somebody to participate in a test case of the Butler Act.
  • John T. Scopes was a college student at the time, on a break in his education, teaching high school physics in Dayton, Tennessee. He was also the baseball coach.
  • Prominent citizens in the town decided to bring the ACLU case to Dayton, and the persuaded Scopes to volunteer as the subject.
  • Scopes did not teach evolution. That was never a secret. The high school principal taught the section on evolution, but nobody wanted him to be prosecuted.
  • Students of Scopes were tutored by the defense not to reveal that Scopes had not taught evolution. This was an open secret, because everybody involved wanted a trial.

What is refreshing is that Dr. Egnor did go to the trouble to read George William Hunter’s A Civic Biology. The original copyright is 100 years old this year, and Amazon’s Kindle edition became available two years ago, with a free version appearing on Amazon in December of last year. Being on a tight budget (currently unemployed) I obtained the free version. The book contains 11 uses of the word “eugenics.” In one case the word is used twice in reference to selective breeding of plants and animals (not people). There is one section on eugenics involving people. The remaining uses of the word are in references to other publications and in the index. Here is an excerpt on human eugenics:

Eugenics.—When people marry there are certain things that the individual as well as the race should demand. The most important of these is freedom from germ diseases which might be handed down to the offspring. Tuberculosis, syphilis, that dread disease which cripples and kills hundreds of thousands of innocent children, epilepsy, and feeble-mindedness are handicaps which it is not only unfair but criminal to hand down to posterity. The science of being well born is called eugenics.

Hunter, George William (2012-12-18). A Civic Biology Presented in Problems (Kindle Locations 3261-3264). . Kindle Edition.

The section goes on to describe stories of two famous families, one exhibiting the flower of human intellect and achievement and the other exposing the worst of human nature. I will send a copy of the full text of this section to anybody who requests one.

In his desire to enlighten his readers Dr. Egnor has glossed over a number of points:

  • John Scopes did not write this book.
  • John Scopes did not cause this book to be purchased for the school. The Dayton, Tennessee, school system did.
  • John Scopes was not the biology teacher. He taught only some classes.
  • Eugenics has nothing to do with Darwinian evolution. Darwinian evolution relates to evolution facilitated by natural selection. Selective breeding of plants, animals and even humans is not natural selection.

Then what was it that got Dr. Egnor expelled?

Summary

The Alliance for Science, a citizen’s group in Virginia, sponsored an essay contest for high school students on the topic “Why I would want my doctor to have studied evolution,” to highlight the important role of evolution in the medical sciences. Physician Michael Egnor posted an essay on an intelligent design blog in response, claiming that evolution was irrelevant to medicine. This was more a statement of Egnor’s ignorance about evolution than a reflection on evolution’s place in medicine.

The Claim

“When neurosurgeon Michael Egnor wrote an essay for high school students saying doctors didn’t need to study evolution in order to practice medicine, the Darwinists were quick to try and exterminate this new threat.” (Ben Stein, Expelled)

This is from the NCSE Expelled Exposed site. They provide some additional elaboration:

The Claim

Michael Egnor says in Expelled that he expected criticism, but was shocked by the “viciousness” and “baseness” of the response.

The Facts

Michael Egnor had apparently never been on the Internet before.

Yes, tell me about it, Dr. Egnor.

Back in 2007 Burt Humburg posted on The Panda’s Thumb blog a doctor’s response to Dr. Egnor’s assertion that physicians do not study evolution and do not need to know or accept evolution:

[Egnor]

Isn’t it “a funny question” whether we would want physicians to know evolution? There are basic sciences that are taught in medical school that must be “important to medicine” like anatomy and physiology. Doctors don’t “study evolution in medical school”, “there are no courses in medical school on evolution,” “there are no professors of evolution” in medical schools,” and “there are no departments of evolutionary biology in medical schools,” and “no evolutionary biologists” would provide useful information to a medical team in hospital. Therefore, evolution just isn’t important to the practice of medicine. I call upon my “20 years [of performing] over 4000 brain operations” to attest that I have never once used evolutionary biology in my work. How could I since evolution is random and doctors look for patterns, patterns that lie far afield from the randomness that is evolution? “I do use many” understandings provided by basic science in my work, such as population biology, “[but] evolutionary biology itself, as distinct from these scientific fields, contributes nothing to modern medicine.” “No Nobel prize in medicine has ever been awarded for work in evolutionary biology.” So I wouldn’t want my doctor to have studied evolution; that answer wouldn’t win the “Alliance for Science” prize, but it would be the truth.

[Humburg]

Section 1: Evolution is a Vital Basic Science for Medicine
I’ll start off my fisking by criticizing an aspect of medical practice and, to make sense of it, those who aren’t physicians need to know that there’s a great divide in the practice of medicine between the physicians who practice to simply the “standard of care,” (the kind of practice you’re expected to know for quizzes, tests, and boards and the level of care you need to meet to not get sued) and the physicians who know the basic science behind why the standards of care are what they are.

For example, when someone is having a heart attack (and daily after they have one), they need to be on aspirin because of the pathophysiology of heart attacks. (I review much of it that pathophysiology here.) Briefly, the aspirin irreversibly inhibits the platelet enzyme involved with forming clots. But you don’t have to know about the irreversible acetylation of cyclooxygenase that occurs in the presence of acetylsalycylic acid in platelets; all you have to do is give people aspirins after heart attacks. The “divide” I refer to is between the physicians who know the biochemistry behind that reaction and the doctors who are content to know only that they should give aspirins after heart attacks. Make no mistake: one can be a great doctor and simply practice to the standard of care knowing not a whit of the basic science that provides that standard’s underpinnings. But if you can know the reasons why the standard of care is the way it is, why on Earth would you limit yourself by choosing to not know it?

The example I’ve given here is limited to a single therapeutic regimen in cardiology, but ideally there’s basic science that undergirds everything we do in medicine. There’s a reason why it’s no big deal if you’re not wearing lead in the radiology suite (thanks to the inverse-square law, as long as you’re three or four feet away from the radiation source, the dose you get is negligible). There’s a reason why diazepam – a drug we use to treat seizures – can cause seizures (much of the brain’s neurons are inhibitory and their suppression leads to increased seizure activity). There’s a reason why two different rheumatological diseases can require separate therapies (diseases involving deposition of immune complexes wouldn’t likely be amenable to an exchange of antibiodies as much as they would be to suppression of the immune system overall). Again, there are doctors who know or want to know the reasons behind the practice and there are doctors who don’t know and/or don’t want to know those reasons.

Doctor Egnor seems to like being in that latter category. More than that, he seems to recommend not knowing the basic science that undergirds the practice of medicine, to the extent that he perceives evolution might have had a hand in developing the state of the art. I see his perspectives as nothing more than ignorance advocacy for the basic sciences, writ large and not limited whatsoever to evolution.

Michael Egnor has thrown in his lot with the science deprived at the CSC, and as a result a lot of shine has gone off his “M.D.” My personal perspective: I live in a city with (what seems to be) a highly religious population. My own personal physician asks me my religious affiliation. (?) I told him I am a Texan. My beloved spouse goes to a doctor in this city’s vast medical establishment. There are copies of prayers on the wall in the waiting room. I’m still alive and doing well, but I would get great comfort if my personal physician would talk dirty to me. Tell me about the biological origins of human diseases. All that nasty stuff. I think I know my doctor well enough to be sure he is up to speed and knows all about modern biology. That’s the assurance I need, not an appeal to some higher power that erupted in the brains of primitive tribes thousands of years ago.

More later on Michael Egnor. Next up I will renew my review of Expelled with a discussion of Hitler, the Holocaust and how Darwin is to blame.

And may Jesus have mercy on our souls.

Ferris Bueller Gets Expelled

JealousGod

This is the fifth in the series on Expelled, the video by Premise Media and featuring Ben Stein. Previously I told the case of Robert Marks, who did not exactly get expelled. He is Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Baylor University, and he got to keep his job and about everything else. Baylor University just disassociated itself from his advocacy for Intelligent Design, and Professor Marks is no longer allowed to host his website on a University server or to attach his personal agenda to the name of Baylor University. Bummer!

Something interesting about that story is it pokes a hole in the story spread by creationists that the science behind biological evolution is a conspiracy to suppress religious doctrine. If atheists are working to turn people away from God, then they are getting a lot of help from Christians. Please note that Baylor is not a secular institution:

Baylor University is a private Baptist university in Waco, Texas. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas, Baylor is the oldest continuously operating university in Texas and was one of the first educational institutions west of the Mississippi River. The university’s 1,000-acre campus is located on the banks of the Brazos River next to freeway I-35, between the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and Austin. Baylor University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Baylor is notable for its law, business, science, music and English programs.

[Some links deleted]

Let’s see who else teaches biological evolution and expels Intelligent Design from its science curriculum:

  • Southern Methodist University
  • Texas Christian University
  • Brigham Young University
  • Wheaton College
  • Notre Dame

Who does support creationism? Liberty University comes to mind:

Liberty University teaches young Earth creationism as an explanation for the appearance of life on earth. The university works with young Earth creationist organizations including Answers in Genesis. In biology classes students are taught both creationism and evolution and that creationism offers a better explanation of biological diversity than evolution. In October, 2006 the university published an advertisement in The Chronicle of Higher Education in an attempt to recruit staff to its biology department. The advertisement stated that the university was “seeking faculty who can demonstrate a personal faith commitment to its evangelical Christian purpose” and specified that “compatibility with a young-earth creationist philosophy [is] required.”

[Some links deleted]

Now, that’s academic freedom!

Pamela Winnick

One of those featured in Expelled is Pamela Winnick. Her appearance in the video (just now watched the clip) is brief, so I rely on what the NCSE has to say:

The Claim

“I was not taking a position in favor of creationism, I was writing about intelligent design…. And having merely written on a subject was enough to put you on this blacklist. If you give any credence to it whatsoever, which means just writing about it, you’re just finished as a journalist.” (Pamela Winnick, Expelled)

The Facts

Winnick’s earliest known writing on intelligent design appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette during the adoption of the Pennsylvania science education standards in late 2000. At the time, her articles regularly used phrases and characterizations about evolution that derived from intelligent design talking points. Her position did not necessarily support intelligent design in particular, but communicated the general notion that “fairness” required access to the marketplace of ideas and that students were somehow poorer for not hearing about intelligent design (and similar alternatives that falsely claimed scientific status).

