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Today is the 71st birthday of Judy Blume. It’s the 86th birthday of Franco Zeffirelli, And it’s the 200th birthday (or would be) of Charles Darwin.

Which is interesting, and happy birthday, but let’s not get carried away.

Darwinolatry, in addition to being a mite hypocritical for professed atheists, misses the point in the same way the so-callled “Lady Hope legend” misses the pont. Nothing called “evolution” sprung fully formed from Charles Darwin’s brow. Other people had the same idea, or a similar one, before and simultaneously with him. He formalized it and made it clear (well, by Victorian standards), but he certainly didn’t invent it.

Fanboying Darwin undermines the idea that ideas are tested by experiment and their worth hinges entirely on their truth while lending credence to the creationist idea that if they can just show that Darwin himself had doubts about the theory, they can get the whole thing to come crashing down. He probably did have doubts, initially, as scientists tend to, and he was flat-out wrong about some things (he had no notion of genetics or of particulate inheritance in general). Conversely, the “deathbed conversion” story, though arrant nonsense, is not actually relevant to whether or not one should accept evolution (not that evolution really cares what you think).

Darwin is certainly worthy of celebration. However, he should be remembered as a sepaprate entity from the theory of evolution he popularized and disseminated, and it should be remembered that theory doesn’t depend on him.


Roger Ebert failed to review eXpelled: No Intelligence Allowed when it came out for some lame reason like “it isn’t worthy of consideration.” Well, never mind that now, he’s filled in the gap.

Confession time: when this movie first came out, I thought “ok, Ben Stein’s widely considered smart, or at least ‘television smart,’ he must have really ripped creationism a new one, right?” To make a hollow laughing. His thesis was that it was creationism “intelligent design” that had been kept out of schools. Now, as Phil Plait notes over at Bad Astronomy, it’s not like the movie wen’t anywhere, so it’s hardly a major part of the public discourse on the subject. However, Stein (rather childishly; showing someone getting made up to go on camera is like laughing at people for being naked under their clothes) does rehash some familiar arguments that I will never get tired of obliterating.

Let’s start with the probability argument. The collective mutations required to produce George W. Bush from unicellular protozoa are so unlikely that we may as well consider them impossible. This is looking at the problem the wrong way. There are 3954242643911240000000 possible bridge hands (I think, my abacus dropped a bead). At 1 a second, it would take you a bit over 125 trillion years to inspect all of them (and at $1 a year, you’d earn enough to bail out GM 5,000 times). Since you don’t have 125 trillion years, it follows that you can’t inspect every possible bridge hand, and the odds of you encountering any particular one are, well, roughly one in 1 in 4 sextillion. We may as well consider that impossible, thus bridge is impossible. This won’t get much argument from anyone who’s actually read the rules of bridge, I suppose, but look at it this way: my gradfather plays bridge, so if bridge is impossible, my grandfather doesn’t exist, therefore I don’t exist, therefore I didn’t post this, therefore you’re not reading it. Doesn’t that just blow your fucking mind?

Ahem. The a priori probability of human life (or bridge) may be small, but the a priori probability isn’t relevant. The question isn’t “how will these protozoa develop?” but “how did contemporary biodiversity develop?” The unlikelihood of evolution leading to us proves we don’t exist, not that we didn’t evolve.

Another ID argument asserts that life can’t come from non-life. That’s not what I learned in 6th-grade biology. In fact, it’s somewhat circular: life can’t come from non-life, therefore life didn’t evolve from lifelessness. Now, the counterargument is also circular, except that it’s been observed.

I can almost hear the discussion about this: the IDer says “life can’t possibly arrive from inorganic matter.” The science-ortented response if “actually, it can, and it’s been simulated by scientists.” “Yes, but they had to zap it with x-rays from a huge machine.”

But that’s moving the goalposts. Now that we know it can be done, figuring out how is that much simpler.

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