Alumni who make Bwog proud, Alumni who make Bwog ashamed

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3 little pigsHats off to childrens author Jon Scieszka (interviewed by Bwog here), MFA ’80, who has been named the first national ambassador of young people’s literature! Apparently it’s like a poet laureate for kids. Mr. Scieszka, as lifelong Stinky Cheese Man fans, you are an alumnus who makes Bwog proud.

ben steinAnd a kick in the shins for actor, economist, and former presidential speechwriter Ben Stein (interviewed by The Blue and White here), CC ’66, who has made a completely bizarre movie bemoaning a stated lack of freedom to talk about creationism in schools. Mr. Stein, you are an alumnus who makes Bwog ashamed–how dare you treat Richard Dawkins so.

– thanks to Jason Patinkin for the tips

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  1. showing your bias

    just because you believe in darwinism and might disagree with intelligent design doesn't mean you have to be ashamed of a person for speaking his mind and telling his side of the debate...whatever happened to open discourse and open minds...in that case i'm ashamed of bwog

    • quiet

      Evolution and global warming, are not beliefs or debates, they are facts. Only in America do people consider these issues of "belief".

      • well...

        they do remain theories, but just remember that they are really really scientifically strong theories. evolution, as they say, is as strong a theory as gravity.

        we should always keep our nomenclature right.

        what b.s. (ha!) probably doesn't get is that if someone came up with a really strong, testable theory that disproved evolution, he would win the nobel prize and be considered the greatest scientist, like, ever.

        what is happening today with the evolution/i.d. debate is precisely the opposite of what b.s. claims: it's not darwinists whose ideas are perilously threatened by evidence and thus do everything in their power to discredit the other side...

      • What?

        Darwin's theory of evolution is not a fact. One does not need to be a Creationist to recognize this.

  2. The Dink

    I'm not ashamed at him for being on the "wrong" side of the debate--and based on science, his side's arguments are currently wrong--it's that the way he presents it is ridiculous (this is based on the trailer, which makes simply ludacrissss assumptions, and then toys horribly with emotions...i.e.has random cuts to pictures of the Nazi death camps...probably in some weird connection with social darwinism which has little to nothing to do with the actual scientific theory). A quick perusal of the comments on his blog shows that he isn't engaging with the science of the debate at all, which is fine if he wants to attack the way darwinism is discussed, but the conclusions he apparently draws are completely off target, and miss the fact that in most discourse currently i.d. is discussed not on its scientific grounds.

    we'll have to watch the movie to be sure, though.

    • Evolution

      is not the same thing as Darwinism. In fact, in his first publishing of Origin of Species, Darwin didn't even use the word. Natural selection is also not the same thing as evolution, but simply an agent of evolution, which is hard to deny the existence of. I mean, are people willing to deny that among a particular species of animal, those that camouflage best are less likely to get eaten?

      But that's not really the point. Evolution has been established as *the* definitive theory on the variation and development of species for more than a century, and the holes in the theory, like the fossil record, are constantly being filled. Intelligent Design is not a scientific theory in the most basic sense of the word "science". Religion and science are not incompatible (and if you want to tell me that intelligent design is not a religious theory, take a look at the religious backgrounds of its proponents), but they do not belong in the same classroom. end of story. Whether it is "chance" or "god's will" doesn't matter. It's not a scientific question. Isn't the very point of believing in God that you are making a leap of faith? That doesn't fit in with science.

      So, in conclusion, Ben Stein is a nutcase. and how the fuck does he describe intelligent design as a "cool, new idea"?? I mean, seriously

    • I commend you

      For simply this, your last sentence:

      "we'll have to watch the movie to be sure, though."

      This is what makes you different from them (and by "them" you know who I mean). "They" would run and hide from any film that threatens to bulldoze their beliefs and show them something different (and worse-still, try to get the rest of the world to boycott the film and do the same, try to get their church to condemn it, try to get their parents and teachers to punish the kids for seeing it), whereas at least "you" (and by that I mean "me" as well, and so by that I guess I mean "we") at least say, "Let's go see the movie and find out what this is all about."

      Wait 'til it's out on DVD and rent-able though; don't give them any more money.

  3. what do you  

    call the natural selection of superior automobiles?


  4. evolution

    guided by random chance is not a scientific argument, it is a philosophical one. and it is this radical evolution that pretends to be science, but really isn't.

    science can't answer the question of what causes evolution to occur. god, chance, fate, the invisible hand, randomness, whatever. evolution should have no claim on this question. but some scientists will assure you that 'science' can 'prove' that it is random chance. it can't.

    i think this is the radicalism that ben stein is fighting again, and it is just as poisonous as any fundamentalist nutjob.

