Pomposity squared: Ben Stein and R. C. Sproul


Via Heart of Flesh, a half-hour conversation between Ben Stein and the often-pompous R. C. Sproul of Ligonier Ministries. Sproul had Stein in the studio to promote the mockumentary film Stein stars in, “Expelled!”

Stein continues to reveal the religious nature of intelligent design advocacy, all the time complaining science doesn’t pay enough attention.

At what point does irony veer into hypocrisy? I think that point’s long past for these guys.

Vodpod videos no longer available. from heartofflesh.wordpress.com posted with vodpod

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Anyone vaguely familiar with the science of astronomy, or cosmology, or physics, or biology, may want to get a bullet to chew on before clicking “play.” It’s that bad.

But what is this? Sproul disowns the movie? It may be that the movie, devoid of science as it is, is still too sciency for Sproul. Here’s how Sproul’s writers put it in his blog:

As our readers may already know, Dr. Sproul frequently challenges the unbiblical and irrational theories of Darwinian evolution in print and through lectures. While we were waiting for Mr. Stein to arrive for the interview, Dr. Sproul mentioned to the crew that he took some time in between book projects back in the early 90s. He was doing some recreational reading and ended up writing another book, Not A Chance: The Myth of Chance in Modern Science and Cosmology.

It is important to note that during this free exchange of ideas, not all of the opinions expressed by Mr. Stein in the interview are the views of Ligonier Ministries. Christians should recognize that the argument from design does not necessarily prove the Genesis view of creation. We are not part of the Intelligent Design movement, but certainly share similar concerns for freedom of speech and inquiries into cosmology. Our foremost concern is to uphold the inerrancy and inspiration of the Bible and the authority of our Creator.

Don’t you love it? Super Sproul figures out the laws of chance in physics and chemistry in his spare time, probably in his game room between foosball challenges from the grandkids.

Sproul’s blog also reveals there is another part to this interview.

R. C. Sproul should do a public service some day. He ought to interview P. Z. Myers for an hour, and then interview Ken Miller for an hour (he can disclaim science later in his blog, if he chooses). Better yet, Sproul should have Myers and Miller each spend a week at Ligonier Ministries teaching theologians about biology.

I wager Sproul doesn’t have the fortitude to do something like that. Rants can’t stand the facts. Sproul’s genius is making his rants in a quieter voice, so they don’t sound as irrational as they are.

At about 14:40 into the interview, Stein says “There are very few places where more nonsense is spoken than universities.” First, one wonders why Stein and the movie’s producers want so badly to be seen as part of that university community?

Second, this interview demonstrates Stein’s error — there are lots of places more nonsense is spoken, including anywhere Sproul’s interview with Stein is aired.

In the universities, at least they strive for accuracy and honesty.

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25 Responses to Pomposity squared: Ben Stein and R. C. Sproul

  1. […] “Pomposity squared:  Ben Stein and R. C. Sproul,” at MFB […]

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  2. […] Pomposity squared, Stein and Sproul Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Holy Pythagoras! Creationists are targeting mathThe Council Of Europe: The dangers of creationism in educationCouncil of Europe votes against creationist teachingGod vs. Science […]

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  3. Ed Darrell says:

    It’s difficult for a pluralistic society to accommodate those who claim that the views of others are absolutely inferior because . . . well, just because. You’re making a post-modern claim, there, Peg, that values can’t be agreed upon, and that a religious view is just as good as any other religious view, and that there is no way a non-religious view can be verified.

    Were that true, science could not work. In a pluralistic society, we rely on hard scientific evidence to resolve certain issues that can be resolved with hard scientific evidence. A claim that such evidence isn’t really valid doesn’t get far in legal terms, and gets traction in a less formal forum like this one only because we choose not to hold to the fire the feet of people who make such claims.

    One of the advantages of modern society has been our willingness to ratchet up the moral standards of society, despite religious claims to the contrary. That’s how we ended slavery. That’s why we now have laws against domestic abuse, spouse-on-spouse, or parent-on-child, or child-on-parent. No longer do we dismiss such abuse as God-authorized. That’s why we have hard laws against child molestation. That’s why we have laws against father-on-daughter incest, though such a relationship is not proscribed by the Bible.