However, this relatively innocuous coverage was only the beginning. In February 2001, Winnick interviewed intelligent design proponent Michael Behe with a collection of softball questions and presented his answers uncritically. Later that year she wrote a review of PBS’s Evolution series where she criticized it for not covering “the Intelligent Design movement, which began about a decade ago when serious scientists – many with doctorates from prestigious universities – began to tackle evolution on scientific grounds.” This is not “just writing about” intelligent design. This is an endorsement.

So Winnick was advocating intelligent design. Even so, this sounds like a poor basis for being blacklisted as a journalist – but there is no evidence that this ever happened. As a supposedly “blacklisted” reporter, Winnick continued to write for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette until August 2002, almost two years after she began her supposedly career-ending articles on intelligent design; she continues to write occasional guest columns for them (including an anti-evolution opinion piece in December 2005), and has written recent articles for the Weekly Standard and the Wall Street Journal.

Winnick’s interview with Michael Behe contains an interesting bit:

Q. Has your questioning of evolution affected your academic career?

A. My questioning of Darwinian evolution has brought me notoriety in some circles, but hasn’t brought any negative repercussions. I still teach and publish as before, although my research interests have shifted toward more explicitly evolutionary questions. I’m frequently asked to lecture on college campuses. I’m having a lot of fun!

Talk about being expelled!

Winnick’s review of the PBS documentary gives the indication she is not a fan of Charles Darwin:

In yet another tedious re-enactment, we’re shown the eventual demise of Darwin’s own religious faith. Having flunked out of medical school, he had flirted briefly with joining the clergy — but eventually he loses all belief in God.

We witness this when Darwin’s daughter dies at age 10. Others in the grieving family go to church, but Darwin lingers behind and — in what is supposed to be a portentous moment — cannot bring himself to follow the others into church. What causes his atheism? Did it spring from his own theories? Or from the sheer cruelty of life?

It took 21 years for Darwin to write “Origin of Species,” suggesting that he suffered profound inner turmoil at the implications of his theory and its eventual reception by the public. A genuinely dramatic rendering of Darwin’s life would have portrayed this struggle. Instead, we’re subjected to banalities and melodrama.

Once having undertaken to show us Darwin’s life, the producers had the obligation to give us the whole truth — a very dangerous terrain into which few care to tread.

But why will no one speak of Darwin’s vicious racism, so amply set out in his book “The Descent of Man,” in which he plainly states that blacks are inferior to whites? Why not also tell us about the influence he exerted, however unintentionally, on the eugenics movement and on Marx and Hitler?

This is a story about the development of a scientific theory. In her review Winnick exhibits an obsession with the inner Darwin. There is the matter of 19th century racism and the matter of evolutionary theory driving eugenics (Marx and Hitler). A look at Darwin’s book reveals maybe half a hundred uses of the word “Negro” or Negroes.” This book is, after all, about the descent of man. A typical use is this example, talking about the impact of geography on racial differences:

Our naturalist would then perhaps turn to geographical distribution, and he would probably declare that those forms must be distinct species, which differ not only in appearance, but are fitted for hot, as well as damp or dry countries, and for the Artic regions. He might appeal to the fact that no species in the group next to man–namely, the Quadrumana, can resist a low temperature, or any considerable change of climate; and that the species which come nearest to man have never been reared to maturity, even under the temperate climate of Europe. He would be deeply impressed with the fact, first noticed by Agassiz (7. ‘Diversity of Origin of the Human Races,’ in the ‘Christian Examiner,’ July 1850.), that the different races of man are distributed over the world in the same zoological provinces, as those inhabited by undoubtedly distinct species and genera of mammals. This is manifestly the case with the Australian, Mongolian, and Negro races of man; in a less well-marked manner with the Hottentots; but plainly with the Papuans and Malays, who are separated, as Mr. Wallace has shewn, by nearly the same line which divides the great Malayan and Australian zoological provinces. The Aborigines of America range throughout the Continent; and this at first appears opposed to the above rule, for most of the productions of the Southern and Northern halves differ widely: yet some few living forms, as the opossum, range from the one into the other, as did formerly some of the gigantic Edentata. The Esquimaux, like other Arctic animals, extend round the whole polar regions. It should be observed that the amount of difference between the mammals of the several zoological provinces does not correspond with the degree of separation between the latter; so that it can hardly be considered as an anomaly that the Negro differs more, and the American much less from the other races of man, than do the mammals of the African and American continents from the mammals of the other provinces. Man, it may be added, does not appear to have aboriginally inhabited any oceanic island; and in this respect, he resembles the other members of his class.

Charles Darwin (2014-07-04). The Descent Of Man (Illustrated) (Kindle Locations 3332-3347). . Kindle Edition.

In discussing race Darwin speaks the language of 19th century science and society, such language now considered less than polite. Not emphasized by present day enemies of Darwin is that he was a staunch abolitionist and an advocate of equal treatment.

Darwin’s final word on the subject would not seem to fit Winnick’s agenda:

Through the means just specified, aided perhaps by others as yet undiscovered, man has been raised to his present state. But since he attained to the rank of manhood, he has diverged into distinct races, or as they may be more fitly called, sub-species. Some of these, such as the Negro and European, are so distinct that, if specimens had been brought to a naturalist without any further information, they would undoubtedly have been considered by him as good and true species. Nevertheless all the races agree in so many unimportant details of structure and in so many mental peculiarities that these can be accounted for only by inheritance from a common progenitor; and a progenitor thus characterised would probably deserve to rank as man.

Charles Darwin (2014-07-04). The Descent Of Man (Illustrated) (Kindle Locations 11484-11489). . Kindle Edition.

Regarding eugenics, Marx and Hitler—

If Hitler found comfort in Darwin he had a different way of showing it. The University of Arizona has placed on line documents relating to books scheduled to be burned by the Nazis:

6. Writings of a philosophical and social nature whose content deals with the false scientific enlightenment of primitive Darwinism and Monism (Haeckel).

Don’t ask me what Monism is, but Wikipedia’s item on Ernst Haeckel has this:

Haeckel founded a group called the “Monist League” to promote his religious and political beliefs.

Karl Marx thought Darwin’s studies supported his social theories, but Darwin did not return the favor.

Karl Marx (1818 — 1883) and Friedrich Engels (1820 — 1895) published The Communist Manifesto in 1848, with Marx’s work Das Kapital published in three volumes in 1867, 1885 and 1894. These works established the principles of communism, which had at its core the evolution of societies by advancement between different states. This, they argued, was caused by class struggle, and the proletariat should co-operate to overthrow the bourgeoisie.

When Karl Marx read Darwin’s work on evolution he immediately believed that it supported his worldview and theory of class struggle. Karl Marx sent Darwin an autographed copy of his Das Kapital; Darwin responded with a polite “thank you” letter, but never read the book. Marx believed that Darwin’s work both helped to explain the internal struggles of human society, and provided a material explanation for the processes of nature, something which his philosophy was heavily based on. However, he had difficulty accepting the apparent support Darwin’s book gave to the theories of Thomas Malthus.

In 1861 Karl Marx wrote to his friend Ferdinand Lassalle, “Darwin’s work is most important and suits my purpose in that it provides a basis in natural science for the historical class struggle. … Despite all shortcomings, it is here that, for the first time, ‘teleology’ in natural science is not only dealt a mortal blow but its rational meaning is empirically explained.”

The radical economist Herbert Spencer (1820 — 1903) coined the phrase survival of the fittest in his 1851 work Social Statics to describe his revolutionary liberal economic theory, which in 20th century terms would be considered right-wing. Spencer supported the Whig Malthusian argument that programmes to aid the poor, (i.e. the proletariat) did more harm than good, in direct contrast to Tory paternalism, and to communism which advocated “to each according to their needs, from each according to their ability”.

[Some links deleted]

Do we want to consider for a moment that Darwin’s work did give aid and comfort to Marx and Hitler? Let’s do and then see what derives.

First note that Marx caused no harm. He did not kill anybody, he did not put anybody in prison or confiscate anybody’s property. He never exercised political control over people. He only wrote papers and books and spoke in favor of his peculiar social ideas. In America that is called freedom of speech.

But suppose that Adolph Hitler and the other Nazis did get inspiration from Darwin before going off to start wars and to exterminate by murder millions of innocents. This would not invalidate Darwin’s theories. If Darwin was right, then that’s the matter. The consequences of an idea do not invalidate the truth of the idea. Tough it out.

R.G. Price has posted an item titled The Mis-portrayal of Darwin as a Racist. Among other things he has this to say:

Darwin’s View of Race

In contrast to the existing views on race, Darwin showed that:

    • People cannot be classified as different species
    • All races are related and have a common ancestry
    • All people come from “savage” origins
    • The different races have much more in common than was widely believed
    • The mental capabilities of all races are virtually the same and there is greater variation within races than between races
    • Different races of people can interbreed and there is no concern for ill effects
    • Culture, not biology, accounted for the greatest differences between the races
    • Races are not distinct, but rather they blend together

Pamela Winnick may have gotten her peculiar slant from her inner self, or she may have gotten it straight from the producers of the Expelled video, because Ben Stein eventually gets around to the Darwinian inspiration for racism, eugenics and genocide. It’s a heartwarming thing to witness.

Winnick’s problem as a serious journalist is her injection of personal views (or the views marketed by the creationists) into what should have been objective reporting. Editors tend to shy away from contributors who can’t submit a straight story. This is not so much expulsion as it is good journalism. Her book is A Jealous God, available from Amazon in hardback and Kindle editions.

Coming next, world class neurosurgeon Michael Egnor.

Ferris Bueller Gets Expelled

This is the fourth in a series of a review of the video Expelled, produced by Premise Media and featuring Ben Stein. The subtitle of the video (I am deliberately not using the word “documentary”) is No Intelligence Allowed, a reference to the pseudo science of Intelligent Design, which is the main topic of the video.

The previous post centered on the issue of astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez, who was supposedly expelled because he advocated Intelligent Design. The case presented in the video is that he had a promising career as a professor of physics and astronomy, but he was denied tenure at Iowa State University after he co-authored (with Jay Richards) the book The Privileged Planet and a video of the same title.

Gonzalez has asserted the denial of tenure was a result of his advocacy for Intelligent Design. Wikipedia notes:

Two years later, an article in the local newspaper The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier reported Gonzalez’ appeal against his denial of tenure and claimed he was “the unnamed target” of the ISU petition. The article noted that “Gonzalez won’t discuss the reasons for the tenure denial” but that he “noted, however, that he has frequently been criticized by people who don’t consider intelligent design as a legitimate science.” Comments from John West, the associate director of the Discovery Institute‘s Center for Science and Culture – with whom Gonzalez was a senior fellow – blamed the failure to secure tenure directly upon Gonzalez’ belief in intelligent design and compared it to a “doctrinal litmus test” typical of his native Cuba.

