Monday, February 11, 2008

God must exist because otherwise he wouldn't be able to enjoy this debate!

Here is great Stanford Review coverage of the recent Jay W Richards vs. Christopher Hitchens debate: "Atheism vs. Theism and the Scientific Evidence of Intelligent Design."

Essentially, the sparring partners chose the design of the universe as the focus of the debate, though much else was dragged in - all fun.

From the Stanford Review article, it appears to have been a pretty
lively event:
The audience filled nearly all the seats in Dinkelspiel and represented a wide range of people both from Stanford and the surrounding community. Men wearing T-shirts that said "Stand Up for Evolution" and "Atheists are friendly in Silicon Valley" milled around in the crowd before the debate while students and professors also attended in droves.

Host Ben Stein, a lawyer, writer, and actor, and moderator Michael Cromartie, Vice President at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, opened the debate. "Is religion a wholesome or sinister force? Should we praise [God], condemn Him, or not acknowledge that He exists?" Stein said to the crowd in his opening remarks.

Here's an interview in the Review with theist Richards, hair flying in all directions. (It was cropped much more closely back when he worked for the evil Discos, as I recall. He now works for Acton Institute, a capitalist think tank.):
JWR: We have actually been surprised by how it's been received, at least in respectable journals. Scientists from the SETI Institute reviewed it in Nature Magazine. SETI you would expect to be hostile to our position because the implication of our argument is that life is probably fairly rare in the galaxy. Nevertheless, it was a perfectly reasonable review, a respectful review. We've had reviews in several astronomy journals-some favorably, some critically-but in almost every case, respectable. I wouldn't say that, for instance, about the blogosphere, but they tended to be non-intellectual arguments. And we actually made it easy on our critics and actually said how to falsify our argument at the end of the book, we said here's how you falsify it, and I'm pleased to report that since it was published, we haven't had the argument falsified.

TSR: Was that the kind of reaction you expected?

JWR: We really didn't know because we had very positive endorsements on the back of the book: you've got Owen Gingerich from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Simon Conway Morris from Cambridge, very serious endorsements of the book on the cover. So we were really open-minded about what was going to happen. We did expect and, unfortunately received, a great deal of vitriolic attack from people who are really hostile to the idea of purpose and design. Guillermo, in particular, has suffered the consequences more than me. I'm in the think tank world, so I'm, in a sense, safe academically. Guillermo, on the other hand, despite a stellar publishing record, scientific record as a junior scientist, is in a wicked tenure battle at Iowa State University precisely because of the book published by us. I actually joked about it beforehand, I said, "Maybe we should have written this book after you got tenure," but he said, "Well, we thought of it when we thought of it. Let's see what happens."

Here's Ben Stein, star of the Expelled movie, looking pretty tired, and fed up with everyone:
TSR: Can you tell us a little about the creative process that went into your upcoming documentary, "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed"? What was the inspiration behind it?

BS: Intelligent design is a question that I'm very excited about and very interested in. It's really interesting that one of the prevailing orthodoxies in the world of science is extremely fragile and hard to prove. Just the fact that Christopher Hitchens-a very, very smart guy-is reduced to saying "it is widely believed" or "it is considered" instead of citing any data is proof that it's not considered. When you say that "everyone knows" something, that doesn't prove anything at all. We've never seen a species evolve; we have no idea how life started; we have no idea where the laws that govern the universe came from; Darwin doesn't explain any of these. All these gigantically big issues still can only really be answered by saying, "well, some intelligent guy or gal or being had just done this; some being that always was and always will be. Part of the problem I have with both Christopher Hitchens' and Jay Richards' observations is that I don't think it's up to man to judge God. God's not on trial, God isn't a defendant, God's the boss. It's not up to us to judge him. God's the boss!

And here's Hitchens, who looks distracted in the photo and should not be wearing a blue shirt:
Well, the struggle against theocracy is not just between ourselves and the Islamists. It is a struggle between those people who think that on evidence and reason, and those that say faith is a good thing in itself. Is that faith, on its own, is a great thing? This is another thing that, by the way, is echoed in our press. “Ah! He was motivated by his faith. That’s ok.” There are candidates who belong to cult groups, like the Mormon cult that say, “Are you attacking me for my faith?” Yes. You’re a member of a crackpot organization. But apparently you’re not supposed to do that. Another cliché that we echo in our echo chamber is the President’s “faith-based initiative.” What’s “faith-based?” What do you take on faith that you really think is important? You say “I believe, but I don’t care about the evidence?” Where in the rest of your life do you do a thing like that? That’s the real difference between those who do take things on faith, unexamined, without evidence, without reason, without background, without history, and those who don’t. and that’s a big difference.