  5. to continue

    there are really three camps in the debate on evolution and intelligent design.

    the first is your christian fundamentalists, who believe in creation, and are using intelligent design as a way of trying to sneak creationism into public discourse. these folks, can be proven wrong, and can be scientifically discredited.

    there is a second camp, of which i am part, and the pope is too, that believes in evolution as a process whereby species evolve but suggests that this process did not evolve randomly but rather by god's plan; it is a very hegelian notion that prehistory and history are unfolding not by blind chance but rather by an invisible hand. such an argument can be discussed philosophically or dare i say, theologically, but not scientifically for the mechanism that guides evolution is unknowable.

    the third camp, is what i would call atheist scientists who can prove that evolution is a mechanism based only on chance. the underlying cause of evolution is a philosophical argument, because it asks the question of why, but not how. the question of how a thing or a system functions is the goal of science.

    they whys of the world are the goals of philosophy, theology and religion, can be discussed and debated but never fundamentally answered quantitatively.

    • Let's not  

      You're essentially trying to argue away evolutionary theory by admitting to the grossly undeniable tenets of science (visible microevolution) but denying larger and broader notions. You can no longer deny that individual species evolve, but you still hold that it is an instrument of God's will. The problem is that you are wrong, and only slightly less so than creationists.

      You say that "the underlying cause of evolution is a philosophical argument" because it is asking "why?" Why do creatures evolve? Why did we come to be? These are the questions you mean to ask, yes?

      Unfortunately, these are not philosophical questions, they are scientific ones. They can be answered quantitatively, even if we haven't done it yet. "Why do objects fall? And why does gravity work?" are similar questions, but nobody would claim that these are philosophical matters.

      The only difference between evolutionary theory and gravitational theory is that the former scares people like you, because it deals with the very notion of our beings. Specifically, it states that we are the result of specific physical laws and chance occurrences throughout history.

      Sorry to burst your bubble.

      You are wrong, and so is Ben Stein.


      • rjt

        Good work. I was about to do that, but it was going to be less well-argued and have more caps lock swear words.

      • sorry

        but your argument is philosophical. you, the scientist, has stepped outside of science and into the world of philosophy.

        a question like 'why does gravity work' is a question not answered by science in a very fundamental sense. you say that the world is governed by 'specific physical laws.' but why do these laws always operate? i've always wondered that but it is not a question that science yet answers.

        here's the task. if i and ben stein are both wrong scientifically, then prove it. my point, is that both arguments both a guided and unguided evolution rely on philosophy. if i have erred, please show me scientifically how i have erred.

  6. What

    do you call the natural selection of costumed thrash and shock rock?

  7. noo  

    "Why does gravity work?" is a scientific question. That's it. Period. Not only that, it's one of the most profoundly puzzling scientific questions we have right now.

    150 years ago, we didn't know why heat existed. We had ideas about caloric and phlogiston and all that, but we still didn't know why. James Joule didn't sit around pondering philosophically about the nature of heat. He went ahead discovered the mechanical equivalent of heat and showed that heat is just a form of energy.

    150 years from now, I hope that we'll have a full understanding of why gravity works. However, assuming that the question is philosophical when it clearly is not does not move the ball forward at all. You're not striking out, you're not even in the right ballpark.

    We actually probably understand evolution more than we understand gravity.

  8. open letter

    to the people with the goofy jokes:

    I love you.

  9. Guess  

    Jon Scieszka is also an Albion alum. Represent!

  10. Ben Stein

    I can't believe that Ben Stein is a Creationist. He's a secular, non-believing Jew, and an undeniably intelligent man at that. I think he's just pandering.

  11. Oh and also

    The existence of God is inherently unable to be proved, which is why it's so comfortable and easy to fall back on.

    What religious fundamentalists seem to forget, however, is that the unproveability of it doesn't mean that God exists, it means precisely that he doesn't, if we take scientific inquiry as our model.

    Of course, getting these people to believe in science in the first place is a tougher job than anyone's prepared for.

    • Anonymous

      Actually, the existence of God is untestable and therefore beyond the present scope of science. It's not that he doesn't exist, it's more that any true scientist doesn't give a fuck.

      • Agreed

        But I was thinking of it a different way. What you've said is true, but I had it in mind less that no true scientist would give a fuck, and more that if anyone did find a decent way to prove God didn't exist, all the believers could simply say, "But God is all-knowing and all-powerful, and he made you do this as a way to test our faith."

        My point was more that belief in God is self-fulfilling/self-perpetuating, because no matter what anyone does to argue against his existence, the believer can simply one-up him.

