Ben Stein is a barbarian?

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Email this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter

John Derbyshire has a long column excoriating Ben Stein and the Discovery Institute titled A Blood Libel on Our Civilization:

And there is science, perhaps the greatest of all our achievements, because nowhere else on earth did it appear. China, India, the Muslim world, all had fine cities and systems of law, architecture and painting, poetry and prose, religion and philosophy. None of them ever accomplished what began in northwest Europe in the later 17th century, though: a scientific revolution. Thoughtful men and women came together in learned societies to compare notes on their observations of the natural world, to test their ideas in experiments, and in reasoned argument against the ideas of others, and to publish their results in learned journals. A body of common knowledge gradually accumulated. Patterns were observed, laws discerned and stated.

The “intelligent design” hoax is not merely non-science, nor even merely anti-science; it is anti-civilization. It is an appeal to barbarism, to the sensibilities of those Apaches, made by people who lack the imaginative power to know the horrors of true barbarism. (A thing that cannot be said of Darwin. See Chapter X of Voyage of the Beagle.)

Via Talk Islam.

Update: John also rips David Berlinski a new one. Via Quantum Ghosts.

Labels:

40 Comments

  1. leave it to derbyshire to turn a conservative religious attack on evolution into an attack on the entire northwestern european (white) civilization. he conveniently overlooks the fact that 90% of white americans believe not in evolution but in some form of god created/directed/guided process. so much for his vaunted white race.

  2. It’s far too early to praise the scientific revolution. This thing could still kill us all. 
     
    Crazy Horse was a superior moral being to any living American, and the double helix et al. is superfluous to his way of his living.

  3. “The old Biblical creationists were, in my opinion, wrong-headed, but they were mostly honest people.“ 
     
    Nobody more dishonest than Gish, Brown and Hovind.

  4. wongba, spare us. Derbyshire wasn’t speaking in racial terms but on civilisational terms. The Greeks who started it all were pretty much mutts even in the time of the Sea Peoples; lots of foreigners ended up in, for instance, Pylos. Not to mention all the colonies Greeks set up along North Africa, Sicily etc, wherein a lot of the best work was done. 
     
    I might add that the civilisation of reason is not tied to a specific ethnicity. The Greeks ran with it in their day; then, the Italians; then the English and I suppose the Americans now by default. Some Asian nation will have to pick up the ball should America fail at it. 
     
    But, I won’t hold my breath, as long as the Asians I run across online prefer to sneer at “white” people (your words) over actually writing something in defense of science, or even bothering to make the distinction between Greeks, Englishmen and Scots-Irish (the mainstay of our fundamentalists). There is enough tiresome racial chauvinism around already without trolls like you adding to it… 
     
    On the other side of the coin I can’t let Tonio’s mystical and anti-American “noble savagery” slide, either. Crazy Horse was morally superior to every living American, Tonio? Why just Americans? Care to elaborate on any of this?

  5. The Greeks who started it all were pretty much mutts even in the time of the Sea Peoples; lots of foreigners ended up in, for instance, Pylos.  
     
    interesting point: the greeks who “started it all” are arguably ionians from the colonies of asia minor (many of whom emigrated to athens at some point). from my reading greek colonies were initially male biased because they were founded by men who were marginalized or kicked out from the polis. these men often had to make do with local non-greek wives, whose offsprings were recognized as hellenes. this is most explicit if histories i’ve read from sicily where there was good documentation of the colonization process, but i assume the same would apply to the eastern colonies?

  6. Nobody more dishonest than Gish, Brown and Hovind. 
     
    their dishonesty was so transparent to be honest ;-)

  7. Razib: Herodotus book I is my favourite account; it outright says this of Miletos, that Greek men took over the locals’ wives. The angry females in question went so far as to make the local patois (probably Hieroglyphic Luwian, or proto-Lycian) a secret language spoken only by women. 
     
    However the indigenous language of “Millawanda”, as the Hittites had called it, was also Indo-European, so it didn’t serve the purpose of my rant. Mind you, as a port city there were probably a few Semitic Phoenicians around too, maybe even an Egyptian! 
     
    This is getting off the topic. (In my defense, I was provoked.) 
     
    Relevant here: Derbyshire is wrong to say that intelligent design is an appeal to barbarism. An appeal to barbarism would be tribal in form: a total rejection of reason and an embrace of the ancestral mythic creation-account. If we still worshipped Ba’al then I suppose we’d all be hearing about the slaying of Leviathan about now; but since we’ve seen the light, we’re stuck with the much less entertaining account of Genesis 1-3. 
     
