Forward to next post: It’s International Talk Like Jim Rigney Dressed as a Pirate Day!
From John Farrell, A Problem of Credibility:
The problem with relying solely on philosophy when it comes to discussing the ‘big picture’ about God and his role in the evolution of life, is that it too often gives cover to scientific stupidity.Also from John Farrell, 11 September 2007:
I would much rather say ignorance instead of stupidity, believe me. But ignorance is a condition that can be remedied, assuming the ignorant party is interested in learning the truth. That is not the case with many conservatives and the journalists who pander to them. …
Another part of the problem—at least with regard to conservative journalists and how they cover science—is the narrow provincialism, born of the small social circle of people who make up the current conservative intellectual establishment, meaning, in the corridor between New York and Washington, D.C. [I’m a Red Sox fan, so shoot me.]
A friend of mine, who is also a longtime reader of National Review and the other conservative opinion journals, had some interesting comments about this a while back in an email, and I think he’s right on the money: “The problem with NRO is that it’s intellectually incurious. It’s gotten to be dull and airless because it’s not really interested in exploring new ideas and rethinking old ones in light of experience, but instead serving as a political rallying point. There is so much more to conservatism — or to be more precise, what interests, or should interest, conservatives — than what happens in Washington, but that’s all they seem to care about.”
For example, he might have ventured to query some Christians who are scientists and philosophers, ones who are not scared of Darwin. … But talking to anyone who might politely disprove the point is just not part of what Bethell, Gilder, Buchanan, Coulter & Co. are up to.
More depressing evidence of Christian documentary filmmakers who feel no need to be honest about what they are doing when they approach prospective interviewees to be in their films.The link is to a blog called Higgaion, written by Chris Heard, Associate Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. The entry is called I wish that weren’t me on that DVD:
A couple of years ago, I welcomed a camera crew into my office for some interviews about Old Testament stories. The crew went away and I never heard from them again, until I e-mailed the production company last week to find out what ever became of the footage. A representative of that company promptly e-mailed me back and kindly sent out a screener of the DVD that is scheduled to release in October.More after the jump.
I am not happy with the end result.
When I agreed to do the interview, I did not know that the thankfully direct-to-video program would feature “re-enactments” of biblical scenes (and horrible re-enactments at that; only Moses has a proper beard). I did not know that the film would use completely irrelevant footage to distract viewers during longish voiceovers by host Roger Moore (yes, that Roger Moore). And I certainly did not realize that the production would end up trying to promote views that I do not personally endorse. I did suppose that a diversity of opinions might be represented, and represented as such. Silly me.And so on. It’s a long, detailed description of the flawed scholarship underlying the documentary, and how Chris Heard’s remarks were misrepresented in it. He goes through Noah’s Flood (bad geology); Lot, Sodom, and Gomorrah (bad etymology and geography); Job (text is wildly misread and misrepresented); Abraham (which Ur, which Abraham?); Joseph (no real examination of the historicity of the Joseph narratives); Moses (the Ten Commandments, Magna Carta, and Constitution are not part of a universal inbred human ethical code); Samson; and David (gross misrepresentation of the Tel Dan stela).
Here are some of my specific complaints about the program. Yes, I know that you haven’t seen it yet. My hope is that maybe you won’t. But perhaps if I embarrass myself pre-emptively by means of this post, at least my learned colleagues will cut me some slack. Also, as far as I know, I’m not bound by any non-disclosure agreement, so please consider this an “advance review” of the film.
Adam, Eve, and Eden. The first eight minutes or so of the program offer up young-earth creationism, with a heaping helping of commentary from folk associated with the Institute for Creation Research. Longtime readers of Higgaion know that I have no sympathy whatsoever with young-earth creationism (I’d sympathize with a young-earth creationist who got bit by a pit bull or something, but you know what I mean); I consider it exegetically irresponsible and it is (regardless of my consideration one way or the other) not scientific in the least. The producers conveniently left out the parts of my interview where I expressed the view that the biblical Adam and Eve are “everyman” and “everywoman” and that the impossible geography of Eden is a clue to readers not to try to interpret Genesis 2–3 literally. Instead, the film gives air time to ICR folk who completely misuse the real scientific concept of a Y-chromosome most recent common ancestor (Y-mcra) and a mitochondrial DNA most recent common ancestor (mt-mcra), sometimes called “Y-chromosome Adam” and “mtDNA Eve”; the talking heads try to conflate Y-mcra and mt-mcra with a literal Adam and Eve from Genesis 2–3, even though Y-mcra and mt-mcra, according to current evidence, lived almost 90,000 years apart from one another. (To my better-informed friends: yes, I know that this brief explanation is awfully simplistic.) A caption in the film claims that “Using geographical clues given in Genesis, scholars almost all agree that the Garden of Eden is in Iraq.” Wrong. There are some biblical scholars who want to locate the original location of Eden in what is now Iraq, near the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates; of course, none of these scholars would say that the Garden is (now) anywhere to be found. And most biblical scholars are not even interested in the question. If you take the geographical description in Genesis 2 as your clue, you will be hopelessly frustrated, for the clues simply don’t work. No such place exists. If you are willing to stretch some of the geographical references in Genesis 2, and allow certain place names to mean things in Genesis 2 that they don’t mean anywhere else in the Bible, you can assign a geographical context to Eden, not in southeastern Mesopotamia but in the mountains of Asia Minor. I’m pretty sure I talked about this with the interviewers. If I did, they didn’t use any of that material. It wouldn’t fit the agenda.
