Sunday, April 27, 2008

Fear and popcorn. On Expelled, part II

Sheesh, days of reaction to Expelled stewing in my brain and I still can't distill it down into a blog entry that isn't book-length.

FIRST, apologies for any missing names, or inexact words of speakers I quote. Each scientist interviewed was name-captioned at least once, but I wasn't taking notes in the dark theater, and they were not always identified each time they appeared. The website covers a few but not all. I doubt if I will spend another $6 (bargain matinée), though I might rent Expelled later for another look. I'm trying to be vigilant in my quotes and represent them accurately.

I wonder if my fellow believers really know what they're getting into, when they ask that Intelligent Design be taught to students?

The film at first seems to make a reasonable request. Ben Stein walks all over the world in his suit and sneakers, interviewing scientists. The film time he gives to all his interviewees, on both sides, is fair. He doesn't edit his "opponents" to make them look stupid. Occasionally they fumble the ball, and I can't blame Stein for using the footage. I'd use it too.

He talks to scientists who claim to have been ousted from teaching positions for such seemingly mild transgressions as mentioning the existence of the ID point of view.

If they really get fired for such mild acknowledgements that ID exists, then that's obviously out of bounds. But Stein doesn't tell us the facts of their cases. I'm not saying they all are guilty, all I'm saying is the film didn't put that to rest.

Then there's another very reasonable statement from Dr. Richard Sternberg. I thought, he says, that science was free to ask any question and then follow the research wherever it leads.

It should be. No argument from me, but as the film progresses, it becomes clear that this is not what Stein or his pro-ID interviewees really want.

The specious equation of Darwin's theory with Nazi atrocities (discussed in my first post about Expelled) was a big mistake on Stein's part, and should be resoundingly denounced by Christians everywhere. Dehumanization of other races or the "unfit" has existed throughout human history, it is not something Darwin caused or advocated.

Darwin did state that:
"At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world." - Darwin, Descent, vol. I, 201. [Source: "Quote Mine Project" Scroll down to quote 2.10]

For a knowledgeable view of the issue, Richard Weikart, author of From Darwin to Hitler, offers this piece on his website.

I maintain that the use of Nazi extermination in Stein's film to vilify Darwinism requires equating genocide advocacy with the theory that the Nazis hijacked and mutated from a benign cell into a cancer. It's inaccurate and wrong to do so.

It indicates to me that a fair hearing for ID isn't what ID proponents want. They want Darwinism vilified. If science departments are acting paranoid and ousting any professor who whispers "ID," they're beating a dandelion with a tire iron, but the hidden ID agenda to vilify evolution makes their reaction, NOT justified, but understandable.

See, the real controversy isn't about advanced-level Origins research, either in astrophysics or evolution. The trouble is that the controversy is about us commonfolk. It's about what we should be taught. Stein mocks the nanny mentality with an ancient film clip in which some blowhard says, "People can't make decisions for themselves." But in the realm of advanced science, is that an entirely crazy statement? I'm not equipped to evaluate DNA research or theoretical physics. I took my last science class as a high school sophomore. 1969-70. Yeah, really.

Time out to warn any unfamiliar readers dropping by that I am an avowed Christian. I feel quite certain that there's a creator God.

But Darwin doesn't bother me. His theory has been modified through much new knowledge in the past 150 years, and if we let facts pull us forward, then any untruths in it will fall on their own. So God is a fact? Great, then we need not worry about any line of inquiry that follows facts, right?

I fear that there are a lot of believers who hear Richard Dawkins and others say that their scientific journey killed their belief in God. Then the believers malign the science, thinking "If it's creating atheism, it must be wrong." The film runs with this.

Well I say: if anyone thinks that premature atheist conclusions formed by individuals mean that the science which brought the conclusions about is evil, then they're thinking way too small. And drawing a premature conclusion that there's hard data supporting an Intelligent Designer at this point is just as wrong. There could someday be proof, but if we make a claim that later gets knocked down, that can even do greater damage to faith.

One pro-ID interviewee whose name I missed came right out with it: Maybe, he said, we're going about research the wrong way. Traditionally one investigates and eventually the results lead one to forming a world view. But maybe we need to start with a world view and then do the research.

Wrong turn. The answer comes at the end, not the beginning. We can't know where God ends and physics and chemistry take over, until we follow the whole scientific trail back to it. We're way way early on that trail.

Here's how it looks to me. Human learning is like building an arch, and the answer to the God question is the keystone. Placing either atheism or ID in the classroom, considering humanity's current level of knowledge, is like trying to place a keystone without completing the piers and the arch-stones. You can't build an arch backwards.