[Some links removed]

Typically a candidate for tenure at a college or university must pass review by his peers. Tenure is almost a lifetime assurance of employment and can be denied if your peers do not look forward to working with you. I have stated elsewhere that there are only so many times you can show up for the party with your fly unzipped before you are no longer invited.

Robert Marks

Shut up, you freak.

Shut up, you freak.

Ben Stein interviews Robert Marks, Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Baylor University. Professor Marks notes that he has tenure, and his position is secure. However, Ben Stein remarks, “A few months after this interview Baylor University shut down his research website once they discovered a link between his work and intelligent design.” The video shows a clip from the movie Planet of the Apes:

Julius: [Julius stops hosing Taylor briefly] Shut, up you freak!

George Taylor: Julius, you…

Julius: [He turns on the hose again] I said shut up!

This is a terrible way to treat a distinguished professor of electrical and computer engineering. Information presented by the National Center for Science Education brings some clarity:

Robert Marks’s “Evolutionary Informatics Laboratory” website – touting intelligent design – was originally hosted on a Baylor University server. Concerned that the material on the website misleadingly suggested a connection between the intelligent design material and Baylor, administrators temporarily shut the website down while discussing the issue with Marks and his lawyer. Baylor was willing to continue hosting the website subject to a number of conditions (including the inclusion of a disclaimer and the removal of the misleading term “laboratory”), but Marks and Baylor were unable to come to terms. The site is currently hosted by a third-party provider.

Wikipedia has additional information on the website:

Marks did not seek permission from Baylor University to form the lab, but created a website for it on a server owned by the university. The website was deleted when Baylor’s administration determined that it violated university policy forbidding professors from creating the impression that their personal views represent Baylor as an institution. Baylor said they would permit Marks to repost his website on their server, provided a disclaimer accompany any intelligent design-advancing research to make clear that the work does not represent the university’s position. The site now resides on a third-party server and still contains the material advancing intelligent design.

After removing the site, the Baylor administration stated that it contained “unapproved research” and that university policy forbids professors from creating the impression that their personal views represent Baylor as an institution. Baylor has said that it will permit Marks to repost his website on its server, provided he (1) delete any reference to a “Lab,” (2) delete listing of any Baylor graduate students, and (3) post at the bottom of every page and the top of the home page a 108-word disclaimer.

[links removed]

Baylor’s action was apparently driven by its past experience with creationism. In 1999 creationist William Dembski established the Michael Polanyi Center at Baylor, and it was quickly identified, to the embarrassment of the science and other faculty, as a creationist activity:

In 1999, Dembski was invited by Robert B. Sloan, President of Baylor University, to establish the Michael Polanyi Center at the university. Named after the Hungarian physical chemist and philosopher Michael Polanyi (1891–1976), Dembski described it as “the first intelligent design think tank at a research university.” Dembski had known Sloan for about three years, having taught Sloan’s daughter at a Christian study summer camp not far from Waco, Texas. Sloan was the first Baptist minister to serve as Baylor’s president in over 30 years, had read some of Dembski’s work and liked it; according to Dembski, Sloan “made it clear that he wanted to get me on the faculty in some way.”

The Polanyi Center was established without much publicity in October 1999, initially consisting of two people – Dembski and a like-minded colleague, Bruce L. Gordon, who were hired directly by Sloan without going through the usual channels of a search committee and departmental consultation. The vast majority of Baylor staff did not know of the center’s existence until its website went online, and the center stood outside of the existing religion, science, and philosophy departments.

The center’s mission, and the lack of consultation with the Baylor faculty, became the immediate subject of controversy. The faculty feared for the university’s reputation – it has historically been well regarded for its contributions to mainstream science – and scientists outside the university questioned whether Baylor had “gone fundamentalist.” Faculty members pointed out that the university’s existing interdisciplinary Institute for Faith and Learning was already addressing questions about the relationship between science and religion, making the existence of the Polanyi Center somewhat redundant. In April 2000, Dembski hosted a conference on “naturalism in science” sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation and the hub of the intelligent design movement, the Discovery Institute, seeking to address the question “Is there anything beyond nature?” Most of the Baylor faculty boycotted the conference.

A few days later, the Baylor faculty senate voted by a margin of 27–2 to ask the administration to dissolve the center and merge it with the Institute for Faith and Learning. President Sloan refused, citing issues of censorship and academic integrity, but agreed to convene an outside committee to review the center. The committee recommended setting up a faculty advisory panel to oversee the science and religion components of the program, dropping the name “Michael Polanyi” and reconstituting the center as part of the Institute for Faith and Learning. These recommendations were accepted in full by the university administration.

Despite all the creationists’ yearnings and despite all their assertions that science fails to answer important questions, science as a human endeavor long ago abandoned invoking the supernatural as an answer and also as a starting point for research. The supernatural answers no legitimate questions and provides nothing useful for serious research. It is the intellectual equivalent of conceding you do not know the solution to a problem and then making up an answer and putting that forward as the solution. This is a point the creationists can not or will not come to grips with.

Expelled features six individuals who were “expelled.” I have covered four of them. Next up is author and journalist Pamela Winnick.

Ferris Bueller Gets Expelled

This is the third in a continuing series.

Expelled

I am reviewing the video Expelled, produced by Premise Media and starring Ben Stein (see above). The subtitle is No Intelligence Allowed. The inside joke is this video is about the Intelligent Design brand of modern creationism. Previous reviews have dipped into the stories of two of the six who were supposedly “expelled,” Specifically Richard Sternberg and Caroline Crocker. Next up is Guillermo Gonzalez.

Guillermo Gonzalez

The book

The book

Gonzalez’ main claim to fame is a book he published and a video on the same subject. The book is The Privileged Planet, with the subtitle How Our Place In The Cosmos Was Designed For Discovery. I have the book and the video, and I promise a review in the future. When the video first came out I did a short review for The North Texas Skeptic, which I will repost here:

The Privileged Planet

by John Blanton

If you think Texas is Heaven on Earth, think larger. Apparently Earth is Heaven on Earth as well.

A new video from the Discovery Institute comes to us by way of Illustra Media, and it seeks to remind us how fortunate we are. Not just for living in Texas, but for being born on the planet Earth. Aliens, eat your hearts out, both of them.

Privileged Planet 
The Privileged Planet

By now, we are quite familiar with the Discovery Institute (DI). Its Center for Science and Culture is a think tank for the new creationism called Intelligent Design. Illustra Media, you will recall, is the production company that a few years back gave us another creationist video, Unlocking the Mystery of Life.

The Privileged Planet, as the title suggests, wants to make the case that not only are we lucky to have been born on this planet, but Earth is lucky to be here at all. It doesn’t take long for the narration to get around to reminding us that this was not all just dumb luck. Broad hints at a guiding hand are dropped everywhere.

Wilston Nkangoh is the president of the Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness (IDEA) Club on the University of Texas at Dallas campus, and he was kind enough to invite me to a showing of the video at their October meeting. Although IDEA clubs are promoted through the DI at campuses across the country, Wilston does not receive financial support, and he purchased his own copy of the DVD.

companion book of the same title is by Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Wesley Richards, who also appear in the video. Dennis Danielson also appears in the video and has given the book a resounding endorsement:

“Impressively researched and lucidly written, The Privileged Planet will surely rattle if not finally dislodge a pet assumption held by many interpreters of modern science: the so-called Copernican Principle (which isn’t actually very Copernican!). But Gonzalez and Richards’ argument, though controversial, is so carefully and moderately presented that any reasonable critique of it must itself address the astonishing evidence which has for so long somehow escaped our notice. I therefore expect this book to renew-and to raise to a new level-the whole scientific and philosophic debate about earth’s cosmic significance. It is a high class piece of work that deserves the widest possible audience.”

This is impressive, considering Danielson is a professor of English at the University of British Columbia. He is also editor of The Book of the Cosmos: Imagining the Universe from Heraclitus to Hawking.

Gonzalez and Richardson are with DI and are featured prominently in the video. Although a number of other notables weigh in, it’s Gonzalez and Richardson who do all the heavy lifting.

It is hard to argue with the major points these creationist make here. Who would deny, for example, that if the sun were hotter, if the Earth were not the right distance from the sun, and if water weren’t wet, life in Texas would not be as we know it today. The video gives a list of these critical factors with a probability of 0.10 for each, and it is clearly demonstrated that when you multiply them all together our odds of being here are vanishingly small. You stand a better chance of finding a winning lottery ticket stuck under your windshield wiper.

I only had a chance to watch the video through one time, but I came away with the impression that Gonzalez and Richardson ran out of good ideas half way through and began to cast about for material to fill the rest of the time. Some of the later arguments could best have been left on the cutting room floor.

For example, the authors assert that things seem to have been engineered just right so our great thinkers and scientists would be set up to succeed. If Earth’s atmospheric characteristics were different, they say, we would have had a hard time seeing the stars, and I guess the science of astronomy would have been replaced by the science of peering into the murk. What the astrologers would have done for a living is anybody’s guess.

If we were not in such an opportune location within our own galaxy, it would have been a lot harder to figure out the Milky Way’s exact shape. Again, I am only guessing, but there would likely have been a Nobel Prize for solving that puzzle.

All those points aside, a key issue discussed is fine tuning. Again, few would doubt that if the constants of nature, those eight and nine-digit numbers we all learned to memorize for the strength of gravity and the mass of the electron, were just a little off, the Universe would be a whole new ball game, and you would not be reading this newsletter. Paul Davies is a real scientist and not associated with DI. He has written a number of books on the mysteries of the Universe, including The Forces of Nature. In the video he explains the delicate balance of these forces. There is no denying: Either these supposedly independent factors are all tied together somewhere off where we can’t see just yet, or we have indeed won the grand jackpot.

My guess is it is some of both. First of all, underlying tie-ins are the history of scientific discovery. Aside from that, it seems a bit self centered to believe a world unsuited for humans would be a tragedy of the first magnitude. It would appear the creationists are attempting to use their point to make their point. Nice try, though.

Notes:

1. You can purchase the books and videos mentioned in this article from Amazon.com by linking through the NTS Web site. Just go to www.ntskeptics.org and use the search feature to find the title and the Amazon link. This story will carry the links when it is posted on the Web at http://www.ntskeptics.org/2004/2004november/november2004.htm#planet.