Then they get to Jesus:
The teaser for the next segment asks viewers, “What did archaeologists dig up in the 1960s that proves the Bible’s accuracy?” The segment opens with a couple of talking heads telling viewers that “there really aren’t any” contradictions in the Bible and that there is no evidence contradicting any part of the biblical story. Amazing. These people either can’t or don’t actually read the Bible, but only talk about it, or they have become remarkably adept at the mental gymnastics required to pay incredibly selective attention to their sources, both biblical and non-biblical. Yes, I realize that’s probably a rude thing to say, but one can hardly read the gospels carefully without realizing that John’s chronology is explicitly different from that of the Synoptics, for example, and the Tel Dan stela (mentioned above) makes claims that clash with a story early in 2 Kings. Please understand—I’m not anti-Bible (far from it), but I am anti-lying, even on the Bible’s behalf. …One of Chris Heard’s commenters observes that:
To try to prove the reliability of the traditions about Jesus, the filmmakers turn to—are you sitting down?—the Dead Sea Scrolls, which of course having nothing whatsoever to do with Jesus. Moore makes reference to the Great Isaiah Scroll, but the first on-screen image is 4Q175, or 4QTestimonia, which has nothing to do with the Isaiah scroll. The second scroll is shown upside-down and backwards on the screen, and too close-up (and blurry) for me to identify it. According to Moore’s script, comparison of the Isaiah scroll with the Masoretic Text (he doesn’t use that term) yields “stunning” results; one of the talking heads, a guy named Paul Maier and identified as a Professor of Ancient History at Western Michigan University at Kalamazoo, tells him that the two manuscripts are “99.9% identical” (meanwhile, a caption on-screen quotes Matthew 5:18, which has nothing to do with textual transmission). I cannot be even 99.9% certain that Maier was talking about the Isaiah manuscripts, though I hope the filmmakers weren’t that careless or mendacious. I am, however, 100% certain that the Great Isaiah Scroll and the Masoretic Text of Isaiah are considerably less than 99.9% identical. … The figures given in the film are simply false. Maier claims that “This idea that the copyists have totally change scripture just doesn’t work,” and depending on how strongly you ramify his word totally, he may be right; but in the case of the Isaiah scroll, it’s quite clear that copyists did in fact change יהוה into אדני for reasons of theological propriety. The comparison of DSS Isaiah and MT Isaiah proves what Maier says it disproves.
Of course, the degree of exact correspondence between DSS Isaiah and MT Isaiah has nothing to do with the reliability of the transmission of the New Testament documents, since completely different communities were doing the transmission. Moreover, scribal accuracy in copying a text has no bearing on whether or not the story is true.
… I’m a bit upset—no, incensed—at being threaded into a production that sets out to prove a whole bunch of stuff that I don’t agree with, much of which is demonstrably wrong.
You may be pleased (or not!) to know that Richard Dawkins and P.Z. Myers of Pharyngula have been similarly victimised by stealth creationist film crews. PZ’s account is here. Does one detect a pattern? Is it Intelligently Designed?The P.Z. Myers piece in question is I’m gonna be a *MOVIE STAR*, posted in August of this year:
Last April, I received this nice letter from Mark Mathis.The idea that freedom of thought and inquiry have been expelled from academia is a mendacious assertion that would, if allowed, undermine the public’s understanding of the entire enterprise of science. The Creationist far right is fond of making that claim, since it projects their own tactics onto academia, and also explains why reputable scholars and institutions never agree with them: they’re not allowed to do so! Honest facts and honest scholarly inquiry have nothing to do with it.Hello Mr. Myers,I looked up Rampant Films. Yes, they are doing a movie called Crossroads, and it has perfectly reasonable blurb:
My name is Mark Mathis. I am a Producer for Rampant Films. We are currently in production of the documentary film, “Crossroads: The Intersection of Science and Religion.”