And that is why the insistence of believers that science courses address that issue -- lay a keystone right now -- is out of order, out of line, absurd. Any teacher who is claiming to understand and define the nature of that keystone is out of line, and yes, that goes for defining it as a godless scientific force, as well as for defining it as God. Either one deserves the to lose credibility, if he/she calls it anything other than an opinion. Its nature is way beyond our comprehension. When humanity is ready for that stone, it will be ready for us.

Illustration from: Winston's Cumulative Encyclopedia. Charles Morris, Editor-in-Chief. Philadelphia and Chicago : The John C. Winston Company, 1914. Vol. 1, s.v. "Arch," unpaged.

Monday, April 21, 2008

On Expelled, part I

There's a lot to say about the movie Expelled. I saw it today and it's percolating in my mind and will be posted. But one thing needs to be addressed first.

In this film, Ben Stein, in a quest to defend professors who acknowledge Intelligent Design, takes us to a Nazi insane asylum.

It comes fairly late in the the film. Up until this point i disagreed with much of the film, agreed with or respected a few things about it, and felt i could write about it fairly with no need to express outrage.

But from a relatively low-key, calm and reasonable, "fair and balanced" plea for all views to be on the table, all rigorous science to be allowed to stand or fall on its own merits, suddenly Stein takes a dark and nasty detour.

Framed by quotes from Darwin, about how only in regard to human beings do we nurture the defectives among the species -- how no farmer in his right mind would breed the weakest farm animals -- Stein devotes an outrageous stretch of film time to a tour of a Nazi insane asylum, one in which the "defective" were gassed and dissected. After a fairly brisk pace throughout the earlier portion of his film, Stein spends long quiet frames walking us through the gas showers, the dissection table, the echoing hallway of this slice of hell. Powerful imagery. Imagery which he quite intelligently designs to play on the viewer's mind, to associate Darwin's theory with a regime that perverted that theory to commit crimes against humanity.

This was reprehensible.

Stein should be ashamed of playing on the worst excess of warped Darwinism as practiced by Nazi Germany, in a film in which he keeps crying out for Intelligent Design to be fairly represented.

I'm glad it came late in the film. It would have colored my opinion of anything that came after it, and some points earlier seemed honorably made and worthy of discussion. But that passage worries me a whole lot. I'm still mulling over just how much the later passage should alter my respect for the earlier points.

More thought is in order before i address the film in more depth.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Granddaddy's chair

My grandparents' house, I have to admit, was kind of a Victorian horror. Heavy dark red drapes always shrouding the windows, dark upholstery on gewgawed dark wood chairs and settees, ornate gilt frames, a huge bad family portrait that loomed on one living room wall.

Granddaddy, 1929. Different chair.

One room was a delight. My grandfather's den. Warm, simple, comfortable, light shimmering in through the windows. A room barely bigger than a closet but you could tell he lived in it and let my grandmother have the rest of the house her way. The TV set was in there, and every male relative would crowd in to watch football on holidays. Once the game was over, often the big red armchair would be unoccupied and I'd hunker down in it, make myself invisible. Even when I was an adult, it could almost swallow me.

Messing with my new camera, 1988

When my grandmother was alone and could no longer live there, the grandchildren got to go through the house and choose the things we wanted. Talk about youth being wasted in the young. I was 18. The things I shrugged off! The antiques that, incorporated into the decor of any light-filled room would be things of old-fashioned beauty. The books!

But I picked a few nice things, and the one I wanted most was Granddaddy's chair. With every relocation for 36 years, I've watched movers struggle to get it through doorways, and it's always had to live in the first big living space it landed in. It won't go deeper into any residence through mere interior doorways, even if you take the doors off their hinges. I've let go of a lot of stuff over the years, but giving up the chair has always been out of the question.

We didn''t get many hard freezes way down near Savannah, but one spell in 1986 was bad, and a sweet yellow cat who lived free at my apartment complex -- friend to all, owned by none -- was going to be in trouble. I let him in at about 10 PM when the temperature was in the 'teens f. and headed for single digits.

Guest cat, 1986

He hopped into the chair and looked at me. Thanks. This will do. Maybe he roamed around after I retired upstairs, , but I never saw any sign of it. He was curled on the chair when I went up and curled on it in the morning when I came down. He lifted his head. I went to the door. "I've got to send you off," I told him. "I'll be at work all day." He hopped down and went out into the cold morning air. We repeated this for three icy nights. Then the cold spell was over. I saw him often around the grounds but he never became "my" cat.