    Intelligent design is instead an appeal to decadence: Holocaust denial is mere “historical review”, 9/11 conspiracy theorising is only “asking for the truth”. Come on, they’re just trying to reopen debate!, we are told. What are you afraid of?, we are asked. No; we’ve had this debate already, centuries ago; and the questions have been all either answered or else pushed into another discipline (philosophy being a popular one, I hear). None of these “Truthers” have any intention of changing their minds based on whatever facts we provide them. There is no equivalence between the evidence marshalled on one side against the disingenous and yes, unethical sloganeering on the other. 
     
    And decadence is bad because it opens the door to barbarism. c.f., Edirne, 378 AD.

  8. However the indigenous language of “Millawanda”, as the Hittites had called it, was also Indo-European, so it didn’t serve the purpose of my rant. Mind you, as a port city there were probably a few Semitic Phoenicians around too, maybe even an Egyptian! 
     
    right. but you know that some indo-europeanists want to label the anatolian languages as a sister group to indo-european? ergo, indo-anatolian.

  9. Thoughtful men and women came together in learned societies to compare notes on their observations of the natural world, to test their ideas in experiments, and in reasoned argument against the ideas of others, and to publish their results in learned journals. 
     
    Replace “journals” with “books” and you have a good description of Greek science (or, dare I say, of Arabo-Persian science). If you believe the Greeks did not perform experiments, you really need to read more Galen. 
     
    The one fundamental difference between the Greek and modern Europe is not logic or experiment, but mechanism: the idea that Nature is not goal-oriented, but governed solely by the blind interactions of brute matter. Or, in the words of Jacques Monod, “that nature is objective, not projective”. Instead, Greek philosophers held as a consensus that Nature is fundamentally goal-oriented, and that final causes can be “true” causes. 
     
    The mechanistic idea was mooted at the time of the Greeks, in the form of Atomism. It was rejected because it did not fit the facts as they could be observed at the time. When you don’t have microscopes or a working theory of chemistry, it is impossible to find reasonable mechanistic explanations of natural facts – especially in biology. In particular, Galen uses his mastery of animal experimentation to savage the ridiculous mechanistic theories of some of his contemporaries.  
     
    Before the scientific revolution, “vitalism” of some sort was the only plausible explanation of observational facts. This ceased to be true after Lavoisier, and vitalism was made definitely redundant by Pasteur, Liebig, Claude Bernard, and (of course) Darwin. 
     
    Interestingly, it is precisely this aspect that Creationists argue against. Creationists cannot accept a blind, brute-matter nature. They believe that the obvious goal-oriented organisation of living organisms necessarily requires that Nature itself be goal-oriented, because they don’t understand natural selection. 
     
    So in the end, Derbyshire is right: Creationism is indeed a revolt against the one fundamental shift of the European scientific revolution – mechanism.

  10. Intelligent design is instead an appeal to decadence: Holocaust denial is mere “historical review”, 9/11 conspiracy theorising is only “asking for the truth”. 
     
    That’s mixing apples and oranges. Historical review of the exact figures of the Holocaust is (when it’s serious, not typical denialism) a very reasonable proposition. After all, in the aftermath of WWII and around the foundaton of Israel, there was a lot of emotions and presumably propaganda around this issue. The usual 6 million figure is the highest estimate and the real figure is surely around 4.5 million. It doesn’t ethically matter after all but it’s important for History (as scientific discipline) to get the facts straight. Banning discussion on this is more like making creationism official. Much of the same about 9/11 conspirationist theories: research should be done to clarify it trhoughtly. Only a “believer” can reject to discuss calmly and scientifically what is being questioned with more or less reason. I understand that both issues are emotionally challenging but that’s no reason not to debate them, just a reason to relax and stop overreacting.  
     
    The problem with creationism is that it doesn’t provide any valuable scientific evidence. First of all they are unable to prove the existence of God, second they are unable to prove the veracity and divine inspiration of the Bible (or whatever other holy book), and finally their criticisms to the estabilished paradigm (always changing anyhow) is just nitty-picky ignorant pseudo-science. The debate can be going on all you want, what makes absolutely no sense is to insert mythology or theology into the science curriculum, or to suggest that creationism (or ID for the case) is a finished elegant mainstream scientific theory when it is not anything of that.  
     
    I’d sincerely suggest to introduce Philosophy in the curriculum of US secondary education (as it’s generally in those of Europe) and place ID and some other relevant theology in it… along with all other philosophical stuff, western or not. That would surely enrich the cultural background of US students and silence fanatics a little bit, while leaving the curriculum fundamentally secular.