At your convenience I would like to discuss our project with you and to see if we might be able to schedule an interview with you for the film. The interview would take no more than 90 minutes total, including set up and break down of our equipment.
We are interested in asking you a number of questions about the disconnect/controversy that exists in America between Evolution, Creationism and the Intelligent Design movement.
Please let me know what time would be convenient for me to reach you at your office. Also, could you please let me know if you charge a fee for interviews and if so, what that fee would be for 90 minutes of your time.
I look forward to speaking with you soon. …Crossroads - The Intersection of Science and Religion:So I said, sure, I’d be happy to talk with you, and as long as any travel expenses are covered, I’m willing to do it gratis (academic, you know…we aren’t used to charging big fees to explain things to people). They came out to Morris, set up cameras and gear in my lab, and we did an interview for a few hours. I got paid (woo hoo!). They left. I figured that, as a fairly minor figure in this argument, I might well get cut out altogether—they talked about also interviewing Dawkins and Eugenie Scott and Pennock and various other people—and that was OK.
It’s been the central question of humanity throughout the ages: How in the world did we get here? In 1859 Charles Darwin provided the answer in his landmark book, “The Origin of Species.” IN the century and a half since, biologists, geologists, physicists, astronomers and philosophers have contributed a vast amount of research and data in support of Darwin’s idea. And yet, millions of Christians, Muslims, Jews, and other people of faith believe in a literal interpretation that humans were crafted by the hand of God. This conflict between science and religion has unleashed passions in school board meetings, courtrooms, and town halls across America and beyond.
Now we’ve got this new ID (Intelligent Design) creationist movie, Expelled, coming out, and there’s a press release with this claim:Unlike some other documentary films, Expelled doesn’t just talk to people representing one side of the story. The film confronts scientists such as Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, influential biologist and atheist blogger PZ Myers, and Eugenie Scott, head of the National Center for Science Education. The creators of Expelled crossed the globe over a two-year period, interviewing scores of scientists, doctors, philosophers and public leaders. The result is a startling revelation that freedom of thought and freedom of inquiry have been expelled from publicly-funded high schools, universities and research institutions.
Naturally, they find this reassuring, and get happily indignant over the thought that this blatant bias is being pursued using their tax dollars. It’s the reverse of their usual scenario, wherein propaganda based on their biases is developed and promulgated at other people’s expense.
Back to P.Z.:
What? I didn’t do any interviews for pro-creation films, and I certainly haven’t said that “freedom of thought and freedom of inquiry” aren’t part of the university. There must be some mistake.These projects have nothing to do with the ordinary people. More on that in a moment.
But then I noticed in the credits for the movie that a certain familiar name is the associate producer, or ass-prod, as I’ll henceforth consider him.Denyse O’Leary also ties Mathis of Rampant Films to this movie, and this page from Expelled uses the same graphic that Rampant Films used for Crossroads. The case is closed: Ben Stein’s propaganda film for ID is the one I was interviewed for.
In Theaters February 2008
Starring Ben Stein
Featuring a CAST OF THOUSANDS Directed by NATHAN FRANKOWSKI Written by KEVIN MILLER, WALT RULOFF & BEN STEIN
Produced by LOGAN CRAFT & WALT RULOFF Associate Producer MARK MATHIS
Well. I guess I didn’t end up on the cutting room floor after all, although I’m sure a select set of my words did. Unless, that is, the whole movie is me sitting in my lab, talking. It’s real. I’m going to be featured in a big-time movie with second-tier character actor and game-show host Ben Stein. I bet my whole family is going to go out to the moving-picture theatre to see me on the big screen … and since my family lives near Seattle and the Discovery Institute is so happy about it, they’ll probably have the opportunity.
I do have a few questions, though.
I’m wondering why the Discovery Institute would be so enthused about this movie. It lays its premise on the line: science is flawed because it excludes god and the supernatural. It’s one big promo for religion—which means it’s going to further undercut Intelligent Design creationism’s claims to be a secular idea.
Randy Olson points out that this is clearly a well-funded movie. It’s slick, they’re paying Ben Stein, they had to have shelled out a good chunk of money for the rights for the “Bad to the Bone” theme. Randy’s probably wondering why he couldn’t get that kind of money for Flock of Dodos.
So who is funding the movie? Some people with deep pockets are throwing quite a bit of cash at this thing, and I can assure you that it didn’t end up in my hands. I think I was paid something like $1200. I should have asked for much more!