2. We have previously discussed the UT Dallas IDEA Club in the April 2004 issue of this newsletter. A copy of that issue is available on the NTS Web site.

The Wikipedia entry for Guillermo Gonzalez is worth noting:

Gonzalez obtained a BS in 1987 in Physics & Astronomy from University of Arizona and his Ph. D. in Astronomy from the University of Washington in 1993 and has done post-doctoral work at the University of Texas, Austin and the University of Washington. He has received fellowships, grants and awards from NASA, the University of Washington, Sigma Xi, and the National Science Foundation. He introduced the Galactic Habitable Zone concept. He currently teaches at Grove City College, an evangelical Christian school, and was previously an Assistant Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Iowa State University until May 2008.

Gonzalez was a regular contributor to Facts for Faith magazine produced by Reasons To Believe, an old earth creationist group. In addition to his work for the Discovery Institute and International Society for Complexity, Information, and Design, he is a researcher for the Biologic Institute, which is funded by the institute for research into intelligent design.

In 2004 he published The Privileged Planet and its accompanying video, which takes the arguments of the Rare Earth hypothesis and combines them with arguments that the Earth is in prime location for observing the universe. He then proposes that the Earth was intelligently designed. William H. Jefferys, a Professor of Astronomy at theUniversity of Texas at Austin, reviewed the book writing “the little that is new in this book isn’t interesting, and what is old is just old-hat creationism in a new, modern-looking astronomical costume.” Co-author Jay Richards responds to such criticism with the following statement: “It has absolutely nothing to do with biological evolution. We are talking about the things that you need to produce a habitable planet, which is a prerequisite for life. It doesn’t tell you anything about how life got here.” A documentary based on the book was produced by the Discovery Institute.

[Some links deleted]

Something to note: I met professor Jefferys when I worked at the UT Austin Astronomy Department and have since come to know him as an outspoken proponent of rational skepticism, just the kind of person to take issue with the pseudo science promoted by the Discovery Institute.

Regarding the comment by Jay Richards that “It has absolutely nothing to do with biological evolution,” I would then have to ask why Gonzalez, Richards and all those other creationists at the Discovery Institute are making such a fuss over the issue. Richards’ personal history does not seem to lend itself to purely scientific investigation:

Richards hold a B.A. with majors in political science and religion, and Master of Divinity (M.Div.) and Master of Theology (Th.M.) degrees. His Ph.D. (with honors) is in philosophy and theology from Princeton Theological Seminary. He is the author of numerous scholarly and popular articles, as well as four books, including The Untamed God and The Privileged Planet. Richards has been known for his intelligent design advocacy since 1996. The Privileged Planet was co-authored with astronomer and fellow CSC Senior Fellow Guillermo Gonzalez.

Richards was the first fellow at the Discovery Institute to confirm the genuineness of the Wedge document. Science organizations then paid attention to the Institute after the document was published online, but Richards wrote “that the mission statement and goals had been posted on the CRSC‘s website since 1996.” Richards has expressed skepticism of global warming.

[Some links deleted]

The National Center for Science Education published rebuttals to all of the “expelled” stories in the Expelled video. Here is just part of what they had to say about the Gonzalez case:

The Claim

“According to a Smithsonian/NASA astrophysics database, Gonzalez’s scientific articles from 2001 to 2007 rank the highest among astronomers in his department according to a standard measure of how frequently they have been cited by other scientists. He has published 68 peer-reviewed articles, which beat the ISU department’s standard for tenure by 350 percent. He has also co-authored a standard astronomy textbook, published by Cambridge University Press, which his faculty colleagues use in their own classes.” (Klinghoffer, D. (2007) Tenure TroubleWeekly Standard: 8 June. Linked from the Expelled website)

The Facts

Gonzalez’s publication output dropped steadily during his time at ISU. The work he did publish was based on re-evaluations of data he had previously collected or analyses of other people’s data.

An assessment by the Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required) found that:

…a closer look at Mr. Gonzalez’s case raises some questions about his recent scholarship and whether he has lived up to his early promise. …

Under normal circumstances, Mr. Gonzalez’s publication record would be stellar and would warrant his earning tenure at most universities, according to Mr. Hirsch [a scholar who analyzed the publication record]. But Mr. Gonzalez completed the best scholarship, as judged by his peers, while doing postdoctoral work at the University of Texas at Austin and at the University of Washington, where he received his Ph.D. His record has trailed off since then.

“It looks like it slowed down considerably,” said Mr. Hirsch…. “It’s not clear that he started new things, or anything on his own, in the period he was an assistant professor at Iowa State.”

That pattern may have hurt his case. “Tenure review only deals with his work since he came to Iowa State,” said John McCarroll, a spokesman for the university.

When considering a tenure case, faculty committees try to anticipate what kind of work a professor will accomplish in the future. “The only reason the previous record is relevant is the extent to which it can predict future performance,” said Mr. Hirsch. “Generally, it’s a good indication, but in some cases it’s not.”

David L. Lambert, director of the McDonald Observatory at Texas, supervised Mr. Gonzalez during his postdoctoral fellowship there in the early to mid-1990s. … [H]e is not aware of any important new work by Mr. Gonzalez since he arrived at Iowa State, such as branching off into different directions of research. “I don’t know what else he has done,” Mr. Lambert said. …

Mr. Gonzalez said he does not have any grants through NASA or the National Science Foundation, the two agencies that would normally support his research…. He arrived at Iowa State in 2001, but none of his graduate students there have thus far completed their doctoral work

That even Gonzalez’s former academic advisors expressed doubts about his performance at ISU suggests that this is a serious issue. It is worth noting that the decline in his publication rate corresponds to the time when he started putting time into an intelligent design project that has produced no peer-reviewed results. This includes his work on The Privileged Planet and his collaboration with old-earth creationist Hugh Ross from the ministry Reasons to Believe (for instance: http://www.firstthings.com/article.php3?id_article=2612 and http://www.reasons.org/resources/fff/2002issue09/index.shtml#rare_sun).

In wading through the video with Ben Stein I continue to encounter questions and statements regarding the unwillingness of mainstream science to consider the possibility of Intelligent Design. This issue is put forward as though there were some legitimate reason for considering Intelligent Design. My point is it is not a given that scientists should consider Intelligent Design.

  • Intelligent Design is a religious concept with no basis from any scientific research.
  • Addressing scientific issues with consideration for Intelligent Design has no purpose other than to promote a particular religious concept.
  • Proponents of Intelligent Design like to emphasize they are not proposing the God of Abraham as the designer, thus removing religion as their motivation. This position exhibits a large amount of deceit. The promotion of the God of Abraham (and by extension the divinity of Jesus) is the sole purpose behind the promotion of Intelligent Design. These people expend a large amount of effort and expense promoting Intelligent Design but would not walk across the street for Intelligent Design if it did not promote their religious faith.
  • Scientists do not consider a supernatural designer, because the phenomenon of a supernatural designer has never been observed.
  • Proponents of Intelligent Design do not even attempt to explain by what mechanism an intelligent designer could be tweaking natural law to produce the features they attribute to Intelligent Design. They do not attempt to explain Intelligent Design. They only attempt to get people to accept it. This is religious proselytizing only.

This series will continue a critique of the Ben Stein video. The next post will feature Robert Marks, who was “expelled.” That is, Baylor University shut down his research Web site.

Ferris Bueller Gets Expelled

FreeToThink

This is the second in a series reviewing Ben Stein’s Expelled video. The first was sort of an introduction—introducing some of the players and giving readers a feel for what this production is all about. I also dipped into the first of six people who were supposedly expelled for speaking out against Darwinian evolution or even seeming to support the concept of Intelligent Design.

The first personality was Dr. Richard von Sternberg, who supposedly (watch the video) lost his position at the Smithsonian Institution because he published a paper by creationist Steven C. Meyer in the journal Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, of which he was the unpaid editor.

In the video Ben Stein interviews Sternberg, and they discuss the terrible consequences of Sternberg’s actions. His “life was nearly ruined.” That, I find interesting. His life was not ruined. It was nearly ruined. Without outright fabrication the video conveys the idea that Sternberg’s life was ruined when, in fact, it is never stated that his life was ruined. Only nearly ruined. Speaking as a person whose life has been nearly ruined many times, I am eternally grateful it was only nearly ruined and not actually ruined.

Such is the art of propaganda, which this video is all about.

There is something else curious about Stein’s interview with Sternberg. They discuss what is supposed to be a grievous injustice perpetrated on an honest man, but no details are revealed.

Sternberg tells us that he lost his office (at the Smithsonian), but he does not describe the scene. He had to turn in the keys to his laboratory space. How did this happen? Did the lab manager come to him and say, “Dr. Sternberg, you can no longer work here. Hand over your keys and never set foot here again?” If that’s what happened, then why doesn’t Sternberg in the interview provide the circumstances, name names and dates?

To me the answer is clear. Sternberg and Stein are not being straight forward with viewers. They both know the details, and they know that revealing the details would be detrimental to their argument, their argument being that Sternberg suffered a terrible injustice. The conclusion from the known facts is that Stein and Sternberg are not honorable men. I will extend that to saying that Intelligent Design is not a worthy cause, because it requires dishonorable tactics to promote itself.

Here are the facts not mentioned in the video, reprinted from my previous post:

Posted by JAC on February 3, 2005 9:36 AM

Although I do not wish to debate the merits of intelligent design, this forum seems an apt place to correct several factual inaccuracies in the Wall Street Journal’s Op Ed article by David Klinghoffer, “The Branding of a Heretic” (Jan. 28, 2005). Because Dr. von Sternberg has filed an official complaint with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, I cannot comment as fully as I would wish.
1. Dr. von Sternberg is still a Research Associate at the National Museum of Natural History, and continues to have the usual rights and privileges, including space, keys, and 24/7 access. At no time did anyone deny him space, keys or access.
2. He is not an employee of the Smithsonian Institution. His title, “Research Associate,” means that for a three year, potentially renewable period he has permission to visit the Museum for the purpose of studying and working with our collections without the staff oversight visitors usually receive.
3. I am, and continue to be, his only “supervisor,” although we use the term “sponsor” for Research Associates to avoid personnel/employee connotations. He has had no other since Feb. 1, 2004, nor was he ever “assigned to” or under the “oversight of” anyone else.
4. Well prior to the publication of the Meyer article and my awareness of it, I asked him and another Research Associate to move as part of a larger and unavoidable reorganization of space involving 17 people and 20 offices. He agreed.
5. I offered both individuals new, identical, standard Research Associate work spaces. The other accepted, but Dr. von Sternberg declined and instead requested space in an entirely different part of the Museum, which I provided, and which he currently occupies.
6. As for prejudice on the basis of beliefs or opinions, I repeatedly and consistently emphasized to staff (and to Dr. von Sternberg personally), verbally or in writing, that private beliefs and/or controversial editorial decisions were irrelevant in the workplace, that we would continue to provide full Research Associate benefits to Dr. von Sternberg, that he was an established and respected scientist, and that he would at all times be treated as such.
On behalf of all National Museum of Natural History staff, I would like to assert that we hold the freedoms of religion and belief as dearly as any one. The right to heterodox opinion is particularly important to scientists. Why Dr. von Sternberg chose to represent his interactions with me as he did is mystifying. I can’t speak to his interactions with anyone else.