  11. david, the point i was trying to make was that he limited his defense to the northwestern european civilization as if they existed in a vacuum. he specifically didn’t include the greeks, italians, and middle easterners whose works led to the scientific revolution. 
     
    any confusion on ur part regarding greeks and english getting lumped together is an error on my part. the white in my mind was that of derbyshire’s northwestern europeans. 
     
    and my sneering is not directed at whites in general but derbyshire himself. i’m saying that the “civilization” that he proclaims to defend doesn’t hold the views that he projects upon it. conflating english and scots-irish is done by derbyshire himself.

  12. Mr. Ross, I’m not idealizing savages. Crazy Horse, the individual, was a moral giant. Look it up. I’m not sure he understood the Copernican system. I’m positive he didn’t know the periodic table. 
     
    I don’t really care about creationism. Those people are dumb. Yet, I resist the idea that moral perfection now requires working scientific knowledge. 
     
    Whatever. It’s not like one can resist the tenor of thetimes.

  13. Crazy Horse was a superior moral being to any living American 
     
    Did you know him? Do you know all living Americans? 
     
    In Larry McMurtry’s bio of Crazy Horse (very adulatory) he notes that Crazy Horse casually murdered an Omaha tribeswoman. All in a day’s work. Nothing special. (The Omahas were kind of riled up.) 
     
    Not very superior, IMO. 
     
    Razib, 
     
    This theory of Greek origins would explain a lot about classical Greek attitudes towards their wives. So the women were the descendants of “inferior” natives. Yes, it explains a lot.

  14. Diana-please don’t impose your shopworn Christian morals on Crazy Horse. And I can safely implicate all “Americans” because any one approaching his level is no longer an “American”. 
     
    Do you really find virtue in this crass, ignorant, TV soaked money-grubbing country?

  15. Arguing with Tonio is pointless, diana. 
     
    wongba, thank you for your clarification and I must apologise for calling you a troll and for lumping you in with the-one-to-be-named-no-more. 
     
    Derb is English, as I (mostly) am, and we do share a love for Albion. However I appreciate that the English were the scum of Europe until, I’d say, Saint Bede and that the Italians remained leaps and bounds ahead of us, civilisation-wise, until Galileo’s house-arrest and Newton’s first published papers. 
     
    I can’t say if Derb sees anything racist in this. As to the peoples furthest to the northwest of Europe: The old Norse in Iceland don’t come into Derb’s worldview; he disdains Scots-Irish low culture; and I’ve read a blog or two from him about what he thinks of the Irish (yikes!). Also, although I probably shouldn’t, I have to point out that the woman he chose to bear his descendants is not European at all. I suspect that if he were given the opportunity he would probably clarify that he only meant to preserve “northwest European civilisation” as the heirs of what I’d been calling the civilisation of reason. If Ben Stein’s ilk were to take over the elite ranks of the US (likely possible only with wholesale slaughter) then Derb will declare his native civilisation dead as the de Medicis and, I expect, will move to Taiwan. 
     
    I prefer to blame the political Church for Italy’s decline; and the weakness of same for the rise of scholarship in France, Germany, and England. First the Church had to propagandise the Italian “people and senate”, and then to acquire that political power. That is what Stein’s backers are after.

  16. A far more useful discussion would be about WHY the Christian right is so hung up on the issue of evolution. All of the mainstream churches (Roman Catholics, mainstream protestants) accept the theory of evolution and consider this issue to be irrelevant to Christianity. It seems to be these Christian right people only (who are quite a fringe element compared to most Christians) who have the hang up with evolution.

  17. “Arguing with Tonio is pointless, diana.” 
     
    I know. I rejoindered for the benefit of the greater GNXP community. And I will refrain from making cheap jokes at the expense of Tonio’s last (screen) name. (Hint: Freddie.)

  18. A far more useful discussion would be about WHY the Christian right is so hung up on the issue of evolution.  
     
    The Creationists I’ve spoken with claim that evolution erodes the dignity of man, who they believe was made in God’s image. To be frank, I think the idea of evolution erodes their belief in themselves as the apple of their God’s eye. If we evolved from apes, then we, and by extension they, are nothing special. Not in the grand scheme of things, and not to God. Having an all-approving, all-powerful father figure is pretty fundametnal to some people. 
     
    Then again I’ve disliked most Creationists I’ve met, so maybe I’m not being fair in my interpretation.

  19. I don’t see what I said that deserves such condescension, especially since neither of my interlocutors appears to be all that.

  20. @ Wongba 
    “90% of white americans believe not in evolution but in some form of god created/directed/guided process.” Do you have a source for this?