Isn’t it a little ironic that a fairly expensive production like this is billing itself as representing the ordinary people, and is pretending to be the “rebel”? There’s a bit of the no-expenses-will-be-spared (except in the case of their evilutionist dupes!) glitz about it—it really doesn’t look like the work of some brave independent film-maker living hand-to-mouth while making his artistic vision manifest.
Why were they so dishonest about it? If Mathis had said outright that he wants to interview an atheist and outspoken critic of Intelligent Design for a film he was making about how ID is unfairly excluded from academe, I would have said, “bring it on!” We would have had a good, pugnacious argument on tape that directly addresses the claims of his movie, and it would have been a better (at least, more honest and more relevant) sequence.Why didn’t they tell the truth about what they were doing? That’s easy. P.Z. Myers would have been on his guard, and Mathis wouldn’t have gotten the footage he needed. This project is about agenda, not inquiry.
He would have also been more likely to get that good ol’ wild-haired, bulgy-eyed furious John Brown of the Godless vision than the usual mild-mannered professor that he did tape. And I probably would have been more aggressive with a plainly stated disagreement between us.What I find interesting about this is where the lines are being drawn.
I mean, seriously, not telling one of the sides in a debate about what the subject might be and then leading him around randomly to various topics, with the intent of later editing it down to the parts that just make the points you want, is the video version of quote-mining and is fundamentally dishonest.
I don’t mind sharing my views with creationists, and do so all the time. By filming under false pretenses, much like the example of the case of Richard Dawkins’ infamous “pause”, they’ve undercut their own credibility … not that that will matter. I suspect their audience will not question whatever mangling of the video that they carry out, and the subterfuges used to make it will not be brought up.
Chris Heard is an Associate Professor of Religion. P.Z. Myers is a famously atheistic biologist with a thing for cephalopods. Both of them were tricked, defrauded, and misrepresented by documentary-makers interested only in making propaganda for Biblical-literalist creationist audiences. You wouldn’t expect such organizations to see P.Z. Myers as an insider; what’s interesting is that they don’t see Chris Heard as an insider, either.
I don’t think these documentarists are drawing the line between theists and atheists. I think the line is drawn between honest thinkers and weighers of evidence (Myers and Heard both qualify) on the one hand, and liars and propagandists on the other.
It’s not possible to produce such programs honestly. Chopping logic and falsifying arguments like that can only be done by someone who knows that he or she is doing it. To put it another way: if you know enough about the Book of Job or the Tel Dan stela to make up really effective lies about them that will fit into your preordained agenda, you know enough about them to know you’re lying.
This process of cooking up faith-promoting lies is not evidence of religious faith. Say you profess the basic Christian package: God is omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent, created all things, and wants us to love and understand Him.* If you truly believe that, how can you fear scientific knowledge? Creation doesn’t lie.** Surely it must follow that to know more about it is to see further into God’s ways.
(There are two married women. Both their husbands are accused of being present at a particularly wanton and disgraceful stag party. Both husbands deny it. One wife accepts this denial at face value, dismisses the story, and goes on with her life. The other wife goes into a frenzy of fact-checking, affidavit-gathering, and timeline construction, in order to demonstrate once and for all that her husband couldn’t possibly have been at that party. Which woman has faith in her husband?)
Science is no threat to religious faith. It only threatens the childish misreadings of Biblical literalism. They should have long since been jettisoned. Instead, we have an industry of disinformation devoted to telling people lies that bolster the apparent tenability of that belief system. This is creepy because, as I pointed out a few paragraphs up, the people manufacturing this disinformation can’t be doing it as an act of faith. They know they’re lying. Their audience doesn’t.
Why should it be so important to insist that God created the animals via mysterious unspecified means, and to deny that the processes that brought them into being left perceptible traces in the geological record and in the form and nature of the animals we have with us today? There’s no virtue in the denial. Understanding something about how animals happened neither makes us gods nor distances us from God. Refusing to understand it—or worse, lying to maintain a false model of how things happened—puts us very far from God and/or truth.
Lying about evolution is not evidence of faith. Lying about anything is not evidence of faith. Lying to one’s co-religionists is not evidence that you care about the state of their souls or your own. So why do it? Possibly because it fosters an unwarranted certainty, an us-and-them mentality that can be exploited for political gains. And possibly, just possibly, because it leads believers into distracting thickets of false exegesis, and away from a faith whose basic tenets have never been terribly complicated: Love god. Love one another. Share what you have, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, comfort the afflicted, be humble, love justice, seek peace, tell the truth, pray often, do unto others as you would have them do unto you, recognize everyone as a child of God just like yourself, and forgive trespasses as you hope to have your own forgiven.
It’s a disturbing religion when you take it straight. Heaven only knows what would happen if more of these people started practicing it.