Monday, July 7, 2008

Two more reasons not to read the Citizen

We dumped the Ottawa Citizen years ago, as it gradually slid into banal fluff. The last few days reminded me why we continue to not take the rag.

First, on Saturday columnist David Warren celebrated changes to the Ontario Human Rights Commission by preemptively proclaiming his own martyrdom:
As a writer who does not subscribe to the "politically correct" ideology, it is reasonable to expect that, sooner or later, they will come for me.....I was born a free citizen of the Old Canada and before her God I declare, that I will go to jail rather than acknowledge the legitimacy of any "human rights" commission.
Wow. I predict that David Warren will be arrested the day they criminalize self-important windbaggery with pomposity aforethought. But not, I think, before then (unless of course, he deliberately provokes it).

Then on Monday, Reuven Bulka writes a column on the Sanctity of Life and how we need God -- apparently, to keep us from offing all the old people and cripples (something like that). Along the way he invokes Ben Stein's "well done documentary" Expelled, which tells "the story of scientists expelled from their universities for looking positively on the notion of intelligent design, rather than embracing holus bolus the Darwinian theory of the evolution of the species". Someone should tell him that the persecution stories in the movie are (to put it charitably) significantly exagerrated.

That was just the start. It goes downhill from there:
Although Darwin somewhat arrogantly called his work The Origin of Species, it is clear that he did not explain how life actually originated. He did not know, nor do scientists today know.
The choice of title would be because Darwin was writing, not about how life began, but specifically about how new species arose in nature -- a live scientific question throughout the nineteenth century (and in many ways, still today). While I've often heard creationists assert that our ignorance of life's beginning is some fatal blow against evolution, I must say I've never before encountered that objection based on such a grossly illiterate misconstrual of the title of Darwin's book. (But note the implicit invocation of the God of the Gaps argument).

Bulka blathers on:
You are left wondering why seemingly intelligent people have zero tolerance for intelligent design. It is not as if intelligent design is any less scientific than the gaping hole in how life began that Darwinists greet with an "I do not know" shrug.
As a matter of fact, it is as if ID is "less scientific". Lacking a coherent hypothesis beyond "Evolution can't do that", it's not scientific at all. And concerning how life began, scientists know a good deal more than pious ignorami like Bulka are aware of.
By the way, for the record, I have no problem with evolutionary ingredients in creation. This can co-exist quite comfortably with intelligent design, or God's design, which is stretched out on an evolutionary canvass.
Mr. Stein takes the viewer on a Columbo-like journey trying to get to the bottom of this visceral and categorical rejection by the Darwinists. He skillfully shows how Darwinism moves people to reject religion, and some of the major tenets of faith, such as the notion of afterlife and the meaning of existence, including having a code of values.
Of course, Stein "shows" this by "skillfully" interviewing only prominent atheists like Richard Dawkins and P.Z.Myers, ignoring devout pro-evolution scientists such as Ken Miller and Francis Collins. Bulka then goes on to swallow Stein's science-hatred hook, line and sinker:
In a Darwinist system, with everything happening on its own, we are bereft of values. And the scientists seemingly want it that way. If nothing is sacred, anything goes - there are no restrictions.
I have no idea what Bulka means by a "Darwinist" system, but the rudiments of morality -- compassion, cooperation, reciprocity, mutual aid, observance of social rules -- seem to be built in to our psychology, and that of our closest relatives. We don't need abstract notions of sacredness to avoid the "anything goes" apocalypse: simple enlightened self-interest gets us a long way down that road.

Of course, no anti-evolution rant would be complete without dragging in the ghost of Stalin, and the Hitler Zombie.

That brings us to ask whether we ever had such a world, a Godless world, and yes we did. Stalin killed in the tens of millions, Hitler's evil is well documented, and there are others who in the absence of any values wreaked immeasurable havoc.

That Hitler was "Godless" of course explains why he wrote copiously about his duty to God on behalf of the German people, and why the buckles on WW2 German uniforms bore the slogan "Gott Mit Uns". And Stalin (to those who have even passing familiarity with Darwin's ideas, and know what the term actually means) was anything but a "Darwinist": official Soviet dogma during his era rejected Darwin's proposed mechanism of organic change (variation and natural selection) as being incompatible with Marxist theories of history. In its place Stalin substituted the neo-Lamarckian ideas of Trofim Lysenko (with disastrous results for Soviet agriculture).

