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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

‘Expelled’ as a cultural artifact

I’ve closed comments on my review of the creationist propaganda film Expelled. And yes, I use that term — creationist propaganda film — quite deliberately. I’d hoped the discussion about the film and my review would be about, you know, the film and the issues it raises about how science and fact are warped in our culture for political purposes, or about how we can counter such propaganda… anything other than the usual clueless misunderstanding from those who don’t understand science and requests to read the Bible followed by basic lessons in Evolution 101 by well-meaning readers who nevertheless might as well be banging their heads against their desks, for all the good they’re doing.
I’m pretty stunned too, though I shouldn’t be, by the commenters in the thread and by others around the Web who don’t like my review (I won’t link to them — there’s no point) who wonder why I don’t just stick to being a film critic and talking about production values and lighting and the like, as if movies exist in a vacuum beyond which they have no impact, and beyond which nothing legitimate can be said… as if what movies have to say is not as important as how slickly they say it. To them I say, Bullshit. It has always been the underlying thesis of my film criticism that there is not such thing as “just a movie,” that movies are important because of what they say about us as a larger culture and how they speak to us both as individuals and as members of that larger culture. If movies had no connection to anything beyond their own small selves, why would we even bother with them?

And then, as it concerns Expelled, sometimes there are things are that simply, factually wrong: this movie is a big honking example of outright lies that cannot be allowed to speak for themselves without the truth pushing back — if any movie was not “just a movie,” it’s this one. If that means I get emails from clueless idiots calling me a “liberal facist,” then so be it — I guess it really is true that reality has a liberal bias. I take it far more to heart when, say, Steve Mirsky, an editor and columnist at Scientific American and the host of its weekly podcast, emails me to say “Great job on the Expelled review,” as he did late last week.

SciAm has a great roundup of reactions to Expelled, by the way, and it’s worth mentioning again the site Expelled Exposed, which I linked to last week and was also mentioned in comments thread following my review of the film. And there’s also NewScientist: Evolution: 24 myths and misconceptions, which doesn’t mention Exposed at all but, since it was just posted last week, does appear to be a reaction to the film.

We’ll try again to get a substantive discussion of the film going here, but be warned: this thread is NOT for debating the merits of evolution or religion. Quotations from the Bible will be deleted, for example… as will definitions of the scientific usage of the word theory. The assumption here will be that evolution as science is settled — since, you know, it is — but that facts are being warped by people who know better for their own purposes. It’s for discussing the film as a cultural artifact in that context.

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  • Phil Urich

    I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s “settled” in a complete sense, but by that I just mean that there’s some interesting and lively debates still raging over the precise nature of it all; take Stephen Jay Gould’s point, for example, where many times he argued that biologists had too long viewed every biological feature with the lens of assuming it had to be directly useful, whereas Gould and similar-minded scientists have argued for a more complex and, I would say, less contrived view of things.

    I bring this up because the complicated, aimless-but-with-powerful-forces view of nature that such ideas posit is the precise antithesis of the Creationist view, which is a black-and-white cosmology. In that kind of worldview, it would seem perfectly alright to manipulate facts because one already knows the *fundamental* facts. So ignoring/twisting/misquoting factual truths is likely not seen as dishonest by the ones who do it, or even if it is, in their eyes it’s a necessary dishonesty in the service of a clear truth.

    This is the problem with grand truth/falsehood dichotomies, it encourages people to have simplistic and somewhat antagonistic relationships towards facts and data, since the conclusions have already been found and given as received knowledge. It short-circuits the logic process, and in my opinion that’s why people that seem like they should know better don’t act like they do.

  • MaryAnn

    That evolution happened and is happening is indeed settled. Some of the details about how it works are still being debated and discussed and worked out. But anyone disingenuous enough to take that as “proof” that evolutionary theory is in danger of being toppled, or as “evidence” that Big Science is stifling dissent will not be welcome here.

  • MaryAnn,

    I’ve been reading your reviews for a few years now, and you always seemed like a cool person. Your review of Expelled has only cemented that notion.

    Good for you, and keep fighting the good fight.

  • KC

    Hang in there, MaryAnn, don’t let them grind you down.

  • David Pesta

    Hello MaryAnn,

    The following quote in your blog has shown me something that seems important to talk about.

    “I guess it really is true that reality has a liberal bias.”

    With all due respect, this quote reveals something less than honest about your approach to things, albeit unintentially I believe. As an open minded conservative, I would rather say that “from my perspective reality has a conservative bias.” Therefore, shouldn’t you instead be saying “from my perspective reality has a liberal bias?” By making such an absolute statement about reality, you suggest that you are no longer interested in what the other side has to say. Your perspective of reality is right by default. You see no need to learn from conservatives, but see a great need for conservatives to learn from you.

    When someone isn’t willing to listen to the other side, and carefully consider their point of view, there is no way to know for certain that they have truly satisfied the conditions needed to defeat that point of view. History is full of brilliant geniuses and entire societies coming to very wrong conclusions about a great number of things in just about every subject matter. This happens as a result of their susceptibility to personal bias and unwillingness to listen carefully to the other side of the issue. Are you putting a lot of energy into trying to prevent this from happening to you or do you really believe that you are somehow immune to it?

    When someone says they believe in God because they have witnessed a remarkable miracle, I watch liberal minded darwinists sit back and call them insane (or at least fooled) while I look into the matter and investigate with a strong willingness to consider that they were in fact fooled. I put a lot of energy into keeping my personal biases in check as I approach an intellectual or investigative issue. And I am very quick to admit it when I make the mistake of neglecting an avenue of thought just because it doesn’t fit into my paradigm.

    As a painstakingly open minded conservative, I respect open minded liberals. Are you one of them?

    How many “pseudo-science” books written by ID scientists have you personally read?

    Kind Regards,
    David Pesta

  • David,

    She was making reference to a Stephen Colbert line.

    As for reading books on ID, it really isn’t necessary. One doesn’t have to read a book about a flat-Earth to know that it’s not scientific.

  • Ryan

    Keep fighting the good fight MaryAnn. Speaking truth to intolerance and ignorance is worthwhile, no matter how futile it can seem.

  • MBI

    The film ends with Ben Stein talking with Richard Dawkins. As far as I’m concerned, this both lifts from and improves upon the ending of “Bowling for Columbine,” simply because instead of Michael Moore and Charlton Heston, it’s Ben Stein and Richard Dawkins. I really enjoyed seeing a scene like that, Stein and Dawkins talking to each other, it’s really quite good.

    You won’t hear me say that any other part of the movie beats Michael Moore at anything, I’ll tell you that much. So much of the film is just… awful. And not because it’s propaganda, not even because it’s dishonest propaganda, but because it’s so obviously dishonest propaganda. People accuse Moore of a lot, but I don’t remember him being so clumsy and juvenile as to compare Bush to Hitler in “Fahrenheit 9/11.”