Sincerely yours,
Jonathan Coddington

By the time Ben Stein concludes his interview with Richard Sternberg, he has become completely disillusioned. Never had he thought our country’s liberties could be forsaken over a matter such as posing challenging questions about science. He did not have far to go to find another example. The video shows a clip extolling the virtues of George Mason University, a short distance from where he was standing.

Caroline Crocker

Now he relates the sad tale of Dr. Caroline Crocker:

Caroline Crocker (b 1958) is an American immunopharmacologist who taught a biology class at George Mason University in 2005, while employed in a non-tenure track contract position as “contingent faculty”. She also held another teaching position at Northern Virginia Community College. After her contract at George Mason University was not renewed, as is common with such positions, she claimed that she lost her job there “for teaching the problems with evolution” in a lecture which she repeated in a class at Northern Virginia Community College in the presence of a Washington Post reporter on November 2, 2005.

A GMU spokesman told the reporter that the university let her go at the end of her contract period for reasons unrelated to her views on intelligent design. In January 2006 she began a postdoctorate year at the Uniformed Services University. Her case has been presented in a Discovery Institute intelligent design campaign and features in the movie Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.

[Some links removed]

I have previously covered the Caroline Crocker story in the September 2010 issue of The North Texas Skeptic. What I will do here is just plagiarize myself and paste the main body of that story:

I feel sure that Crocker never actually taught creationism to her students. She apparently did much more than that. As Crocker has demonstrated, it’s possible to create a lot of mischief without actually teaching creationism. Some have noted that Crocker is not so much the victim that is painted in Expelled. But she is still worth a book.

Free to Think is Crocker’s story of her ordeal with GMU, and more. The following is from the publisher’s Web site.3

The heart of the book covers how she impartially presented the students with the scientific evidence for and against evolution and the scandalous reprisals that resulted. It continues with the saga of the attempted lawsuit and ends, triumphantly with a call to action.

After you have read the book you are invited to return and to post a comment. Being over-eager, I posted a comment before I even received a copy:

I reviewed the Washington Post item from 5 February 2006 that included an interview with Crocker. It appears she freely admits to promoting what are distorted and incorrect views about the science behind biological evolution. Only a single example here: She repeated claims by Jonathan Wells about the peppered moth experiments:

“The experiment was falsified. He glued his moths to the trees.”

I am a photographer, and if somebody wanted photographs of moths for a book or a magazine or a paper, this is exactly what I would have done. I would have glued the moths to the trees. Students hearing Crocker’s explanation would be left with the conclusion that real scientists are lying to them in this case. That was obviously the point Crocker was trying to get over. She was, in effect, deliberately lying to the students.How can a teacher who does this expect to keep her job?

After posting my comment I received a response from Kevin Wirth. He reminded me that comments were solicited only from people who had read the book and wanted to discuss the book. He said he was going to move my comment to the blog section.

That started a nice dialog with Kevin Wirth. Besides being the CEO of Leafcutter Press, Crocker’s publisher, he appears to support Crocker’s cause and also to oppose the science behind biological evolution. His position is not surprising. A little Internet research reveals that Kevin Wirth is also the name of the Director of Product Development for Access Research Network (ARN). From the ARN Web site:4

Seattle area resident Kevin Wirth is a founding member of Students for Origins Research (now known as Access Research Network) and is the CEO of a micro-publishing firm called Leafcutter Press. He has been conducting research on viewpoint discrimination against students, educators, and scientists who are Darwin skeptics for over 25 years, and just recently collaborated with Dr. Jerry Bergman in the publication of a groundbreaking book on this topic titled Slaughter of the Dissidents. Kevin seeks to create greater public awareness of not only the plight of dissenters who have been discriminated against for harboring doubts about Darwinism, but also provides access to vital information supporting a rationale for skepticism about evolution-related issues.

Kevin wanted to make an issue of the pepper moths glued to trees, but there was no basis for his argument. Bernard Kettlewell did glue moths to tree trunks for various reasons, one being perhaps to take photographs. No secret was made of this, and if any experimenting was falsified (using Crocker’s language), this was not it. Crocker was wrong to make this statement in class, either through design or ignorance. Neither instance would be commendable.

A single case could be excused, but this was a pattern with Crocker. Her statements in the Washington Post story, plus other data, point to a deeper problem. The Post story is informative beyond the peppered moth remarks:5

But this highly trained biologist wanted students to know what she herself deeply believed: that the scientific establishment was perpetrating fraud, hunting down critics of evolution to ruin them and disguising an atheistic view of life in the garb of science.

Also:

Before the class, Crocker had told me that she was going to teach “the strengths and weaknesses of evolution.” Afterward, I asked her whether she was going to discuss the evidence for evolution in another class. She said no.

The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) has put up a Web site in response to the Expelled video, and this includes a section devoted to Crocker.6

The late D. James Kennedy produced a video featuring Caroline Crocker. The video is posted on the Coral Ridge Ministries (CRM) Web site, and it contains samples from Crocker’s classroom presentation at Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC).

One slide says this:7

Scientists are Confused
Scientists have differing opinions on this issue; intelligent design model is gaining ground.
Gould and Eldridge [sic] (evolutionists) “There is no validation of the position that speciation causes significant morphological change.”
Werner von Braun (rocket scientist), “It is unscientific to teach evolution only.”

Another slide features Archaeopteryx and Eohippus:8

Presumed Transitional Forms

Archeopteryx [sic]
Birds there in same layer.
Is a bird (like an ostrich), not a reptobird.
Only one complete fossil and has been questioned as a fraud.

Horse
Eohippus is found in the same layers as the modern horse.
Eohippus is the same as modern-day hyrax.

I am certainly confused. “Scientists having differing opinions” is a standard part of main stream science and is not peculiar to biological evolution. Also Crocker’s statement “intelligent design model is gaining ground” is overly optimistic on her part. The modern Intelligent Design conjecture has been kicking around since about 1990, and in this time no serious research has come out supporting it. Science magazine is the premier American professional science journal. What mention I have found of Intelligent Design (disregarding letters to the editor) in Science has been derogatory.

The Gould and Eldredge quote is addressed on NCSE’s Exposed site:9

Gould actually said “But continuing unhappiness, justified this time, focuses upon claims that speciation causes significant morphological change, for no validation of such a position has emerged.” (Gould, SJ and Eldredge, N, “Punctuated equilibrium comes of age” Nature 366, 223-227, 1993). In other words, there is a question of the order in which speciation and physical diversification take place, not “confusion” over whether any link exists between such diversification and speciation. Crocker’s erroneous quotation and mischaracterization of the author’s intent show poor scholarship, and encourage her students to misunderstand key concepts.

I am glad that Crocker mentioned von Braun’s disdain for teaching only evolution. That pretty much settles the issue, because we all know the great rocket engineer held the ultimate truth on all other matters under his consideration. No, seriously, this is not an argument from science. It’s an amateurish attempt at argument from authority.

I don’t know what a reptobird is, but Archaeopteryx had features common with some dinosaurs that modern birds do not. I will go Crocker one better on the “one complete fossil” claim. A review of the ten known Archaeopteryx fossils indicates every one of them is missing at least some small part (or much more). Too bad for Crocker; after she made her wild claims about Archaeopteryx in 2004-2005 another fossil was assigned to Archaeopteryx siemensii in 2007. It is the “the most complete and well preserved” yet.10

It was easy for Crocker to make the claim “has been questioned as a fraud.” All she has to do is to assert that Archaeopteryx is a fraud, and the foregoing statement becomes true. In fact, astronomer Fred Hoyle and physicist Lee Spetner also made this assertion. What Crocker failed to mention is that these claims were refuted by scientists familiar with archaeological research and not so familiar with cosmology.11

I could find no research that backs up Crocker’s statement that “Eohippus is found in the same layers as the modern horse.” A FAQ entry on the Talk Origins site gives the following possible origin:12

…Eohippus fossils have been found in surface strata, along side two modern horses, Equus nevadensis and Equus occidentalis.

The quote is from The Neck of the Giraffe by Francis Hitching, who does not provide a justification for the statement. Talk Origins traces the statement back to a book by creationist R.L. Wysong. Crocker appears to have lifted a bit of myth from creationist literature and used it in class with no attempt at confirmation.

The statement that “Eohippus is the same as modern-day hyrax” is amateurish and unbecoming of someone holding a Ph.D. in the life sciences. Eohippus is not the same as a hyrax. The rock hyrax is the closest living relative to the modern elephant.

Crocker has another interesting slide in the CRM video:13

Charles Darwin (1809-1882)
Failed at medical school (could not dissect).
Had some training as a clergyman.
Rich kid who enjoyed partying, drinking, and gambling.
Went to Galapagos Islands.
Father was not pleased.

That settles it for me. If Darwin was such a slacker, then the whole science of biological evolution is worthless trash. Anyhow, this seems to be Crocker’s argument, and it lacks a certain amount of scientific and scholastic rigor.

A closer look at the Kettlewell research story finds little actual controversy within the scientific community, Crocker and Wells notwithstanding.

Laurence Cook has posted his lecture on The Rise and Fall of the Peppered Moth. I have copied his text for you to read, but you can follow the link to see the complete presentation.14

Michael Majerus wrote Melanism: Evolution in Action, and biologist Jerry Coyne reviewed the book in Nature. Coyne’s review was critical of Kettlewell’s experimental technique, but Majerus disputes Coyne’s interpretation and has emphasized support for Kettlewell’s conclusions. Others have been critical of Kettlewell and the peppered moth research, including a book by journalist Judith Hooper titled Of Moths and Men. Regardless, all critiques of moth research have been refuted by those scientists who actually do the research. See the Wikipedia page for the whole story.15

What has not happened is that Jonathan Wells and others critical of peppered moth research have not gone into the field and done their own research and published the results in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. It has become apparent that the science of Intelligent Design does not involve any actual scientific research.