  12. Anonymous

    I thought this was satire at first.

    The film doesn't seem to be arguing science, it's arguing that people are being oppressed for holding creationist beliefs. To me, that's what happens when you hold onto antiquated ideas.

    Random probability does in fact lead to order, please do a reading of Markov chains for evidence of this. Look at our DNA, look at our biology; there are many aspects that are pretty blatantly not features of intelligent design but rather un-intelligent design. If we were made in the image of god and the design was intelligent, why does our body break down? why does our DNA/RNA get corrupted during transcription and replication and requires a redundancy system? these kinds of things all point to the fact that over the years we've evolved to live longer, that things can happen merely by probabilistic chance. Why are we trying to assign the title "god" to things we don't understand or aren't able to understand. It seems like we are stepping back to the past.

    • anon

      You just contradicted yourself. And also you are wrong. The universe and the systems it contains tend to spontaneously favor entropy, not order. Evolution (or at least macroevolution), however, if we are to assume that it IS spontaneous and no supernatural being or any other type of energy or force played a hand in the process, proceeds toward a more organized state -- Eukaryotes are far more complex and highly organized than prokaryotes, for example. We are not talking about the probability of one random occurrence leading to a higher state of order (the probability of all particles of gas in a system ending up in one half of the system as opposed to evenly dispersed, for example), but rather a series of occurrences leading to progressively higher and higher states of organization. Not only is this highly improbable, but it goes entirely against the laws of thermodynamics.

      As for where you contradicted yourself, even if we choose to ignore the laws of thermodynamics (which, for all I know, could very well simply not apply to the laws of biology…it wouldn’t be the first instance of biological organisms defying our understanding of chemistry), and assume that probability leads to the order observed in macroevolution, you then go on to describe the breaking down of the body and the DNA and all the flaws in the system (that lead to a state of lesser organization) as proof of evolution? Which is it – that we are too organized or not organized enough?

      Also, I’m not going to pretend to understand Markov chains, but from what I do know, a property of them is that the future states of the system depend only on the present state, and not the past states (which reminds me of thermodynamics, I confess). I do, however, know quite a bit about genetics, and seeing as how lineage and the inheritance of genes is indispensable to the evolutionary process (for microevolution, and thus most probably macro as well), I would not use Markov chains as an example for supporting evolution.

      That said, I am not a creationist of any kind. I actually very firmly believe in evolution. I just can’t stand when people use evolution to shit all over religion and philosophy without really understanding any more about evolution than the people they are shitting on do.

      • rjt

        I don't want to actually be in this argument, but I do want to point out that the entropy argument is incorrect and a misunderstanding of entropy: http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/thermo/entropy.html

        • aah

          You are correct, and I don't want anyone to think that I was trying to use thermodynamics to disprove the theory of evolution (I did mention that one may have nothing to do with the other). But entropy is in fact associated with randomness (I would say that the positions of gas molecules are more random than the position of molecules in their solid state; John Pieper may disagree.) The probability of randomness leading to order is very small, is all I meant.

          Also, I found that article to sound really haughty considering it was written by someone who doesn't even show up in a Google search.

        • hello

          Just want to point out (as has been commented earlier) that the linked website has fairly incomplete arguments (at best). I'm not quite seeing how entropy fits into the whole evolution argument at all.

          It really just boils down to (1) entropy can be created but not destroyed, so "disorder" is naturally favored. But if you're talking about a small piece of the universe, like a drop of water, it is certainly possible that the water will freeze and become more ordered. Your refrigerator is an example of going against the universe's entropy-increasing status quo. Also,(2)changing the temperature helps modulate whether or not your "system" will want to jump into an ordered or disordered state (e.g. you need to freeze a liquid to get a well ordered solid, raising the temp. of proteins forces them to denature into really disordered coil-sort-of-things, etc.).

          So, one can probably imagine the conditions that would favor a little bit of ordered-life being created. I doubt it's something that's really probable. Entropic arguments just seem to confirm the natural suspicion that we're either really lucky to be here or there is some deeper "law" that guides life other than evolution.

          Evolution, at least in my limited understanding of it, seems like a very unsatisfying scientific theory since it doesn't seem to postulate much more than "neat stuff happens sometimes". Observing that it occurs is a hell of a lot different from understanding why it should occur.Especially when you realize that the spontaneous creation of life is a lot more complicated than a species of bird growing a shorter beak over a 30 year span.

      • Anonymous

        You used the word "macroevolution."



      • Anonymous

        I'm not going to lie, I got completely lost reading your post. I think our disagreement is based on misunderstanding on your part.