    Having seen the film, though, I have to agree: MaryAnn was totally right. See the film. It’s a movie that’s interesting by accident rather than in the way it intends, and much of it is pretty damn stupid,

  • biggy


    You post says a lot more about you than MaryAnn. You took one quote out of context and loaded it with all of your own preconceived biases and notions in order to arrive at your predetermined point. It’s like you really didn’t read this post.

  • bob johnson

    i saw this movie and was perplexed at the infighting in science by two scientific sides…i am not a scientist but always thought that scientists were free to explore and that they started with a theory and then set out to prove it…i have no dog in this fight but really wish the two schools of thought in the science community would be grown up enough to sit down and talk…it seems that you can take spirituality out of the arguement and simply discuss the science…to me it looks as though the sciencetific bigots who run the academy and who control all things science are utterly wrong and they should drop the hyper sensitivity, stop with the name calling and sit down and discuss the arguements…it is sad that i should encourage my children away from becoming scientists because of the way the field is controlled…wow, how far we have come!

  • bob johnson

    by the way, i come from a more middle perspective, i have always disregarded the thought that we came from a bucket of ooze by accident, but i have disregarded it because in my brain it makes no sense…but i am not an enlightened scientist i am just a regular person with a job and a family. MaryAnne, i am curious why you refer to this film as creationist propaganda? i didn’t sense anyone trying to push God on me in the film…i saw two polarized parts of the scientific community (one foaming at the mouth to dispel GoD from everything) simply fighting over who has the control in science…how ridiculous! science is about research and discovery…lets encourage them to do this without one trying to control the other and lets let the proof speak for itself….i think if darwin were alive today he would be disgusted by the ones pushing an adaptation of what he originally said…anyway i dont see why you made the leap to creationsit propaganda, almost sounds like you are marching in lockstep with someone!?

  • Jason (Australia)


    Thank you so much. Keep fighting the good fight for intellectual honesty. one must expose lies when they are so blatantly presented.

    Thomas Jefferson once said; “ridicule is the best weapon against unintelligible propositions”. One that note, have you seen the Richard Dawkins spoof trailer, “Sexpelled: No Intercourse Allowed?” Youtube it at once.

    Kind regards,
    University of Melbourne

  • Two things, Bob:

    1. ID is not a “scientific” side. It’s religion, pure and simple. ID offers no evidence.

    2. Nobody says that we came from “ooze by accident.” Darwinian evolution is anything BUT accidental.

  • Peter Connolly

    For my penance I read all the responses to your reviews which touch on religion and I say ‘for my penance’ since I once used to use Philosophy (as taught in elementary schools in France and other parts of Europe) as an example of just about the most useless subject taught to young children. How wrong I was!

    We all get exposed to debating at school even if it is only in English classes. This is a handy skill to have if you are going to grow up to be a lawyer, a politician or a news anchor since it teaches you how to convince others of a proposition you don’t necessarily believe yourself.

    Philosophy, on the other hand, is a great skill to have learned if you turn out to be a jurist, a voter or just watch the TV News since it teaches you how to think through an argument and spot the gaps in logic. And hey, don’t schools turn out more voters than politicians and more viewers than news anchors? So why aren’t we taught how to spot an illogical argument as well as make one?

    I bring this up because films like this would be given short shift by both religious and non-religious audiences if viewers followed the argument being proposed rather than becoming enamoured by the oratory skill of the narrator and won over by an appeal to values they are comfortable with and prejudices they may share but can’t espouse since they can’t voice them in such an eloquent way.

    Most left vs right issues in politics and religion can be distilled down to differing view of what is important based on an agreed set of facts but when prominent individuals refuse to allow the facts to get in the way of what they think is important we are in a lot more trouble than simply being a conservative voter living under a liberal government or a church-goer who believes in helping the poor attending a church preaching “get saved and get wealthy”.

    Thanks again MaryAnn for your thought-provoking site.

  • MaryAnn

    Therefore, shouldn’t you instead be saying “from my perspective reality has a liberal bias?” By making such an absolute statement about reality, you suggest that you are no longer interested in what the other side has to say.

    David, there isn’t always an “other side.” Matters of fact are not matters of perspective. Some things are simply factual and true, and some are simply unfactual and untrue. What has happened to our public discourse in America today is that somehow, the idea of “balance” and “perspective” has come to mean that even those who espouse the clearly, obviously unfactual and untrue are given the same consideration as those who speak the truth.

    As has been said before, we are all entitled to our own opinions, but we are not entitled to our own facts. Unfortunately, even *that* statement has somehow come to be considered “liberal” and hence suspect. Which is truly dangerous, and leads to the blatant lies of a film like *Exposed* being given far more credence than it deserves (which is none). It allows viewers ignorant of the real issues to say things like this (from above):

    i saw two polarized parts of the scientific community

    Of course the scientific community is NOT polarized over evolution. But that’s only true if you let facts get in the way.

  • Minecxio

    David, there isn’t always an “other side.” Matters of fact are not matters of perspective. Some things are simply factual and true, and some are simply unfactual and untrue. What has happened to our public discourse in America today is that somehow, the idea of “balance” and “perspective” has come to mean that even those who espouse the clearly, obviously unfactual and untrue are given the same consideration as those who speak the truth.”

    Wow, right on. I’ve been trying to articulate something akin to that for awhile and the best I could come up with was something like ‘multiculturalism for scientific theories’. It’s like becoming open-minded to the point where you cease to be truly open-minded.

  • Keith

    bob johnson, I hope to clear up a misunderstanding you seem to have. I am a biologist, and understand Darwinian evolution, as well as the additions and alterations to his original theory. You suggest that ID and evolution are two sides of an ongoing scientific debate, but that is simply not true. At most a handful of scientists endorse ID, but without exception none has done a single experiment to test it. In contrast, tens of thousands of scientists test evolution constantly, and it has never failed to be supported. This “debate” is a farce, and therefore so is the “suppression” argument Stein makes. If ID proponents could offer data that scientists could evaluate, then there’d be something to discuss, but they cannot, simply because ID is not falsifiable, predictive, or experimental. It cannot be tested. It is not science.

  • It is definitely a cultural artifact. Primarily an American one. If you’ve seen the poll on Science Magazine about worldwide acceptance of evolution, the US is right down there on the 2nd to last spot, just above Turkey.

    An unfortunate effect of this is that many Americans, who are Christians (82%), become convinced that their abnormal belief represents the world’s belief, which leads to them conflating Creationism = Christianity and Evolution = Atheism, when nothing could be further from the truth.

  • misterb

    For any readers who might be thinking that “Expelled” was anything but a work of fiction, here is Richard Dawkins’ open letter on the subject:


    @Peter Connolly,

    As someone educated in engineering/science, I never appreciated the value of philosophy until I got middle-aged. Good call!

  • MaryAnn

    I just deleted a slew of comments arguing evolution and ID. Please stick closely to talking about the movie. Debate about evolution and ID will not be tolerated. Nor will debate about the shape of the Earth or the existence of the Tooth Fairy.