If arguing against Darwinian evolution is what Crocker was paid to do for NVCC (and possibly GMU), then they should have hired me for the job, because I could have done it better. Had GMU hired me to disparage Darwinism I would have pulled up the work of someone like Michael Behe. Behe’s argument from irreducible complexity has some semblance of a scientific basis. If there is no Darwinian pathway leading from an ancestral feature to a modern feature, then something else must account for the modern feature besides Darwinism.

Behe has been pitching this argument for about fifteen years, but he has not been making any headway. So far irreducible complexity exists only as a conjecture with no scientific research to back it up. Unlike the arguments put forward by Crocker, irreducible complexity more closely resembles real science. If Crocker had wanted to argue against Darwinism in her GMU class, she could have cited Behe, but she also would have had to note that irreducible complexity has not in any way been demonstrated. Obviously she did not bother to do any of this.

I may have been the first to post a comment about Free to Think, but the first comment to stick was posted by Ray Bohlin.16

Great Read! As is usually the case, the full story is even worse than the abbreviated version in Expelled. Her book will not only help you see how unseemly academia can be, but also inspire you with personal stories of Caroline’s impact on students.

Of course, Ray Bohlin is our own Ray Bohlin. He has a Ph.D. in biology from the University of Texas at Dallas and currently heads up Probe Ministries in Richardson, Texas. Probe Ministries was co-founded by Jon Buell, founder and president of the Foundation for Thought and Ethics (FTE), also in Richardson. FTE is the publisher of the book Of Pandas and People, the original “text” book geared toward Intelligent Design. Despite having a Ph.D. in biology, Bohlin has a curious view of biological evolution. At the Texas Faith Network conference on 3 November 2003 in Dallas he addressed those in attendance and stated he believes all modern life forms have a common ancestor. All except humans, he said. We do not share ancestry with those other creatures. Bohlin is a fellow of the Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture, the principal organization promoting Intelligent Design in the United States.

Both Expelled and the CRM video feature some glowing testimonials by students. Crocker also mentions these in the book. So, why was such a popular teacher expelled? GMU stated that student complaints kicked off the process. Who is to know? I don’t have an official poll of Crocker’s popularity with students at GMU, but there is an on-line survey from NVCC students. Some of them gave her good reviews. Others, not so good. Readers should be wary of any negative comments posted by students, even assuming the posts are by actual students. A failing student can use such a vehicle to even the score with a teacher.17

There is another Web site called N.C.S.E. Exposed that purports to correct “errors in the National Center for Science Education’s fact-free attack on Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.” The section pertaining to Caroline Crocker emphasizes the high praise she received as a teacher but does not dispute that she taught creationism or even Intelligent Design. The page contains several links to external material. A linked page discusses the Washington Post story, and it quotes text favorable to Crocker. However, it omits Crocker’s incriminating remarks, previously mentioned. There is a link to a page attempting to refute the Miller-Urey experiment (one of the Jonathan Wells icons). Another linked page tells of rave reviews for Icons of Evolution. Crocker has written her own rebuttal to the “false claims” about her, but the link to that page is broken.18

Besides Free to Think, Crocker has written Guide to Cell Structure and Function (2005) and has authored a chapter in The Immunopharmacology of Allergic Diseases (1996). In addition to a number of peer-reviewed papers, the page claims she has contributed magazine articles to SalvoMagazine, including “What Exactly is the Problem with Evolutionary Theory” and “Do ID Proponents Get Persecuted in the Academy?” The first is nowhere to be found but the second is in the 4-2008 issue. She has contributed “Intellectual Freedom Must Include Conservative Professors, Scientists” in Washington Examiner, 30 June 2008.19

You can view the video that started the whole expelled business back in 2008. It runs about an hour and 38 minutes, and the screen is small, but it’s free. Get some popcorn.20

Leafcutter Press has a press kit for Free to Think. Besides a rundown on the book, the kit provides extensive biographical information on Crocker.21

References
http://www.freetothinknow.com/
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0981873448/thenorthtexasske
http://www.freetothinknow.com/
http://www.arn.org/infopage/wirth.htm
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/02/03/AR2006020300822_pf.html
Also at
http://www.ntskeptics.org/news/news2010-07-20.htm#interview
http://www.expelledexposed.com/index.php/the-truth/crocker
http://ntskeptics.org/creationism/expelled/Crocker/carolinecrocker3.jpg
http://ntskeptics.org/creationism/expelled/Crocker/carolinecrocker2.jpg
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archaeopteryx
10 ibid.
11 ibid.
12 http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/horses/eohippus_equus.html
13 http://ntskeptics.org/creationism/expelled/Crocker/carolinecrocker1.jpg
14 http://ntskeptics.org/creationism/expelled/Crocker/cook.htm
15 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peppered_moth_evolution
16 http://www.freetothinknow.com/
17 http://www.ratemyprofessors.com/ShowRatings.jsp?tid=649890
Pages are archived here at the following links:
http://ntskeptics.org/creationism/expelled/Crocker/ShowRatingsPage1.pdf
http://ntskeptics.org/creationism/expelled/Crocker/ShowRatingsPage2.pdf
http://ntskeptics.org/creationism/expelled/Crocker/ShowRatingsPage3.pdf
18 http://www.ncseexposed.org/#crocker
The broken link points to this domain: http://intellectualhonesty.info/
19 http://intellectualhonesty.info/
http://www.salvomag.com/new/articles/salvo4/IDcrocker.php
http://www.slaughterofthedissidents.com/template/static/20case_studies/CROCKER_C.html
http://www.slaughterofthedissidents.com/template/static/20case_studies/CROCKER_C.html
http://www.arn.org/blogs/index.php/2/2008/10/26/another_look_at_skeptic_magazine_s_criti
http://www.slaughterofthedissidents.com/template/static/20case_studies/Letter_to_GMU_081505.pdf
20 http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/expelled-no-intelligence-allowed/
21 http://www.freetothinknow.com/about-2/about-dr-caroline-crocker-2/

 Resuming fresh material

For readers’ convenience and before I forget to do it, I’m linking to duplicate copies of pertinent documents:

ShowRatingsPage1.pdf

ShowRatingsPage2.pdf

ShowRatingsPage3.pdf

The above mentions images—screen shots—from the Web site of Coral Ridge Ministries. I have no evidence these are actual copies of Crocker’s classroom presentations (at NVCC, not at GMU). We have only the Coral Ridge Ministries reference to them as Crocker’s material. Here are the images.

carolinecrocker1

carolinecrocker2

carolinecrocker3

carolinecrocker4

carolinecrocker5

With the assistance of Kevin Wirth I was able to contact Caroline Crocker by e-mail. I asked about these presentation slides. She told me that what I needed to know was in the book.

With that in mind I purchased a copy of Free to Think. Contrary to what I had hoped, based on my correspondence with Crocker, the book does not give any details about what she taught in her classes (about evolution or creationism). The pertinent details are on page 89. “Dr. Carter” was her new boss in 2004.

‘The meeting went quite amicably at first, talking about the past semester
and the TAC project, bur then it turned in an unexpected direction. I was alrcady
standing, ready to leave, when without preamble, Dr. Carter announced, ”I’ve
been told by several students and faculty that you’re teaching ‘creationism.’ I am
going to have to discipline you. You won’t be allowed to teach lectures this coming
semester, but will fulfill your hours by teaching labs.” He stood up as he spoke.

[Page 89]

The best I can make of that is that one or more people complained that Crocker was running down Darwinian evolution, and this got reported as teaching creationism. We will have to take her word that she did not teach creationism or even Intelligent Design.

It would not be surprising if Crocker never actually taught creationism. Creationists do not have to do that. Creationists will accomplish their core goal if they can dismiss the vast body of science behind Darwinian evolution. They believe, and in many cases rightly so, that doing damage to  mainstream science will leave students with the idea that alternatives such as Intelligent Design have merit.

As I mentioned in my NTS piece, Crocker received both good and bad reviews from her students. Regarding whether she taught Intelligent Design, here is one that says she did:

Interesting class, but she teach ID and use a bunch of inaccurate propaganda to do it. She also plays favorites if
you don’t toe the line. You’ll still get credit, but just keep in mind she’s teaching a bunch of BS.

Crocker’s culpability in the matter becomes additionally apparent with events following her 2004 encounter with “Dr. Carter.”

Northern Virginia Community College

At the same time Crocker taught at GMU, she was also an adjunct professor at Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC). On November 2, 2005, she gave a lecture which she told a reporter was the lecture that had led to her losing her job at a previous university. She said “I lost my job at George Mason University for teaching the problems with evolution. Lots of scientists question evolution, but they would lose their jobs if they spoke out.” Crocker had described the lecture beforehand as teaching “the strengths and weaknesses of evolution”, and when asked afterwards if she would be discussing the evidence for evolution in another class, said that she would not as “There really is not a lot of evidence for evolution.” Myers remarked that this statement was grounds for her dismissal.

Subsequently, she resigned from NVCC and began work for the Department of Defense in cancer research.

Intelligent design

Crocker became the Executive Director of the Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness Center in early 2008. She left the Center in the summer of 2008 to pursue other endeavors. She appeared in a Coral Ridge Ministries video entitled The Intelligent Design Controversy in Higher Education and in the movie Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. The claims she made in the Coral Ridge video about transitional fossils (and specifically Archaeopteryx and the evolution of the horse) were criticised by PZ Myers as being factually incorrect. Crocker currently runs a promotional website advertising her public speaking. According to the website topics include: The Censorship of Science, Evolution: Fact, Science, or Religion, along with an Alpha course.

[Slight edits (misplaced period) and some links deleted. The first reference to “Myers” is presumably biologist and noted atheist PZ Myers.]

This bit puts to tests Ben Stein’s statement in the video that not only did Crocker lose her job at GMU, “she suddenly found herself blacklisted, unable to find a job anywhere.” I guess by that he means anywhere but the United States Department of Defense and the Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness Center.

Lest we delude ourselves that Ben Stein is just performing a scripted role in a video production, there is ample evidence he is a supporter of creationism. I will just mention here his endorsement of Crocker’s book. In the Forward, he praises Crocker’s courage and forthrightness, which is laudable. He also displays the complete lack of knowledge of the subject matter and the disregard for scientific integrity that so exemplifies creationist thinking.

