14 August 2010

Inherit the Wind

Last night I had the fun experience of going to Queen's Film Theatre in Belfast to watch the famous epic "Inherit the Wind", and to discuss the film and its implications afterwards in a panel discussion.

It's a great movie, based on a play of the same name, itself loosely based on the 1925 Scopes "Monkey Trial", where a schoolteacher was brought to trial for teaching evolution in Tennessee, in contravention of a crazy law that prohibited it. The facts of the case are somewhat different in the play and in real life, but the movie iconicised the dramatic conflict between science and religious fundamentalism.
After the film I participated in a panel discussion with Rev Scott Peddie and Prof Norman Nevin. We had a very amicable and (I hope) entertaining discussion, expertly chaired by William Crawley of the BBC (who put the film series together of which this was part). I never know whether minds are changed by debates or panel discussions, but we had a lot of fun, and I'm wondering if someone is going to make a similar film around the 2005 Kitzmiller trial, which in many ways would make for excellent drama fodder in its own right. I do think that ITW held up creationism and biblical literalism/inerrancy to very appropriate ridicule; it deserves a wide audience.


  1. I hadn't realised this was on Shane otherwise I'd have loved to have gone along. Was it open to the public or was it an invited audience only ?

    The nex Dover looks likely to be in Livingston Louisiana, though the school board has held back from implimenting their proposals for another year, possibly because of the verdict at Dover.

    I often wonder though, what would happen if our YEC DUP politicians were successful at pushing this nonsense at either the Ulster Museum or the new Giant's Causeway visitor's centre. Are we organised enough to oppose such a move and take it to a court of law ? There's nothing like the ACLU in the UK at the moment.

    Another problem is that this breaks down along party lines. The SDLP and Sinn Fein will oppose such a move but without realising why the science is so wrong i.e. they'll oppose it because the DUP have pushed for it. The OU will abstain, again, without really knowing why.

    What we badly need in the province is a group such as Northern Ireland citizens for science. This would be broad based with theists and non theists alike involved (not just the Belfast Humanist group, no disrepect to Brian). Only then will we be able to oppose YEC activity in the province effectively.

    By the way, our local creationist group, Creation Outreach Ministries have had a few changes. Rev. Robin Greer is now on the board of reference. Nathan Anderson (secretary of QUB creation society) is now on their committee. It was Anderson who had an encouter with PZ Myers when he spoke in Belfast earlier in the year.

    What sort of claims was Prof Nevin making Shane ? I suppose standard AiG nonsense ? I've always had a great respect for him both as a preachyer and geneticist and I'm disappointed he's gone down this controversial route.

  2. Hi Peter, it was sold out! Mind you, that was the QFT, so maybe 80 or so people there. The next Dover should be interesting; Kitzmiller was such a massive defeat for the Discovery Institute, one wonders why they don't just disband.

    As for Norman Nevin, he was very nice and very amicable, as always. We had a pleasant discussion and reminiscence before the main event. Norman's chief point these days is that information always comes from intelligence. Strangely, he was trying to sell this as thinking *outside* the box, where I would regard it as trivially disprovable, and said so, citing the information that proves puddles are intelligently designed, and the codes that tell RNA molecules how to flex.

    I am pleased that he has moved away from young earth, but he still believes in Adam and Eve as historical people, which I regard as nonsense.

  3. Yep, the QFT is always good Shane. It's a while since I've been there and I suppose the event probably was on their programme but it's a pity it wasn't more widely publicised. Where there many YECs in the audience ?

    It'll be interesting to see how the Livingston county situation develops though. I think the outcome at Dover has caused them to back off somwhat as they seem to realise the school board can't afford to lose an expensive court case.

    Hadn't realised Prof. Nevin had moved away from the young Earth viewpoint. The last time I heard him on Radio Ulster he was pushing flood geology on oil formation and quoting Tas walker's nonsense. Perhaps dinos roaming around the Garden of Eden alongside adam and Eve didn't really appeal to him !

    The "thinking outside the box" is one that I hear constantly on Premier's discussion forum, especially from the likes of Andrew Sibley (CSM):


    and Paul Garner:


    somehow, by accepting evolutionary science I'm setting up science as a God. which is complete nonsense as science (or at least any science class I've ever sat through) doesn't say anything at all about religion. I think this is possibly connected with their so called "critical thinking" concept (i.e. with respect to biological evolution) but how you do this in a biology class seems to be unclear as none of them can tell me. Personally, at this level of education it's all about learning, understanding, and memorising facts. I would have thought that critical thinking (or thinking outside the box) came at post grad level.