  • chris


    If I read the article we are commenting on correctly, your author has interjected his opinion on said topics. I was, in fact commenting/debating the points raised by the author and the movie.

    I say you might want to stick to being a movie critic rather than a scientist/philosopher if you don’t want a debate on your page.

    You opened the door. Not really fair to close it because you don’t like the comments – they had everything to do with what was said.

  • MaryAnn

    Hell, I liked and agreed with many of the comments I deleted, particularly the ones that point out how IDers don’t understand science. But this is not the place for debating matters of science that are all but settled. This is for discussing this film as a piece of culture, NOT as a matter of science. That IS my sticking to being a movie critic.

    There are plenty of other sites where people can yell about ID and evolution as science. This is not one of them.

  • shoop

    People who are serious about the possibilities of ID need to distance themselves from “Expelled”–it surprises me a bit that they don’t. For “Expelled” isn’t doing them any favors–Ben Stein is lying in this movie. And not just traditional “documentary” lying, like Robert Flaherty fudging Nanook’s environment to get a good shot, or even modern Michael Moore-style lying (he really DID get to talk to Roger). As the link in this thread shows, the lies are meant to invent issues and cases that simply aren’t there. Such a disgraceful display opens the doors to all kinds of justifiable (if, for me, anyway, not particularly funny) ridicule.

    As to why for some (many?) people, “Expelled” seems plausible, I think there are two strains of traditional American distrust at work. The first has to do with a distrust of college education in general–the old “School of Hard Knocks” argument (the expression became popular at the beginning of the 20th century) that holds that too much college is a waste of time, and has little to do with either the “real world,” or with real values (which include God and religion). The other strain of distrust has to do with the still popular notion of “mad science”–scientists messing with territory that should be God’s domain, Frankenstein creating his monster with the help of cloning and stem cell research.

    I think the fact that “Expelled” isn’t going to “blow the lid off” anything is a good, if not great, sign–shows some progress. But keep in mind, folks in Dayton, TN were still calling it “Evil-lution” in the 1920s…it takes us humans a hell of a long time to learn stuff.

  • MBI

    Jumping off from shoop’s comments, I noticed that a lot of techniques used in the movie were taken from Michael Moore (the semi-facetious quest to disprove the movie’s central claim, for example). I suspect this film was conceived as a right-wing response to Michael Moore, but using a right-winger’s perspective of Michael Moore as a template. “If he can lie, we can too!” is how I bet the thinking went. The difference is that Moore’s distortions are in his cherry-picking of the facts, which I honestly don’t particularly mind. One cannot encompass the entire scope of any given issue in a single documentary.

    What Stein and co. do is outright lie. Not just cherry-pick but outright lie, in some cases with Borat-style trickery. Moreover, the central themes of Moore’s movies (The Iraq War is bad, we need universal health care) are opinions, whereas the theme of Expelled (ID is a scientific theory worth discussing) is not an opinion. Or, more accurately, it’s an opinion based on an extremely false premise.

    You write in your review that Stein is not a stupid man. This is completely true. Although his fields of expertise are economics and government and not science and religion, I honestly don’t believe he’s that dumb. This is extremely disappointing for me, as Stein always struck me as the kind of conservative who was above this kind of bullshit. Did he do it for the money, or is he genuinely invested in being this dishonest, I wonder.

  • TheGaucho

    The way I see it was expressed in a Dutch blog in way far more superior than I ever could:

    Nobody really gives a fuck about evolution. Even the authors of creationist textbooks by and large couldn’t give a rat’s ass about how we explain biological changes over geologic time. For them, creationism is just the thin end of a wedge of forcing public schools, and later other public entities, to espouse their religious doctrines. Likewise, the people in the blogs reacting strongly against it probably aren’t deeply invested in academic biology.

    Instead, both sides are invested in other questions: can homosexuals kiss in public, or can we keep those faggots in their place? Can mixed-race couples marry and conduct themselves in public, or can we stop this mongrelizing? Can women make a career outside the home without social or legal reprisal, or can we make them be housewives like the lord intended? Should young single women be able to get contraceptives, or is that for little whores? People react strongly because this is yet another push from a group that has been on the wrong side of every social issue of significance for the past 100 years.

    And I think we should call them out for that, not their shitty understanding of biology.

  • bitchen frizzy


    I’m not a creationist, and am appalled at the prevalence of creationist belief and scientific ignorance in the U.S.

    However, I don’t think it does any good to misrepresent or underestimate creationists, as your Dutch blog does.

    It’s not true that they don’t give a fuck about evolution, or that creationism/evolution debate is merely a pretext for agenda. They truly – religiously – believe evolution to be false teaching, and are as concerned about it being presented as fact as someone might be if their local school were teaching children that 2+2=5.

    It’s also a serious political misstep to stereotype all creationists as religious ultraconservatives that hold really extreme positions on the other issues you mention. If that were true, then they would be a tiny minority of the population, not the large percentage that they actually are. There are millions of Americans who believe in creationism who are contracepive-using working women and spouses of working women, who have no problem with their mixed-race neighbor couples. In other words creationism is mainstream, and it won’t go away if we pretend it’s an extremist view.

  • MaryAnn

    Nobody really gives a fuck about evolution. Likewise, the people in the blogs reacting strongly against it probably aren’t deeply invested in academic biology.

    Yes, it’s absolutely true that creationism is being used as a wedge issue to get religion into public schools under other guises… and I point out in my review of *Expelled* that the film contradicts itself on this issue, telling us it’s not about religion and atheism but turning right around and espousing exactly the opposite.

    That said, it is possible to be concerned about the science angle, too. Even if we succeed in keeping overt creationism about of science classrooms, the larger matter of improving science education — and raising the scientific literacy of the general public — in the U.S. is vital. If people don’t understand, at least in a lay sense, many of the issues facing us today, from genetic engineering to global warming, we’re truly going to be fucked. Getting rid of creationism as any kind of “academic” issue is but the first step.

    In other words creationism is mainstream, and it won’t go away if we pretend it’s an extremist view.

    That’s true, too. But the fact that creationism is mainstream is just a function of the larger scientific illiteracy of our culture.

  • bitchen frizzy

    The fact that creationism is a wedge issue doesn’t mean that those who are using it as a wedge are generally doing so cynically. For them, creationism is heartfelt, and they are passionate about it. Attacking them by characterizing them as cynical political conspiracisists using a religious pretext, makes genuine martyrs out of them – not the best approach.

    —“But the fact that creationism is mainstream is just a function of the larger scientific illiteracy of our culture.”

    Yes. Which is why battling creationism is treating the symptom and not the disease. Sometimes symptoms themselves become life-threatening and must be treated, as was the case in Kansas in recent years, for example. But the focus has to come back to the disease. “Doom” is written on the forehead of ignorance, not creationism. So I’m not sure that battling creationism is the first step, except in emergencies like Kansas. I think the first step is dispelling fear and ignorance of science.