Downyflake claimed the chair -- reupholstered in 1990 -- the day he came to live with us in July 2001.

Downy, aged about 12 weeks, 2001

He can't fit on the arm anymore and stretch out, but he keeps trying (March 2008).

The chair was, until a couple weeks ago, in bad shape. Lots of grime, threadbare patches. Sprung springs made it impossible to sit on. So off it went to an upholsterer, for fabric carefully chosen to resist wear and pulled threads. Not that the animals determine our lifestyle or anything.

It's back. And for some reason, it reminds me of this Charles Addams cartoon:

Thursday, April 03, 2008

It's not a gift

Hot on the heels of my relatively lighthearted look at attention deficit disorder, in which I referred to myself as "differently focused" came this morning's Dear Abby. Yes, I read Dear Abby. It's right there in the feature section. You might as well know the worst about me. I even think Jeanne Phillips is pretty smart, and does a good job. OK, there are worse things about me, but we'll save those till later, like 2012.

Anyway, it wasn't Phillips who teed me off this morning. It was the last letter. The one in which the adoptive mom of a child with DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder is still the official term) says that "we" choose to use a "new term." MPG. Multiple Personality Gift.

"We" who?

I looked this up. It seems to originate with a book, and apparently one that's a great help to people brave and cool enough to take on loving a multiple.

Usually when something gets me angry, I whip out my trusty keyboard and start fighting about it with the appropriate online entity. But this morning I was angry beyond words. I put the paper back on the coffee table, made a conscious decision to forget I'd even read it, and did.
Something on TV this evening brought it back into my consciousness. I had probably, no joke, dissociated, the everyday mind trick kind of dissociation that we all use (daydreaming is another one), because I really had no idea why I was in such a foul mood all day.

We've got a language problem in this society, and it's caused by a boundary problem. We've traditionally defined people by some out-of-the-mainstream characteristic. Blindness, deafness, ADD, things we used to call "handicaps" and "disorders." We'd pigeonhole somebody as "handicapped" as though nothing else about them mattered.

And the movement to call these "differences" and "challenges" so as to acknowledge that it's something they do -- and deal with and overcome-- it's not who they are, is not a bad thing.

To me it would be better to call a damn disorder a disorder, and then train people that it's a small part of who a person is. That it does not define them. This may be too hard. I never had such a concept of identity or boundaries myself, until life as a 12-stepper. It's not a quick and easy concept to train into oneself, much less society as a whole, and I can accept changing the terms as a practical solution.

I have no answers.

But I have a great big answer to the claim that multiple personality is a gift and that answer is No.

DID is a coping mechanism. It helps people, usually as young children, get through trauma. But like many coping mechanisms, it mutates like a movie Gremlin, from a nurturing servant into a lousy master, and is no gift.

I see several letters in the column, and other things I've encountered in other sites, showing how successful relationships with some DID's are possible. If spouses study up first and know what they're getting into, OK. But forgive me for thinking a happy outcome is not typical.

Forgive me for thinking that childhood trauma most often creates relational problems for the victim (survivor, whatever), whether he/she becomes a multiple or not, and that DID is no more likely to prevent those problems than is non-dissociative response.

Those who want to point out that DID is not an angry or violent disorder intrinsically, fine. That it allows the patient to put the trauma into a smaller more manageable box instead of having the fear and anger that the trauma creates permeate all of life - great. That works for me.

But that's still far from it being a gift. At best I would call it Less Worse. The kids, parents, or spouses of DID patients can live in a confusing, frightening hell. Anything traumatic enough to cause such a dissociation is also quite likely to cause relationship problems. That unresolved abuse often makes the abused feel a lifetime attraction and hatred --both-- to people who remind him of the abuser or trigger the old feelings, is well-known.

Yes, this is personal. Yes, I know whereof I speak. Yes, mine is one person's experience, and others differ.

Yes my reaction was way more emotional than rational.

But I stand by my contention that calling this disorder a gift is the worst of PC excess. They can be very gifted people. They can be very brave people. For some, getting out of bed in the morning and facing the day, relating, creating, is an act of courage and a bloody miracle. Distance and time have enabled me to see this in someone I once knew, and to admire the admirable in him and wish him well.

But the overwhelming need to call negative things by positive terms can sometimes deserve "otherly differently abled" mockery. I've lived with a DID and it was no gift to anyone, least of all to the one who had it.