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Amused Muse

Inspiring dissent and debate and the love of dissonance

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Master's Degree holder, telecommuting from the hot tub, proud Darwinian Dawkobot, and pirate librarian belly-dancer bohemian secret agent scribe on a mission to rescue bloggers from the wholesome clutches of the pious backstabbing girl fridays of the world.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Evolution Didn't Just "Happen By Chance"

It's amazing how often a misconception gets repeated in the face of facts.

Ben Stein, hyperactively promoting his forthcoming (likely straight-to-DVD) film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, keeps harping that the theory of evolution states that species (he says "life," but he means species) arose by chance. Nothing could be further from the truth. (The origin of life is the study of abiogenesis, and that is the field of chemists.)

Mutations arise by chance, yes. But natural selection, the engine that powers evolution, is a series of causal events. The problem seems to be that there are multiple (in fact, seemingly endless) causes, rather than natural selection being a singular force. However, this should not that difficult to understand - an election, for example, or better yet, the marketplace is also a complex, decentralized interaction with multiple causal events.

Natural selection is not random.

Bay of Fundie has an excellent takedown of Ben Stein's talking points here. I must say that Stein himself is his own worst public relations for his own film, as he seems bound and determined to make an ass of himself even when writing about about subject he should know about, namely, the market.

I think it’s a fundamental (as opposed to fundamentalist) truth that conspiracies cause very few of the world’s events, whereas the old adage “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” continuously proves to be the case. Ironically, creationism itself is a good example of this.

Creationists like William Dembski, Jonathan Wells, Philip Johnson, et al. of the Discovery Institute devised a strategy, called the Wedge Strategy, to force creationist teachings into our public schools by undermining the public’s confidence in science. A conspiracy, yes? I think it qualifies as a conspiracy – which is why it’s gone so badly.

However, the American public largely prefers creationism over evolution anyway, and so the push to get creationism in the public schools is actually a decentralized, multi-causal, organic process. In other words, it is largely a grassroots effort – now bolstered by the Discover Institute. The result has been a disaster for creationism.

Ben Stein makes a “documentary” touting the teaching of intelligent design. The Discovery Institute applauds. Ben Stein goes on Bill O’Reilly’s The Factor and calls intelligent design “the idea that a deity created life.” The Discovery Institute gets pissed off and sends out a press release correcting Ben Stein.

(Shhhhh! They’re trying to keep that under wraps! Because, ahem, teaching creationism as science is unconstitutional, remember? So the Designer still could be space aliens, you know. *Wink*)


The Dover, Pennsylvania school board votes to include a disclaimer about evolution to be read to students before science classes. The Discovery Institute applauds. The Dover, Pennsylvania school board votes to include a book about intelligent design, Of Pandas and People, in the school library. The Discovery Institute applauds. Pro-science parents, most of them devout Christians, sue the school board. The Discovery Institute applauds. William Dembski gets ready to testify on behalf of intelligent design in a trial that puts evolutionary scientists on the stand, as he’s always dreamed of doing. The Discovery Institute applauds.

It comes out in the press that one of the school board members, Bill Buckingham, had made a statement at a public meeting: “Two thousands years ago, someone died on a cross. Can’t anybody stand up for him?” Oops – intelligent design is only supposed to be about science. In fact, the Designer could be anyone – space aliens, a time-traveling biologist, etc., not just God – and certainly not just the Christian God! Big tent, gotta appeal to people of various faiths, etc.


Bill Buckingham goes on camera and advocates the teaching of “creationism” alongside evolution in schools. Oops. The Discovery Institute gets pissed off and sends out a press release correcting Bill Buckingham. William Dembski walks away from testifying in the Dover courtroom, leaving these freelance creationists in Dover with only one expert witness.


Bill Buckingham gets on the stand and has to answer for why, instead of one or two copies of the scientifically discredited Of Pandas and People for the school library, dozens have been purchased, apparently for their inclusion in the science classroom despite all that the school board has promised. Bill Buckingham says he doesn’t know anything about it. Then he says that maybe he does, but didn’t handle the money. The judge gets pissed off and takes over the cross-examining himself. Bill Buckingham admits that he took up a collection in church to buy 80 copies of Of Pandas and People. Judge Jones III, himself a devout Christian and a Bush appointee to the bench, is royally pissed off now.


And as we all know, Kitzmiller v. Dover, Pennsylvania School District is now history, with Judge Jones issuing a (sorry) damning ruling against the defendants, and intelligent design is now extinct in Dover science classes, and the school board responsible for these shenanigans (costing the taxpayers in Dover, Pennsylvania one million dollars in damages) was voted off the board.

So you see, evolution doesn't happen by chance, whereas it sure seems that real-life conspiracies, themselves the opposite of random events, mushroom out of control. It's a hard lesson that the fellows at the Discovery Institute have yet to learn.

You can read the Dover trial transcripts at Talk Origins.

(Shimmies to JanieBell and Kate and Atheist Experience and Bay of Fundie.)

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