  • “… I think the first step is dispelling fear and ignorance of science.”

    but the only way to do so is to keep things like ID out of our school systems. there isn’t much we can do about private schools and home schoolers, but certainly we can refuse to condone as public policy such ignorance and fear of science and all information and free thought. a fear of science arises from ignorance and the ignorance arises from lack of access to information — or from a surfeit of access to useless and inaccurate, if not downright false, viewpoints. a film like “Expelled” serves only to cater to the already ignorant and fearful, and to bolster their suspicions and condemnation of facts and information they do not understand. cannot understand. the current cultural climate is quickly devolving into the same sort of religiously supported ignorance and intellectual terror that existed in what we term “The Dark Ages”. one of the social contexts that i think is pushing this agenda is the stagnation of our society’s intellectual discourse and creativity. some of this arises out of economic paralysis, the fear that there is no more opportunity for upward mobility — not just for themselves but for their children. the feeling that as a society we’re backsliding. the only way to keep us from the downward slide is access to information, real facts, and the ability to use that information to build on the future. not to deny our citizens facts and information to be used in the pursuit of scientific advancements in biological research, astronomy and social benefits. films like “Expelled” deliberately prey on the fears of the ignorant; it is the basest sort of use of the ignorant by those in a position of either power or money or both.

  • MaryAnn

    For them, creationism is heartfelt, and they are passionate about it.

    But they’re still *wrong* about it. No matter how passionate they are, ID is not science. So they may not be cynical about it, but they’re still unconstitutional about it if they’re trying to get public schools to teach it anywhere outside a comparative mythology class.

  • bitchen frizzy

    —“…ignorance arises from lack of access to information — or from a surfeit of access to useless and inaccurate, if not downright false, viewpoints.”

    Your statement harbors a dangerous contradiction. There can never be surfeit of access to information. If those who fight ignorance do so through censorship, then they become the enemy and thereby vindicate the claims of Expelled. Maryann’s approach is the right approach: it isn’t a question of keeping ID out of our schools, it’s a matter of refusing to give it the appearance of science by teaching it as science.

    With respect to science and education (specifically!) I don’t think the culture of the United States is devolving. Maybe, but I don’t think so. The population of the United States is as educated as it ever has been in history, and flow of information has never been vaster or freer.

    We must recognize that anti-intellectuallism in the U.S. goes back a long way and has more than one root, and religion isn’t the oldest or strongest of these roots.

    —“…films like “Expelled” deliberately prey on the fears of the ignorant…”

    You’ve hit on a truth here, but no one in this thread has yet named or much discussed it. Expelled has a populist appeal, and populism in the U.S. has long been anti-intellectual, and is an older and deeper root of anti-intellectualism than religion. Get rid of the modern religious fundamentalist movement to force change in school curricula starting with ID, and you might do away with creationism. But even if you got rid of religious fundamentalism itself, you wouldn’t dispense with anti-intellectuallism and America’s tendency to see ignorance as a virtue.

    —“…the basest sort of use of the ignorant by those in a position of either power or money or both.”

    Ironically, it’s the use of the ignorant by the powerful that associated populism with anti-intellectuallism. Populists (often correctly) associated education and technology with oppressive industrialists and elite, hence the suspicion of education and science and the implied nobility of the simple (i.e., untainted by dangerous ideas learned in school) man.

  • MaryAnn

    If those who fight ignorance do so through censorship,

    I don’t think anyone’s advocating censorship. We don’t need to censor ideas that are clearly wrong — no one “censors” the idea that the Earth is flat, for instance, or that each human sperm contains a tiny homonculus that grows into a new person. But if those ideas were more prominent than the ideas that the Earth is round and that sperm contain half the DNA a new person needs, well, then, something would have to be done to reduce the credence those false ideas.

  • misterb

    St Augustine gives “Expelled” 2 thumbs down – from 1600 years ago:


    Not all religious people buy this hooey – St Augustine’s religious credentials are impeccable as are Pope Benedict’s but they aren’t creationists. As has been stated eloquently above – creationism is about promoting ignorance, not promoting religion.

  • bitchen frizzy

    —“I don’t think anyone’s advocating censorship.”

    Not intentionally, no. I didn’t care for the choice of words. A surfeit of information, per se, is not a problem that needs to be solved. That reasoning can lead to censorship, even with the best of initial intentions. Maybe I’m getting hung up on semantics, though.

  • i did not say a “surfeit of information”, what i said was

    …”surfeit of access to useless and inaccurate, if not downright false, viewpoints.”

    ID is a viewpoint, as is creationism. i do not advocate censorship in any form — neither political, religious, sexual or scientific. but i do advocate not teaching useless or false viewpoints under the guise of education, or as a matter of public policy. i do not think the film “Expelled” should be repressed. but freedom of speech, information and religion is *not* the same as teaching it to everyone as part of a school curriculum. we should not deliberately introduce the mythological viewpoints of any one religion, unless, as pointed out by MaryAnn, as part of a comparitive mythology course. which i do believe can be a useful class. want to introduce ID? well, let’s read about the creation of world in every culture — a giant spider creating the universe is just as viable as a viewpoint then as some unseen “intelligence” or the old testament god. anyone who wants to can read about the nonsense of ID or creationism in libraries or on the internet, or, preferably, in their sunday school classes. not in our publicly funded schools.

  • bitchen frizzy

    —“…well, let’s read about the creation of world in every culture…”

    That’s why public high schools will never have comparative mythology or comparative religion courses, even though such electives would be way cool and very beneficial. *Sigh* Everyone would insist on an all-or-nothing impossible standard, with every sect and subset insisting it be included in the curriculum.

    —“Not in our publicly funded schools.”

    What about in our publicly funded school libraries?

    I think we agree, but I do insist that there is a sticky wicket and it’s not merely hypothetical.

  • helium head

    Expelled is another heartfelt salvo in the battle to save humankind’s souls.

    When a person internalizes a belief system that simplifies and enriches their life with camaraderie and potlucks, there is the danger of extending that belief system to realms where it is ill-suited. So it is with “fundamentalists” or “evangelicals.”

    From that worldview comes Expelled, The Discovery Institute, The Institute for Creation Research, The Creation Museum, etc. They exist — and financially thrive — because if only we could make everybody believe in THE TRUTH, then salvation is assured for the human race. And the fact that we are chalking up points with the TRUE deity certainly helps.

    ¿Why battle “Darwinism”? Narcissism, mostly. There is a great divide between “created in His own image,” “children of God,” “only creation blessed with a soul” versus a pretty nifty descendant of less cerebral ancestors and the result of differential breeding successes of descendants with differing modifications caused by random biochemical events.

    Besides narcissism, the process of evolution explains human ‘creation’ without direct dependence on a god. “Believers” take it upon themselves to be angry on His behalf for such effrontery.

    ¿So why not focus instead on the science of astronomy for opposing biblical geocentrism? Well, the focus was there once upon a time but that assault on the “uniqueness” of man isn’t quite so personal as the assault of evolution, with its ape-like ancestors.