    Generally, rational people of faith come around to a view that evidence and logic work to establish a moral floor once the alternatives become clear. That’s what a pluralistic society is really all about. It goes back to the views expressed in the Mayflower Compact, that we will in good faith choose representatives from among us to make our laws, and we pledge to follow those laws.

    The “something to measure” fixed values by need not be reference to scripture, for people of reason.

    You may want to take a look at this discussion between a rationalist (who happens to be Christian) and one of the writers of Ben Stein’s mockumentary:
    http://austringer.net/wp/index.php/2008/04/06/flunked-not-expelled-and-a-big-round-of-plain-old-defamatory-speech-from-kevin-miller/

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  4. Peg says:

    The existence of a god or lack of it cannot make any difference to morality or meaning.

    That’s where we disagree. It’s impossible to have fixed values without something to measure by. And non-fixed values aren’t values at all, merely momentary opinions. Ultimately there are no values without God, because as creator of all God also creates value and worth. Only in a society with a rich faith heritage (however distant) could one even conceive of values without God.

    But having said that, the challenge in a pluralistic society is: how can public policy and public discourse be fair and equal, towards both viewpoints?

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  5. Bad says:

    The question “what does this mean to moral and ethical living?” is of greater interest to me. If evolution is true, what are the implications in terms of the value of human life?

    None, per se. Whether you value human life or not is not determined by the factual history of life on earth. Whether human beings are important or not is a quality they posses or they don’t, not a measure of where it came from.

    If Christianity is NOT true, what are the implications in terms of the value of human life?

    The very question is, simply, endlessly astonishing. The existence of a god or lack of it cannot make any difference to morality or meaning. God’s opinion cannot make rape right if it is wrong, or wrong if it is right, nor can it make a life one finds meaningless meaningful. One must find it meaningful themselves. And one must have value for other people themselves, not by proxy via some elaborate and indirect story.

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  6. Peg says:

    any mention of any science that tends to support any form of biological evolution, is atheism, sent straight from the Storehouses of Hell™ — and —

    Your creationists up there must be the really weak subspecies. Down here in Texas, someone who subscribes to the views you outline there would be called “atheist” on the Texas Conference of Southern Baptists Scale.

    I didn’t know the Storehouses had been trademarked! LOL! Yeah, to be certain I’ve had my salvation questioned more than once by members of the SBC and similar groups who have made their way up north to “evangelize the heathen”. In their eyes Sproul is liberal enough to warrant an “approach with caution” attitude (“he’s Presbyterian, y’know… we don’t know about those denominational types…”) IMO, sadly, these groups are led by modern-day Pharisees who manipulate the generally good people in the pews with an impressive array of fear tactics and emotional pleas for money. Unfortunately the stranglehold of fear is next to impossible to break… for any people of faith on the “evolution” side of the debate, these folks need prayer more than anything else.

    Among my crowd there are some educated folks (read: Ivy League grads) who can defend creationism and ID pretty well. With a background in music tho I’m not one of them! My personal ID theory has its roots in the “only Beethoven could have written the Eroica” argument and I don’t buy the monkeys/Shakespeare comeback. I think… in fact I know, have seen… God is active in the world in all kinds of ways, intervening mostly in little things that make big differences.

    For the most part I consider the creationism/evolution argument somewhat irrelevant to everyday life (except for those who work in the sciences). The question “what does this mean to moral and ethical living?” is of greater interest to me. If evolution is true, what are the implications in terms of the value of human life? If Christianity is NOT true, what are the implications in terms of the value of human life? These are the kinds of questions my friends and family bounce around the table over meals. I think it’s far more dangerous to take God out of the equation than to put any scientific theory in… first, because scientific theories will eventually either stand or fall on their own merits, and second, because there is — or at least should be — a direct link between one’s faith in the Almighty and the value one places on human life. History’s perennial Pharisees notwithstanding. As far as I can see, Darwin’s theory is fine, as far as it goes, and the moral implications are still open for debate.

    Which is all a very long way of saying “you have my sympathies.” FWIW be nice to the SBCers — it’ll confuse the heck out of them. ;)

    And as for hot dogs at Fenway man I could go for a couple right about now!! Off to scrounge up some dinner…

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  7. Ed Darrell says:

    Peg said:

    Creationism simply means one believes the universe came into being and was ordered by someONE rather than by someTHING or by some random event. That’s all, nothing else. It has nothing to do with evolution. Same thing re: ID teachings.