    Still, hopefully he's wised up re. the young Earth position.

  4. Hi Peter, yes, calling confined blinkered dogma (information can only arise from intelligence) "thinking outside the box" is frankly laughable. I don't know how many YECs there were at the start, but by the end there was only one; most people seemed to agree with me, but I don't regard that as necessarily indicating a "victory" - just an endorsement perhaps :-)
    Next time I'll need to press Norman more on the flood and similar; his old earth arguments centred on the fact that "yom" need nit refer to 24h, which I view as a trivial point. Genesis is not telling us how the universe came about, end of.

  5. Hi Shane,

    I attended the QFT screeing on Friday and thoroughly enjoyed the evening.
    I thought you and your fellow panelists gave a very balanced representation of opinion concerning origins.

    I made a comment - that only Scott Peddie had time to respond to - that only the positions held by you and Norman were consistent.

    My meaning was that abiogenesis and evolutionary development naturally flow from a belief in naturalism and a creationist position flows from a belief in the Bible as truth.

    Would you agree that a straightforward belief in the Bible would result in a creationist worldview and that the middle-ground theistic evolution position is a compromise - the shoehorning together of two diametrically opposing paradigms?

    You made a very worthwhile point in your post about "whether minds are changed by debates or panel discussions"; I think the quality of these events depends on the oratory ability and quick recall of the speakers (which were super in this case).

    Debates can range from thrilling to tedious and I think it's best accompanied with a formal review of written communications fom each side of the argument.

    Scott organises some fantastic talks throughout the year through Christians in Science, I do hope you'll have the opportunity to share your views again in a similar manner in the future.



  6. Hi Ryan,
    Thanks for dropping by, and thanks for the comment - much appreciated! It was definitely a fun night; I certainly enjoyed seeing Norman and Scott again, and for us to be able to have a friendly tussle. Unfortunately time was fairly tight; I think all three of us (and most of the audience) could have waffled on a lot longer.

    I think you raise an interesting point; it's one I've heard before, and I think most scientists would find it a bit puzzling, as it carries a huge amount of baggage that I don't think many creationists have ever had the spheres to unpack it :-):

    Would you agree that a straightforward belief in the Bible would result in a creationist worldview and that the middle-ground theistic evolution position is a compromise - the shoehorning together of two diametrically opposing paradigms?

    I wouldn't want to lend support to *any* theistic position, but I don't agree that evolution (including abiogenesis) is a *result* of adopting a naturalistic paradigm. I think a lot of philosophers of science have tripped up here. The reason is that evolution works whether we adopt a "naturalist" paradigm or not. We formulate a hypothesis; we test the hypothesis. Yes, we assume that something isn't fiddling with our data on an ad hoc basis, but if the data match the predictions of the hypothesis, and (moreover) many lines of evidence all converge in supporting the wider hypothesis, then we really do feel justified in saying that it is correct. The facts of evolution are spectacularly well confirmed by many lines of evidence, regardless of our starting paradigm, and I feel we can work backwards from that to show that a naturalistic paradigm is not only consistent with the data, but positively enforced by it. In other words, evolution implies naturalism, rather than the other way round.

    As for the bible as truth, I think you *do* have to unpack that. Of course I don't think the bible is "god's word", but regardless of that, you have to interpret it. Everyone does this - you need to interpret it in the same way as any historical document - check out its sources, what is it telling you about the process by which it came to be, what does it tell you about the cultural background of the authors and editors, what is the genre.

    It is very clear to me that Genesis is not history; it perhaps contains some elements of actual history, but really it is a neatly (or not-so-neatly in some cases) stitched together series of folk tales. I genuinely do not think that the authors really believed that the world was created as specified in Genesis 1, or in the completely different way specified in Genesis 2. These are myths, and the writers knew it. It is only more recently that people have attached far more erroneous significance to these than they should.

    So, for a theist, I regard Scott's position as the honest one, and Norman's as unfortunately rather naive, in relation to the science, philosophy, history and literature. Assuming that "The Bible Is True" is a valid epistemological starting point is a really serious error. Which is interesting, because it can't really be supported biblically either.

    I've swopped emails with Scott - I'd be happy to help out at a Christians in Science event if they'll have me! ;-)