    ¿Does this analysis explain the deceptions, half-truths, misquotations, and sordid imagery of Expelled? Yup. It’s an “ends justify the means” phenomenon especially when the ends are as dramatic as perpetually burning in hell vs. sitting on a comfy cloud with family and friends. These folk are really trying to help us “find the truth” and thus save our souls, but, dagnabbit, the atheist elite are standing in the way.

  • “I think we agree, but I do insist that there is a sticky wicket and it’s not merely hypothetical.”

    i don’t see where the wicket is sticky, unless you think that ID should be taught alongside actual science in our public school systems. as for the libraries, i remember reading plenty of mythology in the public school library — but it wasn’t taught in my class room, except skimmed as early literature. if they want to teach the bible as literature, i might not have a problem with that… as long as it’s given the same weight and expression as “Gilgamesh” or The Rigas or Bagavahdgita.

    in the same vein, i don’t think anyone shold be forbidden from seeing Expelled — but it shouldn’t be shown at school assembly some rainy friday either.

  • Oy

    Science can’t even make up it’s mind as to whether or not eating eggs is good for me. So, when it comes to the origins of the human race and our universe you’ll forgive me if I’m a little skeptical of the scientific “facts.”

    Science? Not evil. Religion? Not evil. But the second you tie even a single fucking human being to either of them they become infinitely corruptable.

    The irony of people in these threads COMPLETELY discounting ID as a possibility is so fucking insane I can barely fathom it. Since when is, “It cannot be proven or unproven so it does not exist or is not possible,” science? It’s so fucking absurd I cannot contain my fucking profanity. The raging pompousness of anti-ID sentiment just doesn’t compute.

    There was a time when I’d ask if any of you were aware of the hypocrisy on display here until I came to a realization while watching Weeds. There are people on this planet that not only accept their hypocrisy as part of the human condition but choose to roll around in it like a pig in slop. My stomach is literally souring right this fucking moment at the very thought.

    You have self-awareness. You’re not a monkey. You’re not a coyote. You’re not a pine tree. You’re a human being and however you decide you got that way, igoring the tools you’ve received as a result is disturbing beyond compare. Hypocrisy is not the human condition. It’s as much a justification for being a piece of shit as anything else on this planet. Until you people recognize that you’ll continue spilling bile into this cesspool we call civilization and however the collective whole decides we got here won’t make a damn bit of difference when we’ve ended up where we’re headed. That’s nowhere to you scientists and hell to you religious.

  • MaryAnn

    The irony of people in these threads COMPLETELY discounting ID as a possibility is so fucking insane I can barely fathom it.

    The irony of people COMPLETELY discounting the existence of fairies as an explanation for how I can put two socks in the washing machine while only one comes out is so fucking insane that I can barely fathom it.

    The irony of people COMPLETELY denying the likelihood that all horses are unicorns with invisible horns is so fucking insane that I can barely fathom it.

    The irony of people COMPLETELY rejecting the possibility that the Flying Spaghetti Monster created carbs as a cruel trick on humanity is so fucking insane that I can barely fathom it.

  • Oy

    “The irony of people COMPLETELY discounting the existence of fairies as an explanation for how I can put two socks in the washing machine while only one comes out is so fucking insane that I can barely fathom it.

    The irony of people COMPLETELY denying the likelihood that all horses are unicorns with invisible horns is so fucking insane that I can barely fathom it.

    The irony of people COMPLETELY rejecting the possibility that the Flying Spaghetti Monster created carbs as a cruel trick on humanity is so fucking insane that I can barely fathom it.”

    If I hear somebody parrot the flying spaghetti monster argument one more time I’m going to throw up. When billions of people believe in the flying spaghetti monster then it becomes a valid parallel to draw. Until then you might want to evolve your argument a little.

  • Yeah, ’cause when a lot of people believe something, that’s what makes it true. That’s why the Earth actually WAS flat for such a long time until people started to believe otherwise!

  • bitchen frizzy

    “Yeah, ’cause when a lot of people believe something, that’s what makes it true. That’s why the Earth actually WAS flat for such a long time until people started to believe otherwise!”

    I truly cannot tell which side of this debate you’re weighing in on with that remark!

  • Heh…sorry, I was referring to the line, “When billions of people believe in the flying spaghetti monster then it becomes a valid parallel to draw.”

    I have some other posts on this thread – I’m pro-science, anti-Ben Stein’s farcical “documentary”.

  • paul

    I think if movies became detached from the context of the society in which they are made . . . well, that’s not possible, is it? For starters, a movie becomes a part of the social context the moment it is released.

    But a movie cannot be funny if it does not touch on the reality that sets up for the joke. Society is George Burns, the movie is Gracie Allen.

    A movie cannot be romantic if it does not touch on our dreams. A movie cannot be frightening if it does not touch on our fears. Even an action movie, to really touch a nerve, deals with topical villians.

    When you see a movie that doesn’t make sense, you see a movie out of touch with your logic which is based upon reality. When you see a “scary” movie and are bored, it is out of touch with us.

    When I saw “Battlefield Earth,” I had a great time because I thought it was supposed to be campy. I didn’t realize the guy was serious. Then I walked out of the theater with my friends and they told me it was supposed to be a serious movie, and I laughed even harder at the disconnections between the movie, reality, and I.

    The closest you could come to movies without social context would be a verison of the Roman Games, and even our enjoyment of pure violence is a comment upon us. Same for porn and sex.

  • MaryAnn

    And this relates to *Expelled* how…

  • paul

    I was supporting your assertation that the cultural context and influence of a movie should be taken into account when reviewing a movie.

  • Erik Goodwyn

    All you people are crazy, because I know for a fact that all life was created by the Flying Spaghetti Monster. That Stein didn’t include this *alternative* scientific theory belies his radical affiliation with the global conspiracy to suppress Pastafarianism. RaMen.

  • “I think if ______ were alive today (he/she) would _____…”

    Anytime you hear yourself saying something that matches this pattern… Stop. Punch yourself in the face. That is all.

  • MaryAnn

    That’s not a terrible useful observation, Bob Aman.

  • Dear MaryAnn,
    Always liked your reviews.
    Thank you for supporting good science.
    Keep it coming.

  • Erik Goodwyn

    MJ, part of the problem is that many people who are creationist don’t like the interpretation that some evolutionists espouse (like Dawkins) that we have proven via evolution that there is a “blind watchmaker” that has created all life, and all talk of God should be thrown out. Expelled is a reaction to these kinds of assertions. This is not a scientific issue, this is an emotional issue. It is true that we have serious illiteracy problems, but we won’t win the battle against ID unless we address this specific issue.

    When I hear creationists talk about their faith, they are expressing a cherished belief that God created all life, that there is a divine plan for us, and that we were made in His image. When they hear “darwinists” claim that evolution debunks this faith, they react defensively with “no way!” reactions, then contort themselves in any way shape or form to find some kind of “hole” in the theory. They aren’t trying to prove their own theory, they are only trying to falsify a theory they don’t like.