    Your creationists up there must be the really weak subspecies. Down here in Texas, someone who subscribes to the views you outline there would be called “atheist” on the Texas Conference of Southern Baptists Scale. After all, that was Darwin’s view, that the universe was ordered by God, and then left pretty much to run itself on a set of natural laws.

    Intelligent design proposed constant intervention — at least, that’s the best I can make out of the muddle. American Creationism, as practiced in Tennessee from 1925 through the present, and in Texas and Arkansas and Louisiana, argued that any mention of human evolution, and then any mention of any evolution, and then any mention of any science that tends to support any form of biological evolution, is atheism, sent straight from the Storehouses of Hell™.

    I suspect most rational Christians would share your view. However, because that view would encompass Darwin as the Christian he was when he discovered evolution, creationists take a harder stand to support their a priori judgment that Darwin was evilly deluded by Satan (regardless what the evidence said or Darwin’s own personal beliefs). Once one decides to hate the Boston Red Sox, one cannot allow even any sentiment in favor of the hot dogs at Fenway. And creationists have decided that they must despise the Red Sox — er, I mean, Darwin.

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  8. “And, as St. Augustine noted, we probably shouldn’t a priori decide the reconciliation involves a suppression of science in favor of scripture.”

    Also well said. :)

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  9. Ed Darrell says:

    The ancient flood thing was on TV…. the Discovery Channel or something, I don’t recall exactly. I realize that isn’t the highest level of scholarship in the world but at least I’m not saying “some preacher told me”. ;)

    There is some pretty good scholarship on ancient floods. At the end of the last ice age, a dam (ice dam?) at the Bosporus, between the Mediterranean and what is now the Black Sea, broke, and the Black Sea filled up with sea water. Big local flood. No worldwide flood. See Robert Ballard’s basic stuff here:
    http://www.pbs.org/saf/1207/features/noah.htm
    Ryan and Pitman used a lot of Ballard’s findings in their book, Noah’s Flood — but they are arguing against a literal reading:
    http://geology.about.com/library/bl/books/blbookryanpitman.htm
    http://www.earthinstitute.columbia.edu/news/story9_1.html

    Those are the best data that exist.

    If God is the “author” of both the Word and nature, then we should expect there to be no conflict between the two when properly interpreted.

    Exactly, beautifully said!

    And, as St. Augustine noted, we probably shouldn’t a priori decide the reconciliation involves a suppression of science in favor of scripture.

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  10. Peg says:

    The ancient flood thing was on TV…. the Discovery Channel or something, I don’t recall exactly. I realize that isn’t the highest level of scholarship in the world but at least I’m not saying “some preacher told me”. ;)

    Edia… — Your “facts” are so far off the mark I can’t even argue the opposite of what you’re saying. Your prejudices are certainly showing, though, which is what Sproul and Stein were talking about in the first place……

    Airtight — thanks. re: God pulling our chains, that was a bad attempt at humor, my apologies. God isn’t a liar and if He did do something like that it certainly wouldn’t help build a relationship of trust between humanity and Deity.

    If God is the “author” of both the Word and nature, then we should expect there to be no conflict between the two when properly interpreted.

    Exactly, beautifully said!

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  11. […] Ben Stein Continues to Face the Hard Questions on Expelled!… from Calvinist Minister I had meant to watch and comment on this Stein interview with Calvanist minister RC Sproul at some point, but never got around to it. Ed Darrell over at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub has now beaten me to it. […]

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  12. Bad says:

    Peg: I have heard from more than one source that there is geological evidence for a catastrophic flood around the time Noah was supposed to have lived.

    If some random person hearing something from somewhere they can’t recall is what should constitute science, then we might as well call Bigfoot science and be done with it.

    It’s easy to claim that there is evidence of such and such, and even make that claim sound plausible to those that don’t any better. But the fact that its easy to misrepresent evidence and science shouldn’t be a determinant of what science is.

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  13. Ediacaran says:

    Peg wrote:

    Real Christianity never sets itself up as the opponent of scientific inquiry — why would it, since scientific research is (to the Christian) merely an attempt to “think God’s thoughts after Him”?

    And No True Scotsman would hold to anything other than “Real Christianity”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_true_Scotsman

    I’m curious as to which branch of Christianity – since the start of Christianity – has consistently caused its followers not to do things like experiment on people without their permission (e.g. indoctrination), or display peoples’ dead bodies without their permission (Et tu, Bruno?), develop new and exciting ways to kill each other (Spanish Inquisition, Roman Inquisition, …).