But really, the foregoing are just minor historical gaffes compared to the real fallacy of that paragraph, which is that the Stalinist and Nazi visions were far from "values-free". What they both were, were ideologies which invented and elevated certain "values" (the achievement of the Workers' Paradise through the inexorable outworking of Marxist dialectic; the perfection and triumph of the Aryan Race) over, well, pretty much every other value, including the liberty and lives of individual humans. It's not about values vs. no values: it's about which values.

Of course, Bulka is careful to throw in a token acknowledgement of the known evils of religion -- but you can tell he doesn't really mean it by his attempt to pull a No True Scotsman move (emphasis mine):

This is not to suggest that religion is free from taint. Too many have killed in the name of religion, and history past and present is discoloured by so-called religious figures who espouse, encourage, and reward killing.

And after that diversion, it's back to the real villain -- science:

As bad as religion may be, the argument can be made that absent religion, things would be worse. Mr. Stein drives this point home incessantly, as he juxtaposes scientific tyranny with Nazi imagery.

The good Rabbi doesn't explicitly mention the movie's use of Holocaust imagery -- perhaps he heard about the Anti-Defamation League's deprecation of the film as "misappropriat[ion]" of that sad episode in history, and thought it prudent not to call close attention to that aspect of it:
Using the Holocaust in order to tarnish those who promote the theory of evolution is outrageous and trivializes the complex factors that led to the mass extermination of European Jewry.
Bulka continues:
A valueless society enslaved by scientism desacrilizes life. And Mr. Stein is not oblivious to the scientism of eugenics as it impacted then, with the implicit warning that it could happen again.
I don't quite know what this "scientism" Bulka complains about is, but science is about discovering how the world works, with all its wonders; and the "Darwinism" (properly: evolutionary biology) Ben Stein derides is very much a part of that discovery. Bulka is welcome to argue all he wants for the sacredness of human life, either as a principle, or as a practical bulwark against atrocity -- but his argument is ill-served by credulously regurgitating nonsense from a film well-known to be propaganda, and which places blame on all the wrong people.

[Afterword: while surfing up references for this post, I happened across this thoughtful and nuanced essay on Expelled by an Evangelical Christian at the American Scientific Affiliation site. I don't agree with everything Schloss says, but he tries very hard to be fair to both sides, and correctly identifies the movie's many flaws. Recommended reading, especially for those who might default to Stein's camp.]

Hat tip: Dr. Dawg (though I must also credit Deborah Gyapong, who of course agrees with Bulka).


Jonathan Abrams said...

It's ok to resubscribe, they published my letter rebuking Bulka, along with two other letters. They also commissioned an article from Michael Shermer.

Problem solved.

Also, I agree with David Warren somewhat (yikes!). I think that the Human Rights Tribunal is by definition anti-free speech. You can be dragged before them for merely 'insulting' someone, and the accuser doesn't have to pay a dime, even if the defendant is exonerated. It's a mess. People should be allowed to be stupid/hurtful/offensive and say stupid/hurtful/offensive things. They're just words. If you don't like what they said, say something back, don't get the government to prosecute you. Or else you create martyrs like what they did with David Irving in Austria.

AJM said...


I'd like to say I'm not really *from* Ottawa... I... erm... just live here... Okay, have for a while... But I was *meaning* to move...

Seriously, what Johnny said. As in: agree with Warren, sorta, somewhat... uncomfortable as it is to say. Tho' anyone who even *uses* the term 'politically correct' or 'politically incorrect' or 'wow, like, I'm so politically incorrect, such a brave, bad boy, look upon my mighty, mighty testicles and wonder' is about 99 percent likely to be a fucking moron, encroachments upon freedom to offend *are* gettin' to be a bit of an issue 'round these parts. Being a pompous ass doesn't necessarily make ya entirely wrong. Starting to look like we're making it a little too easy for those with no interest whatsoever in free and open discourse to attempt to stifle criticism and demand immunity from ridicule just by saying 'oh... I'm offended... silence, now...'

All that said, I really haven't much taste for the Citizen anyway. Dunno. I think it's mostly about heft, or lack thereof. There's just never been much *there* there.

Eamon Knight said...

Maybe I hang around Ed Brayton's place too much, but I do tend to lean towards minimal or no hate-speech laws, so I agree with both of you. But it sticks in my throat to say that equates to agreeing with Warren ;-). There's a lot of free-speechism coming from certain quarters that I cynically suspect would change its tune if the "hate-speech" were directed the other way (see eg. the latest episode in the Affair Of The Magic Cracker at PZ's place).