Win Ben Stein’s Argument

Remember Expelled, the wretched movie starring Ben Stein
in which he argued that science — and evolution in particular
— causes things like the Holocaust?

Now, at BeliefNet, David Klinghoffer has an
article
in which he insinuates the same claim about von Brunn, the guy who
recently walked into the Holocaust museum downtown and started
shooting.

[Quoting von Brunn]:

[T]o the astonishment of the world, Chancellor Adolph Hitler, who emphasized genetics and the homogeneity of the Aryan race, led Germany to an amazing spiritual and economic recovery.

No, he doesn’t cite Darwin by name in the part of his book that’s
readable online — the first 6 of 12 chapters. But do you get the
general drift? And you want to tell me that ideas don’t have
consequences?

Must we go over this again? For one thing, an idea is not responsible
for those who believe in it. For another, Klinghoffer isn’t making an
argument against the truth of evolutionary ideas, only
against their usefulness.

For another thing, the reference to “genetics” is as connected to
evolution as it is to animal husbandry, an art that’s been around for
thousands of years. Von Brunn’s screeds against miscegenation are
rooted in ideas much, much older than Darwin: plain old-fashioned
racism, the idea that people outside of one’s clan/nation/whatever are
worse, and contact with them is a Bad Thing.

And finally, “is” does not imply “ought”. Science, the search for
explanations about how the physical universe works, can tell you that
if you do X, then Y will result. The question of whether Y
ought to happen is a separate one.

It’s true that if one were to kill people with certain alleles, that
the relative frequency of those alleles would decrease in the
population. But science does not answer the question, “Should
we go around killing people with genes we don’t like?”, any more than
the scientific fact that a person falling out of a 10th story window
onto pavement will die implies that one should go around
pushing people out of windows.

In
a follow-up post,
Klinghoffer asks,

If in his crazed manifesto he had somehow found support for his thinking not in evolution but in intelligent design, do you think we would have heard nothing about it from the media as in fact we’ve heard nothing (except from me) about his evolutionary thoughts? What if he had based his hate explicitly on Biblical literalist creationism? Or on Roman Catholicism? Or Evangelical Protestantism? Or Orthodox Judaism? Would that similarly have been hushed up?

Klinghoffer himself talks about “the role of evolutionary doctrine,
however distorted, in his rationale for racism”. So right off the bat,
we’re not talking about sound arguments one way or another. So yeah,
if von Brunn had said something like “The pope told me that Jews
killed God’s prophet Muhammad, so their descendants should be killed
for that”, then it would be unfair to blame his actions on
Catholicism.

However, we can contrast this with the case of George Tiller’s murder,
where a plausible rationale runs like this: “Abortion is murder.
Tiller performs abortions. Therefore, Tiller is a murderer. Killing
Tiller would prevent him from performing abortions. Therefore, one
murder would prevent countless others. Therefore, Tiller should be
killed.”

And indeed there’s been a lot of discussion about whether (or how
much) the “pro-life” movement is to blame for Tiller’s death.

But really, there’s a better way to answer Klinghoffer’s question: get
a representative sample of killers, find out how many of them use ID
or creationism or Catholicism or whatever to rationalize their
murders, and see how much attention the media paid to it.

I must give Klinghoffer points for condemning von Brunn as a sick
whackjob, which is more than I can say for the fucks at Stormfront.
When last looked, on the day of the shooting (I haven’t gone back
because I had to clean myself off with bleach and my eyes and
intestines are still burning), the general reaction was “He shouldn’t
have done that, because it’ll be incredibly bad PR for us.” Even the
pro-lifers had the decency to jump on George Tiller’s murderer with
“Dude! You don’t go around killing people!”

Some Good News From ID-Land

Bill Dembski
reports:

Judge Jones gets multiple honorary degrees, Ben Stein has his withdrawn

That’s referring to the fact that Ben Stein, the game show host who
recently narrated a movie blaming the Holocaust on evolution, was
invited to be a commencement speaker at the University of Vermont, but
when it was brought to the president’s attention what an anti-science
twatcicle Stein is,
Stein withdrew from the ceremony“.

(The word “withdrew” makes it sound as though it was Stein’s idea. I
imagine this withdrawal is about as voluntary as when a cabinet
secretary or Wall Street CEO is caught snorting blow off the ass of an
underage Thai hooker while dressed in latex and leather, and promptly
offers his resignation.)


Next, Barry Arrington proposes a
draft
for an FAQ question on ID:

1] ID is “not science”

Leaving aside the fact that that’s not a question, Arrington’s answer
is a marvel of empty fluff with a superficial semblance of substance
that rivals that of Twinkies. It basically boils down to “ID is too
science! Is too, is too!”, but he uses a page of text to say it.

He starts with an
argument from authority
(William Dembski says it, so it must be true), and ends with a list of
features that scientific research has that ID doesn’t.

And in the middle, he whines about how unfair it is that the mean ol’
scientific establishment has excluded supernatural explanations a
priori.

It’s been said before, but it bears repeating: the mean ol’ scientific
establishment did not reject
non-materialistic/non-naturalistic/supernatural/magic explanations a
priori. It rejected them a posteriori. For centuries now,
natural explanations have been pitted against supernatural ones in
explaining various phenomena, from rainfall to the formation of
fossils to embryonic development. And natural explanations have always
won out, in the sense of being more in line with observable reality
and making useful predictions about future observations.

Of the thousands of times they’ve been tried, supernatural
explanations have never worked. From there, it’s a small step to the
conclusion that supernatural explanations don’t work.

And that is why scientists reject explanations that involve magic. Not
because of a hard-headed pre-commitment to naturalism, but simply
because magic never works.

Expelled: In Good Company

A certain movie was released in theaters today, and several critics have already weighed in on it. Rotten Tomatoes‘ tomatometer is a good tool for seeing at a glance how fresh (lots of good reviews) or rotten (lots of bad reviews) a movie is. But rather than jumping straight to the chase, allow me to place it in some sort of context:

Continue reading “Expelled: In Good Company”

Ben Stein vs. Daniel Dennett

There are people out there who want to keep science in a little box where it can’t possibly touch God.
[…]

Scientists are not allowed to even think thoughts that involve an intelligent creator.

— Ben Stein in the teaser trailer to Expelled

There are obstacles confronting the scientific study of religion, and there are misgivings that need to be addressed. A preliminary exploration shows that it is both possible and advisable for us to turn our strongest investigative lights on religion.

Religion is not out-of-bounds to science, in spite of propaganda to the contrary from a variety of sources. Moreover, scientific inquiry is needed to inform our most momentous political decisions. There is risk and even pain involved, but it would be irresponsible to use that as an excuse for ignorance.

— Daniel Dennett, summaries of chapter 2 of Breaking the Spell, pp. 28, 53

Then there’s Victor Stenger’s book, God: the Failed Hypothesis, which considers the proposition that God exists as a testable hypothesis. Oh, and Dawkins dedicates a chapter to the God hypothesis as well in The God Delusion.

So who are these scientists that Stein is going on about, the ones who want to “keep science in a little box where it can’t possibly touch God”? Call me cynical, but I wonder if they aren’t the ones who are afraid that science would either disprove God or make him irrelevant.