Despite lack of clear evidence that Darwinism explains everything it purports to, no one is allowed to question that the evidence had to be “Darwinist”, that is, accidental. Despite the truth that no life could exist without the basic laws of gravity and physics and thermodynamics, and despite the absence of any evidence that these laws came into being accidentally, one cannot question that they must have come about by chance.

Despite the fact of the incredible, mind boggling complexity of the cell, despite the truth that no one has ever been able to explain how a cell could have hundreds of thousands of interlocking parts that repair and reproduce themselves, no one is allowed to question that the cell happened by accident.

[Page ix]

Expelled features four additional people of courage who have been expelled. Next up is Guillermo Gonzalez.

Ferris Bueller Gets Expelled

[Update: The link to the NCSE site Expelled Exposed has gone stale. This update provides a live link.]

In 2008 the word began to circulate, and there was a lot of excitement. I eagerly awaited the release of the video and purchased my copy through Amazon. It’s Expelled, starring movie and television personality Ben Stein.

Expelled

As you can see, the subtitle is No Intelligence Allowed. If by now you are getting the idea this is going to be about Intelligent Design, then you can come up to the head of the class.

Also, note that Ben Stein’s most famous movie role was Ferris Bueller’s teacher in the movie. You may think it’s just a coincidence this video’s title is Expelled, but I see a deeper intent.

Anyhow, the video is about Intelligent Design, and it starts with an elderly and bearded professor dryly explaining biological evolution. He intones in a dry way, reminiscent of Ben Stein’s portrayal in the movie.

Moving through history, in an unguided and undesigned way, the theory of evolution …

Ben Stein is sitting on the very back row of the class room (where else). He speaks out.

Excuse me.

Professor:

Yes … Ben!

You get the idea the two have been through this before.

Ben:

How did life begin in the first place?

Professor (exasperated):

Mr. Stein, you have the same question every time.

Ben:

But you never answer, Sir.

The professor stutters in obvious confusion, or could it be frustration? His response is unintelligible. All this time the other students are watching the exchange much as spectators at a tennis match.

Ben Stein continues:

Could there have been an intelligent designer?

Students’ faces turn in unison and cast a gaze at their professor. They are looking for an answer. If there is one. The professor is beaten.

Of course he is. He’s not a real professor. He’s just an actor playing a part in the video. He’s following the script. The theme music strikes a down beat, and the titles roll.

Expelled is nothing if not a good video production. The titles are first rate. The production is by Premise Media:

Ben Stein’s ‘Expelled’ To Be Auctioned as Premise Media Faces Bankruptcy

Ben Stein’s creationist propaganda film, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed is facing auction after the film’s makers, Premise Media Holdings LP, filed for bankruptcy.

Expelled was Stein’s attempt to push ‘intelligent design’ into the mainstream, but it failed on just about every level.

The Anti-Defemation League condemned the film, which attempted to link evolution to the Holocaust. Academics and scientists, as well as film-makers and documentarians, heaped scorn on the movie. And critics panned the movie, Roger Ebert first among them.

The really pernicious thing about Stein’s propaganda film, however, is not that it pushed intelligent design and creationism, but that it attempted to convince Americans that we should teach these things in our public schools.

Americans have voted with their wallets, and now Expelled and Premise Media are feeling the pinch.

Some background: I purchased my first copy of the video in 2008, and I lent it to somebody and never got it back. No problem. Following the bankruptcy of Premise Media Amazon now offers the disk at the low price of $2.00. Shipping is $4.00 from the original source (not Amazon). So I was this week I was able to get a replacement copy for less than I paid for the original.

Anyhow …

Spoiler alert: This is a propaganda film. As propaganda it is first rate, and I am here to tell you I have looked at a lot of propaganda. This aspect is what I will analyze most in this and following reviews. There is no science. Sorry.

The propaganda starts with the titles, again first class.

The theme music is playing. It’s by Andy Hunter, and it’s first class. It’s stirring, and it propels the viewer into the story line. Some children are playing soccer in a street. There is a wall. It soon becomes apparent the street is supposed to be in West Berlin in the days of the Soviet Union, and the wall is the Berlin Wall. There is no color. The titles are cast as an old news reel film, sometimes jerky.

Expelled-01

The scene cuts to some military officers poring over plans on a table. It’s apparent they are not Wehrmact. They must be Soviet. The screen flashes a depiction of the route of the Berlin Wall and the fortified border that separated East and West Germany from 1961 to 1989. The theme music is a quick string beat that moves the viewers along.

Expelled-02

We see soldiers setting up wooden posts and stringing barbed wire. There is a bullet-pocked wall with names painted on it, but it is just a part of the title sequence, and the names are those of the producers.

Hands are placing concrete blocks on top of a partially-completed wall and securing them in place with mortar. Workers mortar more blocks in place. The music surges forward, the rhythm compels the viewers attention.

Men in suits stand in the street and observe the construction of the wall. They are perplexed. Crowds in the street mill behind the men.

The wall is nearly to it’s full height, and it partially obscures a poster on a wall behind it. The poster is part of the credits, listing Mark Mathis as associate producer.

Expelled-03

A soldier in uniform and wearing a Wehrmact style helmet marches by a shop window. He has a rifle slung over his shoulder.

People watch. The wall is nearing completion. Expressions on the faces of the people are grim. The are obviously frustrated. They can do nothing.

Now there is barbed wire above the top of the wall, and through the barbed wire we can see a street sign on the other side. Only it’s not a real street sign. It’s part of the credits, and the street names spell out “Simon Tondeur Editor.”

The title theme continues. Now all questions vanish. This is the Berlin Wall. There is a sign in an odd mixture of German and english that says “Achtung West Berlin.”

The title sequence draws to a close, and we again see the children kicking the ball in the street. Finally it sails over the wall and disappears. The children stand and stare. The ball is obviously gone forever. Behind the wall. Just as liberty and justice disappeared behind the wall in 1961. The theme music winds down and strikes a final chord. The presentation begins.

There is an auditorium. The crowd is waiting for the main speaker to appear. It’s Ben Stein. He’s waiting back stage. Waiting for the introduction to conclude. Waiting to walk on stage. The scene cuts to biologist and noted atheist Richard Dawkins, who says:

The battle over evolution is only one skirmish in a much larger war.

Others weigh in.

Creationist Jonathan Wells says, “Science simply makes no use of the hypothesis of God.” Biologist and noted atheist PZ Myers says, “Ask yourself, what does Intelligent Design give us—nothing.” Another scientist speaks: “We cannot accept Intelligent Design as an alternative theory.” And another, “They will never accept that we have a better argument, and they just pester us and waste our time.”

This section also features an interview with Michael Shermer, editor of Skeptic magazine. Ben Stein grills Shermer on the validity of Intelligent Design, and to my distress Shermer lets him off entirely too easily. Shermer is asked whether Intelligent Design is pseudo science or real science (my terms). Shermer places Intelligent Design mostly in the pseudo science portion of the spectrum. What he should have mentioned is that Intelligent Design is a complete fraud and is really just creationism dressed up in a cheap tuxedo.

In any event, that pretty much sets the mood. Mainstream science is really down on Intelligent Design. And God. But freedom?

Ben Stein comes to the podium and begins to speak. He speaks of freedom. He reminds us freedom is what made this country. Freedom is what made this country great. His speech evokes images of American icons, such as the Washington Monument, which the video displays while Stein is speaking. His speech evokes the image of Martin Luther King, shown, as well.

Ben Stein speaks of threats to liberty. The video shows these threats. It shows black people in the South standing up for their rights. It shows black people being manhandled by the police.

Richard von Sternberg

We see Ben Stein on site at the Washington Monument. It is a place where freedom was threatened. From a view of the monument the camera pans to the left, and we see the Smithsonian Institution. This is a place where freedom was threatened.

Ben Stein meets with Dr. Richard von Sternberg, a victim of repression:

Richard M. Sternberg is an American evolutionary biologist who has completed a BS degree from University of South Carolina and has two PhDs; the first from 1995 in molecular evolution from Florida International University, and a second in systems science from Binghamton University. He did post-doctoral work between 1999 and 2001 at the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) at the Smithsonian Institution, on thephylogeny of brachyuran crabs.

In February 2001 he began work as an invertebrate taxonomist for the National Institutes of Health at the National Center for Biotechnology Information, later becoming a staff scientist. The position allowed time for research work, and he continued at the NMNH, now as an unpaid research associate. Soon after starting work, he agreed to take on the unpaid position of Managing Editor of the peer-reviewed scientific journal, Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, a taxonomic journal which usually publishes descriptions of newly identified species. Also in 2001, he joined the editorial board of the Baraminology Study Group, a young earth creationist “creation science” attempt to identify and classify the created kinds mentioned in scripture. He has stated that he is an outside critic and remained skeptical of their young earth beliefs. Around this time he was sympathetic to historic ideas of structuralism of patterns in nature, but could not go from that to inferring the existence of a designer. He occasionally met proponents of intelligent design, and in 2002 presented a lecture on formal causation to the ISCID intelligent design group’s “Research And Progress in Intelligent Design” (RAPID) conference.

[Some links removed]

Sternberg relates how he used to work at the Smithsonian, but he does not anymore. The reason does not is he got crossways with the scientific orthodoxy. He was editor of a scientific journal and dared to publish a paper that gave credence to Intelligent Design. That’s why he doesn’t work there anymore. He lost the office he had at the Smithsonian, and he was pressured to resign. His religious beliefs were investigated.

Some skeptical analysis will be beneficial.

Sternberg met with Steven C. Meyer, the author of a paper that Sternberg published in the journal of which he was editor. Apparently the two arranged to have the paper published in order to give Intelligent Design the prestige of having a paper published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. Sternberg did not consult with others on the editorial board of the journal, but he selected the four reviewers, including himself. He has never revealed the identities of the other three reviewers, which I presume were fans of Intelligent Design.

At any level of reading the paper has no scientific merit. I have read it and found it to be at the level of an op-ed piece that might be printed in the opinions section of a newspaper. You can read it for yourself.

The editorial board was highly outraged, which outrage provided much of the fuel for the fire storm fanned in the video.

Sternberg did not lose his job. He was not employed at the Smithsonian. He was employed at the National Institutes of Health, and in his free time he was doing unpaid research at the Smithsonian. His job as editor for the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington was a voluntary, unpaid position. He announced his resignation as editor even before the paper in question was published.