    That’s not rational, true, but we aren’t dealing with scientists here (usually), its the lay public. Evolution will withstand all this nonsense, because it is probably the strongest theory we have second to the laws of thermodynamics, but getting caught up in debates about the particulars is a waste of time. The value of Expelled, if there indeed is any, is in pointing out the lengths people will go through to save their beliefs which really aren’t under attack.

    People like Dawkins are only fueling the fire, and aren’t helping anything when they say things like the universe is “pitilessly indifferent and devoid of any higher meaning”. That’s philosophy, not science, and what does that even mean anyway? Creationists hear that and say “see? he’s just trying to destroy our religion”, and I’m not sure they are wrong in Dawkin’s case.

    The larger issue rising here is the fact that Americans appear to be demanding that science and religion find some kind of meeting ground. A large portion of the population doesn’t accept evolution. No amount of discussing evidence will sway them–we need to attack this ignorance from another venue, and that is the emotional need for purpose and meaning. Evolution does not harm or disprove these concepts at all–that’s what needs to be educated.

  • you know, eric goodwyn, everyone already knows that creationists and religious zealots are terrified of their belief system being upset. and so what?

    why should we tiptoe around their beliefs? and specifically around christian beliefs? no hindu is saying evolution shouldn’t be taught in a public school and that all life comes from the navel of the sleeping brahma. no native americans are claiming that the world was created by a great spider and so evolution should not be taught in school.

    i do not understand this cultural tiptoeing around these wilfully ignorant religionists. i do not understand why “religionist” get the free ride of being able to proselytize, express their beliefs and bestow their blessings on all and sundry! why are we coddling their beliefs? because the spineless politicians are terrified of them.

    so what if Dawkins believes all religions should be brought down? why shouldn’t he
    “preach” that to all and sundry? why is that unacceptable while a jehovah’s witness can ring my bell or bang on my door on a saturday morning to preach religion at me with impunity? why can someone at a funeral tell me, “he’s in a better place” or “it’s all god’s plan” and i’m not supposed to respond with a heartfelt “bullshit!” or at least “i don’t believe that and it doesn’t comfort me in the least” without being *my* behavior being classified as rude and mean-spirited? why am i subjected to subway rides with itinerant and ignorant shouters trying to save me, but if i tell them to shut up! the entire subway car suddenly turns on me?

    religious beliefs should be kept at home and in a church — not in the public forum and certainly not in a public school or science class. it’s time to stop coddling and patronizing such ridiculous ideas that are only a personal belief! and if nothing else “Expelled” should have pointed that out!

  • Erik Goodwyn

    Bronxbee, I feel your pain. But Dawkins needs to separate his atheism from evolution just as much as Demski, Morris, and Behe need to separate the religion from their (so-called) science. Evolution isn’t about god! Creationists mistakenly think evolution = atheism, and Dawkins doesn’t help here. He has every right to his atheism, I agree with you, but he should realize the consequences that mixing his lack of belief with science will do in others. I understand why he wants to eliminate religion, but I think its a waste of time.

    Humans have been religious creatures probably since homo habilus. It’s probably in our genetics to be this way. Even atheists like Dawkins or Sagan, when describing their beloved science cannot seem to avoid that awe, wonder and mystery that has a definite religious tone to it, nor should they.

    There will always be extremists who can’t be convinced–the problem is that here in the U.S., the extremists seem to be swaying the more mainstream public. I’m not saying we should “coddle” anybody–I’m saying unless we recognize why so many people rebel against evolution we are never going to open their eyes to the scientific facts. They will continue to over-react (like Ben Stein did) and try to defend their belief in a higher purpose and power, when in fact evolution is not attacking it!

    The fact is, religious issues are important to most people, which means we (as scientists) can no longer pretend like the creationists don’t exist–it isn’t working! For a long time the tact has been to ignore them, with the idea that if we engage them, we are giving undue credence to their position. Maybe so, but this tactic aint working. They aren’t going away, instead they are getting more organized, more resources, and they are convincing more people who don’t know any better.

    And they won’t stop gaining momentum unless we teach the honest fact that evolution does not negate anyone’s religion unless they insist on a literal reading of the bible (or Kuran, etc). And a literal reading is inherently illogical because the bible begins to contradict itself if you do this. But this is a religious issue, and that’s my point.

  • sorry, eric goodwyn, but articles like this one that appeared in today’s NYT make me think we need to step up the campaign against any religious influence on our schools and public life:


    Creationists of every persuasion are trying their damndest to eliminate any scientific terms and references, by interpreting them incorrectly and then using those terms and references against science.

  • Erik Goodwyn

    No argument here. I would only add that in addition to waging all out war on this kind of propaganda, we need to point out that evolution does not refute any religious belief except extreme literalism (which refutes itself). We should also point out that there are an equal number of “weaknesses” in evolution as there are in the theory of a round earth (as opposed to a flat earth), of a Heliocentric solar system, of Maxwell’s Equations, or of the genetic theory of inheritance.

    If we are to include special creation, we should also include Lamarkianism and Spontaneous generation as “alternative” speciation theories.

  • i like this quote from H.L. Mencken:

    “The meaning of religious freedom, I fear, is sometimes greatly misapprehended. It is taken to be a sort of immunity, not merely from governmental control but also from public opinion. A dunderhead gets himself a long-tailed coat, rises behind the sacred desk, and emits such bilge as would gag a Hottentot. Is it to pass unchallenged? If so, then what we have is not religious freedom at all, but the most intolerable and outrageous variety of religious despotism. Any fool, once he is admitted to holy orders, becomes infallible. Any half-wit, by the simple device of ascribing his delusions to revelation, takes on an authority that is denied to all the rest of us.”

  • MaryAnn

    That’s pretty much what we have now in the U.S.

  • paul

    From the essays by scientists I’ve read, what turns most scientists off believing in God is not evolution itself, but the cruelty in nature most Americans don’t see. One gave up belief in God when she watched female apes mate with the male that had just killed their offspring, proving that the local alpha male couldn’t protect the kids and his superiority over said alpha. And the insect world sometimes looks like a cross between a slasher film and “1984.”

    And it might well be true that the people who made “Expelled” are just afraid of losing the meaning of their lives. Hans Kung, a Catholic theologian who got kicked out for being too liberal, wrote that a universe without God was cold, uncaring, and meaningless. Since I do think the universe is cold and uncaring, I decided to find my own meaning without the help of a homophobic Dumbledore in the sky.

  • MaryAnn

    A universe without God is simply a universe without God. It’s what we do with it that makes it cold or warm, uncaring or caring.

    If the cruelty of nature alone is what turned people off God, we’d never have invented gods in the first place.