Stanford Review's editor-in-chief, Diane Raub had a problem with Hitchens' swearing, as she was broadcasting to church groups:
Hitchens’ and Richards’ dialogue was responsible for sparking these discussions, and in many ways it was a good model. But the audience also noted the conduct of the debaters, and in this area Hitchens fell unfortunately short. Many lamented Hitchens’ frequent resorts to lewd language and name-calling. The Church Communication Network employees who broadcast the show live no doubt rued Hitchens’ blasphemous swearing; there was no opportunity to edit anything before it was sent out to hundreds of churches across the country. But this is not the only reason why Hitchens’ demeanor was disappointing—his unprofessionalism and resort to vituperative tactics lost him the debate, in the opinion of many. As noted in our cover article on the debate, one attending atheist felt obliged to admit that Richards had won by nature of his much more professional demeanor. Richards used logic and reasoning to make his point, instead of vitriol and shock rhetoric.

Hmmm. I'm not sure. In my experience, Hitchens was simply connecting with his real audience, the vast numbers of alienated people out there.

Oh, and here's line producer Mark Mathis from Expelled, on what happens to students who are aware of the design of the universe:
Young people going into the physical and biological sciences are greeted with an atmosphere of great hostility toward the design proposition; not just by their professors but by fellow students, so many students choose to change what it is that they’re going to do—who wants to live their life working in an area where they are going to be a pariah if they actually speak their mind? And so you’ve got a lot of students who are choosing to do other things, and not go into the sciences. This is a mechanism by which you can control and make sure that you have a singular point of view that’s running the show.

Here's my recent interview with Mark, "Intelligent design hits Hollywood. Will Hollywood hit back?" I thought he was more fun there.

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The myth of the Christian Right - what happens when you ask Democrats if they too are born-again?

A press release "New Post-Election Poll Demonstrates Political Diversity of Evangelical Christians", which I CANNOT find online, reports on a Zogby poll, which found that the tendency of legacy media to treat American evangelicals as an "ideologically monolithic" voting bloc, is quite misleading.

Not news to me. I've commented on the "dangerous Christian Right" myth here. (Is there really a "Christian Right" vote? A bunker or just bunk?) I wrote about the myth in Chapter 8 of The Spiritual Brain as well.

But here's something I didn't know until today. One way that the "Christian Right" effect is created is by asking only Republicans but not Democrats if they are "born-again or evangelical Christian." What happens when you ask both parties' exiting voters, as Zogby did?
While exit polls in both states identified all Republican white evangelical voters, the Missouri exit polls failed to identify 159,000 white evangelical Democratic voters – a figure greater than all voters under 30, equal to all voters over age 65, and equal to all voters who said the Iraq war is the most important issue facing the country, according to the Missouri Democratic exit polls. The Tennessee exit polls failed to identify 179,000 white evangelical Democratic voters – a figure equal to all African-American voters, greater than all voters over 60, and greater than all voters who said the Iraq war is the most important issue facing the country, according to the Tennessee Democratic exit polls.

And so what happened when they factored in these born-again Democrats?
In both Missouri and Tennessee, white evangelicals who ranked jobs and economy as the most important issue area in deciding how to vote far outnumbered those who considered abortion and same-sex marriage most important.

The press release is from the Center for American Progress Action Fund, one of whose spokespersons for a press conference is Jim Wallis, an American Christian left activist, so they must be pretty pleased with their find.

So am I, because it coincides with reality - for once.

Why do media commentators maintain the myth of a dangerous Christian Right, poised to take over? Well, one reason is that it is a way of increasing one's social importance cheaply. That's because it is much easier to slay imaginary dragons than real ones.

The commentator invents the dragon and tells the world how scary it is. If the commentator is a good writer, the world listens.

The dragon doesn't do much, but that - we are told - is precisely because this brave and clever person and some worthy companions are holding it in check.

It all sounds pretty impressive until someone gets around - as this Center for American Progress has done - to asking for evidence that the dragon ever existed.

Now, I just wish they would put their press release on line.

Oh wait, just got mail! Ah, finally, here's the link!