  21. someone had to call my bluff.  
     
    http://www.religioustolerance.org/ev_publi.htm 
    (i just searched google for american belief in evolution.) 
     
    when i first saw the page i just glossed over the source, so i’m gonna need to retract that 90% statistic b/c it came from a 1991 poll. the more recent polls haven’t broken down the participants by race. it does appear that views have changed somewhat since 1991. particularly, the overall belief in naturalistic evolution had risen by 4% and creationist views had risen by 8% by 2006 showing growing polarization. caucasian percentages in 1991 tracked the overall breakdown pretty closely, but i don’t know whether that still holds true today. even so, i think it’s safe to say that the vast majority of white americans still don’t believe in naturalistic evolution.

  22. bait bait, bait bait!

  23. wongba, what are the precentages of actual white northwest europeans (living in europe) who believe in evolution vs. creationism?

  24. gix, for the simplest answer, see page 220 of 
     
    http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/archives/ebs/ebs_224_report_en.pdf 
     
    Belief that “human beings developed from an earlier species of animals” is 70 % for all of Europe and highest in the northwest; both southern and ex-communist countries score lower. The only “European” country where a majority disagrees is Turkey.

  25. Belief that “human beings developed from an earlier species of animals” is 70 % for all of Europe and highest in the northwest; both southern and ex-communist countries score lower. The only “European” country where a majority disagrees is Turkey. 
     
    i think that question is poorly worded. there’s no way to tell if the respondents believed in naturalistic evolution or a guided one like intelligent design. by that measure, 40% of americans would agree.

  26. i think that question is poorly worded. there’s no way to tell if the respondents believed in naturalistic evolution or a guided one like intelligent design. by that measure, 40% of americans would agree. 
     
    It doesn’t matter. You can accept the scientific facts of naturalistic evolution and philosophically believe whatever you wish about it (that has a goal directed by some hidden god, that dolphins are smarter than humans, that we should never have got down from the ancestral trees…). That’s a personal interpretation. What matters is that science is not challenged with that.  
     
    Btw, they should also make Sumerian mythology compulsory: most Biblical unfathomable legends are just distorted versions of earlier Sumerian ones. I think that creation precisely is more of a version of a Lower Egyptian legend but there are many others (Eve as rib, the flood, the confusion of tongues) that are all of Sumerian origin.  
     
    Of course the most fanatics could always argue that Sumer did not exist, because it’s older than “creation”… but well. We all know that Abraham allegedly was from Ur, an ancient Sumerian city itself. Some could think about all that if they knew the facts – in this case the origins of the most obscure Hebraic legends.

  27. It doesn’t matter. 
     
    so u really see no difference between believers of naturalistic evolution and believers of intelligent design?

  28. wongba, what is the percentage of white northwest europeans who believe in the existence of god, compared to the number of white americans who believe in the existence of god?

  29. look it up urself if u’re so concerned about it.

  30. The Derb is going over the top here in my opinion. Something there is in human nature that likes a fight. Granted, the people at the Discovery Institute are as devious and dishonest as John says they are — certainly I have encountered such first hand here in the Bible Belt. But why the hysteria? The paranoia? Give ‘em an inch and they’ll take a mile seems to be the unstated premise.  
     
    Is there any conceivable evidence that would lead one to the conclusion that the laws of nature are in some sense a result of intelligent design? How about the obverse? People jump to conclusions on these two subtle and difficult issues, which, in my opinion, are finally undecidable, and not just in a trivial sense. 
     
    Furthermore, since science and religion are both here to stay for as long as we remain civilized, I suggest that they learn how to live together. And the best place — indeed, the only place — to do that, I submit, is in the introductory chapter of the science books we use in junior and senior high schools, where the issues can be presented in a fair and balanced way with no attempt to arrive at a final resolution.  
     
    From that point on, what the evidence does supports and nothing more. Would that be so hard?

  31. so u really see no difference between believers of naturalistic evolution and believers of intelligent design? 
     
    I see a difference, of course, but it’s not really fundamental: as long as scientific facts are not challenged from a religious (non-scientific) point of view you can believe whatever you want. What’s the big problem in, say, the Pope believing (possibly) that “God” is behind the Big Bang (or evolution)? As long as they don’t insist in nonsenses as geocentrism or that the Universe is just 4 thousand years-old, as long as they accept that science has merit and that their beliefs are the ones that must adapt (if anything) to reality (and not vice versa), we are in scientific agreement (even if we can disagree in philosophical matters).  
     
    This arrangement (their adaptation to real facts) is good for both: science can keep going on without inquisitorial interference and “the faithful” can keep believing whatever they want (beyond human knowledge) without banging heads against harcore (and sometimes very painful) real facts.  
     