  • paul

    When we invented gods in the first place, we did so because we couldn’t think of any other explanation and projected ourselves upon nature, which might ironically be the same psychological process that allows us to see human motivations and emotions (and humanity) in each other as well. These tribal gods were cruel and kind the way nature provided rain for crops and floods that washed them away. But modern scientists grow up in a culture that tells them God is Good, that God is the foundation of morality, and they see the immorality of nature and balk.

    It is not unlike the ethical crisis faced by the ancient pagans when their moral theories surpassed the frat boy behavior of their gods, which might have opened the door for Christianity (along with lots of other mystery cults that Christianity beat out: survival of the fittest religion?).

  • erik goodwyn

    Carl Jung wrote an excellent essay that says essentially what you are saying in his “Answer to Job”–you should check it out sometime if you haven’t already; he points out that Job essentially attains a moral victory over Yaweh, and the answer to it was (among other mystery religions), Christianity. Interestingly, as we all know, Christianity is one of the foundations of modern science. Science, in turn, with its emphasis on the concrete, the literal and the observable, only recently turned on religion, but was so entrenched by that point that creationists are using scientific-sounding arguments to defend their religion. But what they do does violence to the poetry, the symbolism and the artistry of the original myths by stripping away all of it in search of some kind of “scientific” literal truth. Most if not all of the original symbolism of Genesis, which is much more about monotheism vs paganism than it is about natural history, is lost on these people. So Creationism is an affront not only to good science but to good religion as well!

  • “Interestingly, as we all know, Christianity is one of the foundations of modern science.”

    really? i think a few people might disagree with that: hippocrates, pythogoras, euclides, the inventors of the Aztec sun calendar, the ancient egyptians… not to mention the arab and indian cultures that developed the concept of zero and kept mathematics and science alive after christianity infected europe with a deep seated — still lingering — fear of science and mathematics.

  • erik goodwyn

    I said “one of” the foundations, and I was referring to the West in particular. As monotheism developed, a separation occurred between natural phenomena and the god(s) traditionally associated with it. The world was seen as a non-divine “creation” of an altogether separate and unknowable god, rather than entirely suffused with animism and polytheism. I’m not saying that is good or bad–but that led to viewing the world in a different light, which was skeptical of “outside” religions, rather than syncretic with them. This leads naturally to greater and greater skepticism over centuries to Deism, Naturalism, and (sometimes) Atheism, when logically extended.

    Bacon, Newton, Galileo, Copernicus, all believed in a rational, intelligent God. The 3-dimensions of length, width and height, for example, was felt to be correct because of its “relationship” with the holy trinity.

    Western science has its roots in Christian monotheism, just as Christianity has its foundations in Zoroastrianism, pagan mystery religions like Mithraism, the cults of Dionysus and Attis, Persian mysticism, and (of course) Jewish monotheism.

    Christianity (or any other religion) is not inherently evil per se, instead I would argue that stupidity is much more evil.

  • MaryAnn

    survival of the fittest religion?

    Absolutely. Memes appear to thrive or go extinct in much the same way that genes do: the ideas that are best able to perpetuate themselves do better than the ones that don’t. Catholicism is especially good at this: it tells you to have lots of babies and raise them as Catholics. :->

  • paul

    Catholicism also reserves a class of people from the distractions of family responsibilities to work for their Church.

    Christianity’s other contribution to western science was the creation of both monestaries and later universities that nurtured intellectual growth, especially after the reintroduction of Greek philosophy. When I was a history major in college, I rather enjoyed reading the musings of Thomas Aquinas, Augustine, and Albert the Great, all saints. There have been a lot of ups and downs in the relationship between Christianity and science over the centuries; we do seem to be in a rough patch right now.

    And there does have to be a psychological seperation between “God” and the daily details for science and technology to thrive. Western engineers have come back from the Middle East and told tales of Muslims, who once had a thriving intellectual life, not bothering to do regular maintainance on machines because they believe things work due to God’s will or not.

  • Erik Goodwyn

    The problem with memes is that they survive (or not) in an entirely different territory than genes do–the mind. Why some memes survive and not others is much more difficult to get at than why some genes survive and not others. I’m aware of Dawkins’ arguments about religions being ‘mental viruses’, but this only explains part of why religions persist; it ignores the emotional/intuitive dimension that people subjectively feel about it.

    Also, let’s not forget that Catholics are on our side of the creationism/evolution issue! The two most recent popes plainly denied any contradiction between science and religion.

  • MaryAnn

    it ignores the emotional/intuitive dimension that people subjectively feel about it.

    Does it? Isnt’ the emotional/intutive dimension part of a meme’s survival quotient? An idea that makes me feel something positive — or most positive than negative — will endure longer than one that does not. No?

  • Erik Goodwyn

    Only partially. I mean, I agree with Dawkins that religion can be thought of in terms of memes–so can science, and Beethoven’s violin quartets, and everything else. What I don’t agree with is that is his contention that’s *all* that religion is. He reduces everything down to the bottom line and says “thats all there is”–a typically reductionist stance. Does the book of Job make me feel good? What about Jesus saying “love your enemy”? What about primitive religions, which are hardly feel-good propaganda, but rather reflect the harshness as well as the beauty of the world. Are we to say that Shakespeare’s plays are merely memes? If we do, what does that prove?

    It begs the question as to what exactly gives a meme its survival value. Minds have certain receptivities to some ideas over others, and it isn’t as simple as Dawkins makes it out to be when he cites the idea that children listen to what their parents say and that’s it. Religions the world over seem to say the same stories over and over again–every culture has a ‘cinderella’ tale, for example, even Native Americans. Almost all creation myths the world over start with “in the beginning, there was a great sea of chaos”. Independently of each other, humans create myths and religions with the same themes and the same basic stories.

    Isn’t that interesting? Meme theory doesn’t directly address the question of why this is, and yet the mind’s propensity for some ideas over others is directly related to why one meme survives and another does not. It also does not address whether or not a meme has any value other than survivability, but Dawkins implies that it does when he says that religions are “merely viruses of the mind”.

  • MaryAnn

    But the corrollary to what you’re saying is: “Genes are only interested in their own survival, and so they’re good for nothing else.” That may be true, at its most simplistic level, but that doesn’t mean that we cannot appreciate the beautiful flower that is the product of a certain arrangement of genes.

    *Hamlet* may be just a collection of memes in the same way that a flower is merely a collection of genes, but that doesn’t mean it cannot have any greater meaning for us than that.

    We’re a part of the system in which genes and memes thrive, after all, so they almost inevitably *will* have more meaning for us — or, at least, the successful genes and memes will. That’s part of the whole success of a gene or a meme: that we like them. But I fail to see how understanding why we like them lessens in any way the fact that we like them. Even if you understand that, say, romantic love is merely a series of biochemical reactions, that doesn’t make it feel any less wonderful. We can understand how chocolate works on our brains, but it still tastes great. And we can understand that “to be or not to be” resonates for reasons that have to do, maybe, with an innate human desire for self-preservation, but that doesn’t make it any less thrilling to hear a great actor deliver that line.