        I completely agree with you, the universe "spontaneously favor entropy". Absolutely, there is far more entropy than any sort of order, that's pretty obvious. What I'm getting at is that I think that human existence, earth's existence, the universe's existence is just the product of infinitesimally small probabilities that happened to produce something in the seeming infinity of the universe.

        I'm not sure where you think I violated the laws of thermodynamics. I'm guessing you're talking about the law dictating that entropy increases over time. Still, I didn't contradict myself... at least I don't think I did.

        Take the starting premise that we are products of randomness and evolution. Also take the premise that Darwin is correct in saying that beings with biological mechanisms more suited to the environment tend to survive better than their brethren that do not. It seems fair to assume that a being created out of randomness would not be perfect as it just happened to survive a set of conditions and is not necessarily adapted to everything or in a final equilibrium state of development. Hence my quip about the flaws in our DNA/RNA replication translation processes and seems to explain the existence of redundancy in said process. I only really mention this because why would an "intelligent creator" that makes man in the image of himself, make such a flawed biological specimen? Just because we arrive out of probabilistic chance, doesn't mean that order observed isn't flawed. To say this is contradictory sounds like nonsense to me, they are not mutually exclusive.

        Markov chains are very interesting and on topic. You are correct, the essence of the markov chain is that the future states depend on the present state. Take for example you take the 26 letters of the english alphabet. There is a probability in our language of letters appearing next to each other, it seems logical that a random process could arrive at the observed frequency probability. You do one iteration of a random assortment of letters like a scrabble bag with that probability. After one iteration you start to get the semblance of words, after a few more, you start getting chains of words and nonsensical sentences. We have a perfect example of a controlled system of randomness arriving at a somewhat ordered state that almost mimics what we find in nature.

      • Markov

        Actually, that's the opposite of how Markov chains work.

        "... seeing as how lineage and the inheritance of genes is indispensable to the evolutionary process..."

        See, but that's not the past state of the system. Your genes are a combination of your parents genes, yeah, but that doesn't mean your parents have a direct impact on your kids' genes. Parents determine genes, not grandparents.

        To put this better, if you have gene sequence XYZ, it doesn't matter *what* your parents' were. Your state is the only relevant one to determining future states.

  13. Also

    This whole divide between "scientific" and "philosophical" questions is misleading. A question does not necessarily have to be one or the other. "Why does gravity work?," for example, has both scientific and philosophical qualities. Those who say "this isn't science, it's philosophy" or vice-versa would do better to employ a little more syncretism in their lives. Life is a much richer experience when you do.

  14. Here we go again...

    NYTimes won't give us a break...But Hey, at least we're popular


  15. This might

    kind of be related to science...

    what do you call david helfand's frontiers lecture on the universe?


    • that is  

      unrelated to evolution. you successfully killed the joke. Bravo

    • Bad Joke

      no offense, but really, just awful. kinda like frontiers of science, which is saved only by the brilliant fluffiness of Helfand's beard. That beard will save the world someday, I know it.

      All this talk about QED and god existing reminds me of a clever little bit of Douglas Adams wit. I quote: "Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mindboggingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as the final and clinching proof of the non-existence of God.

      "The argument goes something like this: 'I refuse to prove that I exist,' says God, 'for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.'

      "'But,' says Man, 'The Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn't it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don’t. QED.'

      "'Oh dear,' says God, 'I hadn't thought of that,' and promptly vanished in a puff of logic.

      "'Oh, that was easy,' says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed on the next zebra crossing"

  16. look!

    vampire weekend is in teen vogue! and MTV!

  17. bored.

    something needs to happen.

  18. dear geneticists

    anyone want to try to explain this?
    "Deletion of Ultraconserved Elements Yields Viable Mice"
    i'm pretty sure ID won't explain that one. for an intelligently designed system, it would be analogous to removing the wheels on a car. (that is, wheels are ultraconserved in cars.) however, it's also hard to explain the experimental result with a basic understanding of natural selection. how could a 700-base pair sequence remain untouched for 80 million years if it isn't vital?

  19. all this talk

    about evolution makes me hungry.

  20. Anonymous

    the point is that the universe doesn't proceed toward a more ordered state. the universe is random, it just so happens that ordered things tend to survive longer and become observable phenomena.

  21. ehhh  

    what does ravi shankar believe in?


  22. Sprinkles

    Ben Stein made me pay for my own drink at the West End a few years ago.

    True story.

  23. Dork

    What do you call the natural selection of graphical representations of computer users?


    Shoot me.

    • flynn

      how dare you interrupt our partisan bickering with your so-called 'reading' and carefully examining the issues. screw that. i'll leap to conclusions all i want and you can't stop me.

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