    I see all that adaptation of religion to science as a “victory of Truth”, not as a defeat. Religion as such seems quite difficult to uproot but as long as it does not interfere with science (and freedom and human rights in general), it’s relatively harmless.  
     
    The problem (in the USA specially) with ID (aka teleology) is that some (too many maybe) fanatics want to add it to the science curriculum, what is not logical at all, and could head to further fundamentalization of society and devaluation of science if accepted.

  32. Luke Lea’s response brings up my other question. Granted that many people in the U.S. have religious/creationist beliefs, will this fact undermine our ability to compete in the coming technology fields of biotechnology and nanotechnology as compared to Europe and East Asia? 
     
    We all know that the mean IQ of Chinese people is 105 and that the SD is smaller than ours, which means that they will excel in manufacturing and creating the techno/industrial base. However, their relatively narrow SD means that they will have fewer “super geniuses” than us. This suggests that our competitive advantage is to maintain an open society based on free inquiry that will allow the super geniuses to flourish in our society. 
     
    The only relevant issue, as far as I’m concerned, is what impact religious/creationist believers will have on maintaining an open, free society that will allow our most brilliant thinkers to thrive. After all, this is our best competitive advantage. 
     
    Another definitive test is if the religious/creationist believers attempt to inhibit biomedical technology that allows us to live longer, healthier lifespans. 
     
    If they do, then I would say, “Yeah, these people are a real f**king problem and they have to be dealt with”. 
     
    If not, then why not leave them alone and respect their right to believe as they want?

  33. wongba, out of all the people in the world, white northwest europeans have the lowest rates of belief in god.

  34. “We all know that the mean IQ of Chinese people is 105 and that the SD is smaller than ours… However, their relatively narrow SD means that they will have fewer “super geniuses” than us.” 
     
    I’ve seen Steve Sailer make this assertion, but here at gnxp I’ve seen Razib argue rather zealously against it, saying there is no evidence for it. So same question to you as to wongba, do you have a cite? Just trying to get the best info I can.

  35. We all know that the mean IQ of Chinese people is 105 and that the SD is smaller than ours, which means that they will excel in manufacturing and creating the techno/industrial base. However, their relatively narrow SD means that they will have fewer “super geniuses” than us. This suggests that our competitive advantage is to maintain an open society based on free inquiry that will allow the super geniuses to flourish in our society. 
     
    Quite apart from the fact that it is not clear that super geniuses are important to either economy, the best information that I have is that the Chinese SD is 12.8 (based on a test administered in Japan) with an average of 105. 
     
    If excel has not screwed up the calculations, that means China has about 12.4M people with IQs above 135 while the US has 2.9M. 
     
    Of course, 135 is an arbitrary number but it represents extremely capable people. Combined with the enormous future time orientation Chinese people have, I think we can expect interesting things from them over the next fifty years.

  36.  
    I’ve seen Steve Sailer make this assertion, but here at gnxp I’ve seen Razib argue rather zealously against it, saying there is no evidence for it. So same question to you as to wongba, do you have a cite? Just trying to get the best info I can.
     
     
    i looked at data for asian americans and white americans. no diff. the standard deviation difference is an urban myth (there may be some differences measured across nations, but for obvious reasons i think comparisons within nations are a bit better, especially in developed nations like the US).

  37. wongba, out of all the people in the world, white northwest europeans have the lowest rates of belief in god. 
     
    no. please look at data for south korea and japan and other east asian nations; they are higher or in the same ball park. i’m being polite here. future comments which exhibit weak spots in data density will be appropriately dealt with. add value or don’t comment.

  38. Quite apart from the fact that it is not clear that super geniuses are important to either economy… 
     
    Of course, 135 is an arbitrary number but it represents extremely capable people. Combined with the enormous future time orientation Chinese people have, I think we can expect interesting things from them over the next fifty years. 
     
    I was using “super genius” as a colloquial for extremely capable people who have IQs over 135. In any case, the future success of any economy and society is based on the creative endevours of these people. So, I stand by my point that benefit/hazard of the religionist-creationist types in the U.S. is based on whether these people interfere with the creative endevours of the extremely capable people. If they do, then it is reasonable to say that religion/creationist beliefs act to “hamstring” the performance of our economy and society. If they don’t, they don’t. 
     
    Personally, I don’t care if people choose to believe in religion, creationism, or whatever. As long as they do not attempt to organize any political opposition to the development of effective anti-aging biomedical technology, I have no problem with them.

  39. Even if they effective sabotage the long-term standing of science in this country? There’s a reason China’s attempts to develop a research base have failed.

  40. razib, you aren’t being polite, actually. i made an honest mistake.

a