The National Center for Science Education dug a little deeper:

The Claim

“In October, as the OSC complaint recounts, [Sternberg’s supervisor] Mr. Coddington told Mr. Sternberg to give up his office and turn in his keys to the departmental floor, thus denying him access to the specimen collections he needs.” (Wall Street Journal editorial, linked from Expelled website)

The Facts

According to Coddington in a January 2005 communication, “Well prior to the publication of the Meyer article and my awareness of it, I asked him and another Research Associate to move as part of a larger and unavoidable reorganization of space involving 17 people and 20 offices. He agreed. I offered both individuals new, identical, standard Research Associate work spaces. The other accepted, but Dr. von Sternberg declined and instead requested space in an entirely different part of the Museum, which I provided, and which he currently occupies.”

Jonathan Coddington is more explicit in his posting on the Panda’s Thumb blog:

Posted by JAC on February 3, 2005 9:36 AM

Although I do not wish to debate the merits of intelligent design, this forum seems an apt place to correct several factual inaccuracies in the Wall Street Journal’s Op Ed article by David Klinghoffer, “The Branding of a Heretic” (Jan. 28, 2005). Because Dr. von Sternberg has filed an official complaint with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, I cannot comment as fully as I would wish.
1. Dr. von Sternberg is still a Research Associate at the National Museum of Natural History, and continues to have the usual rights and privileges, including space, keys, and 24/7 access. At no time did anyone deny him space, keys or access.
2. He is not an employee of the Smithsonian Institution. His title, “Research Associate,” means that for a three year, potentially renewable period he has permission to visit the Museum for the purpose of studying and working with our collections without the staff oversight visitors usually receive.
3. I am, and continue to be, his only “supervisor,” although we use the term “sponsor” for Research Associates to avoid personnel/employee connotations. He has had no other since Feb. 1, 2004, nor was he ever “assigned to” or under the “oversight of” anyone else.
4. Well prior to the publication of the Meyer article and my awareness of it, I asked him and another Research Associate to move as part of a larger and unavoidable reorganization of space involving 17 people and 20 offices. He agreed.
5. I offered both individuals new, identical, standard Research Associate work spaces. The other accepted, but Dr. von Sternberg declined and instead requested space in an entirely different part of the Museum, which I provided, and which he currently occupies.
6. As for prejudice on the basis of beliefs or opinions, I repeatedly and consistently emphasized to staff (and to Dr. von Sternberg personally), verbally or in writing, that private beliefs and/or controversial editorial decisions were irrelevant in the workplace, that we would continue to provide full Research Associate benefits to Dr. von Sternberg, that he was an established and respected scientist, and that he would at all times be treated as such.
On behalf of all National Museum of Natural History staff, I would like to assert that we hold the freedoms of religion and belief as dearly as any one. The right to heterodox opinion is particularly important to scientists. Why Dr. von Sternberg chose to represent his interactions with me as he did is mystifying. I can’t speak to his interactions with anyone else.

Sincerely yours,
Jonathan Coddington

What is so interesting is that in the video Sternberg says, and Stein accepts as fact, that he lost his office. Sternberg never mentions in the video that he was given another office.

This episode sets the standard for the remainder of the Expelled video. It is a pure propaganda piece with a complete complement of innuendo, misstatement and deceit by omission. This is the standard of the Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture, the creationist organization that sponsors the campaign promulgated in this video and a number of others.

Sternberg is the first of the “expelled.” Others to follow are Caroline Crocker, Guillermo Gonzalez, Robert Marks, Pamela Winnick and Michael Egnor. And I haven’t even gotten to the gas chambers and the Nazi connection. This video is a beauty, and there will be more to come in future installments of Ferris Bueller Gets Expelled.

Icons of Evolution

This previously appeared in the October 2002 edition of The North Texas Skeptic. I’m posting it again, because creationist Jonathan Wells and his book (and video) are going to feature prominently in a review of the Expelled video featuring Ben Stein and a number of noted creationists. I will refer back to this post from time to time in the review, so you might want to get familiar with the material now and beat the rush.

Here is the item about Jonathan Wells and his icons of evolution.

IconsOfEvolutionVideo

Icons of evolution

by John Blanton

This is not a review of the book. This is a story about the book. There are a number of excellent reviews of the book, and I will present some references.

Icons of Evolution has the subtitle Science or Myth. As you have already guessed, this is a creationist book.

Author Jonathan Wells is usually presented as an advocate of intelligent design (ID). Traditionally, ID proponents tend to accept the notion of common ancestry and an ancient Earth. Many of them will agree that the universe is about 15 billion years old, and we all derived from a single source of life on the Earth. ID proponents, however, want us to believe that an intelligent agent is driving all of this development and making it happen in a way that benefits us.

From this perspective Jonathan Wells looks more like a young Earth creationist (YEC). While some ID advocates may have no problem with evolution, itself, they want us to reject natural selection as the sole driving force. Wells wants us to reject the fact of evolution, itself. Wells initially obtained a degree in theology, and during that time he began to form his objections to evolution. He has discussed his rejection of evolution and his decision to obtain a Ph.D. in biology in order to counter the theory of evolution in an on-line essay.1

Chapters two through eleven of his book highlight the ten icons of evolution that Wells wants to refute:

  • The Miller-Urey experiment
  • Darwin’s tree of life
  • Homology in vertebrate limbs
  • Haeckel’s embryos
  • Archeopteryx—the missing link
  • Peppered moths
  • Darwin’s finches
  • Four-winged fruit flies
  • Fossil horses and directed evolution
  • From ape to human: the ultimate icon

According to Wells “Some of these icons of evolution present assumptions or hypotheses as though they were observed facts; in Stephen Jay Gould’s words, they are ‘incarnations of concepts masquerading as neutral descriptions of nature.’ Others conceal raging controversies among biologists that have far-reaching implications for evolutionary theory. Worst of all, some are directly contrary to well-established scientific evidence.”2

The Discovery Institute lists Jonathan Wells as a Senior Fellow on their web site:

Jonathan Wells has received two Ph.D.s, one in Molecular and Cell Biology from the University of California at Berkeley, and one in Religious Studies from Yale University. He has worked as a postdoctoral research biologist at the University of California at Berkeley and the supervisor of a medical laboratory in Fairfield, California, and he has taught biology at California State University in Hayward.Dr. Wells has published articles in Development, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, BioSystems, The Scientist and The American Biology Teacher. He is also author of Charles Hodge’s Critique of Darwinism (Edwin Mellen Press, 1988) and Icons of Evolution: Why much of what we teach about evolution is wrong (Regnery Publishing, 2000).

Dr. Wells is currently working on a book criticizing the over-emphasis on genes in biology and medicine.3

He has also been prominent in recent debates over the introduction of ID into public school science curricula. As physicist Robert Park reported earlier this year and we reprinted in this newsletter, Wells was a driving force this year behind the effort to introduce ID into the Ohio public schools.4

As promised, here are some references to skeptical reviews of Icons.

The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) features on its Web site “Responses to Jonathan Wells’s Ten Questions to Ask Your Biology Teacher.” It so happens the ten questions correspond to the ten icons in Wells’ book. For example:

Q: DARWIN’S TREE OF LIFE. Why don’t textbooks discuss the “Cambrian explosion,” in which all major animal groups appear together in the fossil record fully formed instead of branching from a common ancestor – thus contradicting the evolutionary tree of life?A: Wells is wrong: fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals all are post-Cambrian – aren’t these “major groups”? We would recognize very few of the Cambrian organisms as “modern”; they are in fact at the roots of the tree of life, showing the earliest appearances of some key features of groups of animals – but not all features and not all groups. Researchers are linking these Cambrian groups using not only fossils but also data from developmental biology.5

Dave Wisker discusses “Jonathan Wells and Darwin’s Finches” on the Web at the Talk-Origins site:

In Chapter 8 of Icons of Evolution, Jonathan Wells examines the case of “Darwin’s Finches,” and claims that textbooks exaggerate not only the importance of the finches to Darwin’s thinking, but also the evidence that they are an excellent example of evolution in action. He also accuses biologists Rosemary and Peter Grant, who spent 30 years studying these birds, of exaggerating the evidence as well. As we shall see, Wells’ case is weak. Darwin’s Finches remain one of the best examples of adaptive radiation in the literature of evolutionary biology.6

In “Icon of Obfuscation,” also appearing on the Talk-Origins Web site, Nic Tamzek addresses each of Wells’ icons in great detail. It’s worth the read if you are technically minded and maybe if you are not. For example, Tamzek examines Chapter 4:

Is the definition of homology circular? Wells spends this entire chapter thoroughly confused about homology, and does his best to confuse his readers as well. About five minutes of research by yours truly turned up a perfectly reasonable discussion of homology (Amundson, 2001) which nicely straightens things out: in a nutshell, homology is detailed similarity of organization that is functionally unnecessary, meaning the similarity is unnecessary (the trait in question may be, and usually is, functional).7

Eugenie C. Scott, director of the NCSE, has also written a review, which is on-line at http://www.scienceormyth.org/icons%20of%20evolution.html.

Kevian Padian is with the Department of Integrative Biology and Museum of Paleontology at the University of California, Berkeley. He is also on the editorial board of the journal Reports of the National Center for Science Education. His review is in PDF format at http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/QRB/journal/issues/v77n1/770103/770103.web.pdf.

The skeptical group New Mexicans for Science and Reason also discuss Wells and his arguments on their Web site at http://www.nmsr.org/jonwells.htm.

I have provided references to on-line reviews because these days the Internet is the most painless way to obtain access to needed information. Some of these URLs are a bit cumbersome, so if you are reading a hard copy of this newsletter your best bet is to log onto the NTS Web site at http://www.ntskeptics.org, and go to the on-line copy, where there will be links to send you directly to the source.

Watch for more on Jonathan Wells. He is a rising star in the creationist camp. He is also one of the best friends evolutionists have. His shoot-from-the-hip style and his transparent arguments make him an easy adversary for the better informed, of which there seem to be quite a few. Apparently it is true that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. In Wells’ case, the danger is to the cause of the creationists.

References

1 Jonathan Wells, “Darwinism: Why I Went for a Second Ph.D.” At http://www.tparents.org/library/unification/talks/wells/DARWIN.htm
2 J. Wells, Icons of Evolution, p. 7. Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2000
http://www.discovery.org/crsc/fellows/JonathanWells/
http://www.ntskeptics.org/2002/2002june/june2002.htm#new
http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/articles/7719_responses_to_jonathan_wells3_11_28_2001.asp
http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/wells/finches.html