    It seems to me that it’s the people who complain about reductionism ruining everything who are the ones with limited imagination, not the other way around.

  • Erik Goodwyn

    Excellent points, all. I agree 100% with your assessment of chocolate, love and Hamlet (in that order), and your opinion that understanding the mechanism behind them does nothing to diminish the qualia of their experience. Would that every scientist and theologian out there understood that crucial distinction.

    The same thing applies to poetry, music, and yes, religion. They are expressions of something otherwise ineffable about our subjective experience of life. But frequently scientists dismiss these expressions as “embellishments” that are “merely imagined”. It is this kind of absurd reductionism that people find unpalatable, because it focuses everything on the literal, the concrete, the prosaic and the pendantic. There’s no blood, no life, no artistry in it. Reductionism in moderation is an excellent tool, it just gets overused.

    And you’re so right about the limited imagination–isn’t it ironic that the creationists approach to the Bible is plagued with the same exact problems: lets reduce the poetry and symbolism of Genesis to a bland laundry list of events in chronological order! How much more mechanical and mindless can you get?

    But if I observe the world and I feel a holistic sense of awe and amazement, and purpose (however dimly grasped), and even sentience (ditto), then I don’t need to prove it–I feel it! Nothing about the laws of nature has anything to do with that feeling, which I can’t prove anyway. To me, the reductionists (both scientific and creationist) are all wrong-headed. Its like if we were looking at a beautiful paining, and they’re obsessing about the chemical compound of the paint, or the thickness of the thread in the canvas, or the spectral characteristics of the color. I’m like “hey, dumbass, you’re totally missing the point!”


  • bitchen frizzy

    Okay, so if someone can appreciate the beauty of a flower or find meaning in a Shakespearean play, then why are they “deluded” if they do likewise with religion?

    Dawkins selectively applies reductionism to religion, disparaging all who find meaning in it as simple-minded or deluded. He goes so far as to call those who teach religion child-abusers. That’s analogous to applying that label to those who teach Shakespeare to children.

    That’s an utterly dismissive response to the origins of and reasons behind creationism, and it won’t solve anything. Even if the aim is to deconstruct religion so that it can be done away with, that requires serious study and treatment of the subject. If it’s a delusion, or a mental illness, well, then it needs to be researched to be treated. If there’s geniune meaning and beauty to be found in its memes, well, then those that do so aren’t simply wrong or deluded.

  • Well, we all remember how the old Soviet Union used to define mental illness, right? So let’s stay away from the idea that people who believe differently from us must be mentally ill. It’s flattering to believe that, but it’s not necessarily true.

  • paul

    Once of the nice things about science is that it has the experimental method as the main process of selection for its memes. One of the problems with the book and movie worlds is that they have the profit motive as the main process of selection for their memes (at least the big companies seem to). Like the movie and publishing worlds, most of religion’s memes are filtered through their appeal to human emotions, and sometimes those emotions are beautiful and sometimes those emotions are ugly. When the logic of theologians cross the emotional appeal of preachers, it’s obvious which wins.

    As for mental illness, I got into an argument with some of my friends about whether mental illness was being disattached from real reality or social reality. Often times it is hard to tell with reality a person is talking about, and this is complicated by social reality being the general consenus about real reality. Either way, few people notice it until it interferes with one’s ability to survive (or other people’s survival).

  • MaryAnn

    Okay, so if someone can appreciate the beauty of a flower or find meaning in a Shakespearean play, then why are they “deluded” if they do likewise with religion?

    Ah, but people do not live and die by Shakespeare, or try to impose living-and-dying-by-Shakespeare onto others. For starters.

    Dawkins selectively applies reductionism to religion, disparaging all who find meaning in it as simple-minded or deluded. He goes so far as to call those who teach religion child-abusers. That’s analogous to applying that label to those who teach Shakespeare to children.

    I refuse to believe that you really think that, bitchen. And I think you *would* see it as child abuse if parents taught their children that Hamlet is god and that we all must wander crazily about muttering to ourselves at least twice a day in order to pay obeisance to him.

    I think you can see the difference between real, concrete, provable things — the biochemical reaction chocolate causes in our brains, the confluence of genes that makes a rose red — and our reactions to them, and our reactions to things that cannot be proven. We think that people who take *Star Trek* too seriously are nutty: why don’t we think the same about those who take the Bible too seriously?

  • Erik Goodwyn

    So, then, is it child abuse to tell children to believe in Santa Claus?

    Also, be careful when you argue that only things which cause ‘biochemical reactions in our brain’ are ‘real and provable’, implying nothing else is “real”. Religion causes biochemical reactions in our brains, too–check the literature (you can find it at the skeptical inquirer website). Like you argued before, however, the experience of chocolate cannot be reduced to the neural reaction. Same thing with god(s).

    Extremists who kill each other in the name of anything *are* nutty, whether its god, star trek or shakespeare. But not everyone who is religious ‘wanders about crazily muttering’. I’m not defending extremists. But Dawkins reams even moderate theists, and I think that’s counterproductive, not to mention foolhardy and doomed to failure. It is human nature to be religious–you must admit that if this were not the case, the word “atheist” would have no meaning. What is there to deny, except that most people…make a part of their life? (I hesitate to use the word “believe”)

  • MaryAnn

    So, then, is it child abuse to tell children to believe in Santa Claus?

    You know, I do wonder about this. It’s probably a good thing I don’t have kids, because I’m not sure how I’d handle the Santa Claus business. Do we train our children not to trust us when we lie to them about this? I honestly don’t know.

    be careful when you argue that only things which cause ‘biochemical reactions in our brain’ are ‘real and provable’, implying nothing else is “real”.

    I’m not sure I did say that. Then again, if a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it… or if a sun goes nova on the far side of the universe and we’re not there to see it… We’re not talking about whether things are “real” or not on their own merits: we’re talking about our experience of those real things. If something does NOT cause biochemical reactions in our brains or our bodies, then do we have any experience of it?

    Religion causes biochemical reactions in our brains, too

    Sure, *religion* does. But the existence of religion does not prove the existence of any deities. There is no doubt whatsoever that the *belief* in a deity impacts many people a great deal. But that does not mean that those deities actually exist. It just mean the *belief* exists.

  • MaryAnn

    not everyone who is religious ‘wanders about crazily muttering’.

    True. But then perhaps it should be up to those people to rein in the nutters, because the nutters’ voices are the ones we hear the most.

  • erik goodwyn

    Lol, so true. How do these people get so loud and get so much attention?

  • Erik Goodwyn

    Now that I think about it, Carl Jung said it best: “fanaticism is overcompensated doubt.”

    Another favorite: “religion is a defense against the experience of god”

    Yes, I’m a big fan of his.

  • paul

    I used to have a T-shirt: “Religion is for people who are afraid of Hell, Spirituality is for people who have already been there.” About half the “men of God” (priests, ministers, etc) who saw me wearing it smiled and the other half scowled.

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