    Peg wrote:

    And taking natural order as one of many ways to understand that God exists is a valid viewpoint.

    Just not a valid scientific viewpoint, contrary to the Intelligent Design claims.

    Peg wrote:

    I have heard from more than one source that there is geological evidence for a catastrophic flood around the time Noah was supposed to have lived.

    When was that, exactly? Did you believe this Noah character lived for hundreds of years, or is that simply poetic license? Or perhaps the whole character referred to as Noah is simply poetic license. Are you referring to the local flood that resulted in the Black Sea, or do you have evidence for a global flood to support the literalists?

    Insntead of an “all powerful” “divine designer”, maybe a collection of ancient authors was “pulling our chains”. And that isn’t limited to the authors of the Abrahmic faiths.

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  14. toby says:

    What a wheeze! Let’s protect scientific integrity by forcing biblical “inerrancy” on scientists.

    I tried watching the clip but I gave up when that pompous host starting quote-mining Sagan’s “Cosmos” and “Chaos” tropes.

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  15. Peg,

    I am in agreement with much of your most recent post. I also do not feel the creation account in Genesis is meant to be read literally. The point is that God is ultimately in control, and it tells of the beginning of a relationship between God and man.

    However, I do not think “or God is just yanking our chains with the whole geologic record” argument holds much weight. If God purposely created the earth to look old, and it is not, then that makes God deceptive and a liar.

    If God is the “author” of both the Word and nature, then we should expect there to be no conflict between the two when properly interpreted.

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  16. Peg says:

    Hi elbogz,

    Now we’re heading into the realm of Biblical interpretation, where admittedly people of faith differ. There are those who take the literalist point of view on Genesis, (“it says the world was made in 7 days therefore it was made in 7 days…”) and those folks will of course be rabid anti-evolutionists. Personally I don’t interpret the scriptures that way because scripture itself gives some flexibility. For example, there’s a passage that says “for God a day is as a thousand years and a thousand years is as a day”… so theoretically 7 days could be 7000 years… and that’s still using only the literalist interpretation.

    I agree with most major theologians throughout history who teach God exists outside time altogether and lives in what’s called the “eternal now”. The book of Genesis is not meant to be a literal description of the beginning of the universe — it is meant to be the beginning of the story of humanity’s relationship with God. Personally I believe the first homo sapiens came into existence at some point, and when he did, God named him Adam. (why not? sounds better than “Enoch”) How long the universe had been around up till then is irrelevant to both Judaism and Christianity.

    On the points you list above: I believe God created not just the world but the universe, everything we see and everything we don’t see. I believe God gave humanity the job of taking care of this little planet (a job we have a horrendous track record on) which included giving names to anything we find (a job we continue to do as new elements, planets, etc are discovered). I have heard from more than one source that there is geological evidence for a catastrophic flood around the time Noah was supposed to have lived.

    Why didn’t God describe creation in terms of evolution? I can think of lots of reasons, not the least of which it would have confused the heck out of our early ancestors, but mostly because that’s beside His point. The purpose of early scripture isn’t to give us a manual on how it was done, it’s to call us into relationship with Himself. Looking for a how-to on creation in the Bible is like looking for the recipe for highway asphalt in a cookbook. You won’t find it there. Better to read Genesis chapter 1 as poetry rather than science — which doesn’t make it any less true, it just makes it a different genre of literature.

    OTOH the whole geologic record could just be God pulling our chains… ;)

    At any rate God most certainly has intelligence and heart, not to say wit, and He makes Himself known as He chooses to.

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  17. elbogz says:

    Peg,

    When you say, There is nothing in any religious teaching that says both creationism and evolution can’t be true. Creationism is the belief that the origin of all things is a rational being greater than ourselves, that the natural order demonstrates a rationality of planning and foresight that is above and beyond the collective wisdom of humanity I wish it were true. It would be much simplier to be a person of faith, if you could look at the sciences of biology, chemisty, geology, archeology, anthropology, read the bible and not be caught in the mother of all contridictions.

    Either God created the world as it says in Genesis, or He didn’t. Either Adam was there to name all the animals, or he wasn’t. Either Noah was there to put pairs of all life on the ark, or he wasn’t. When good and decent men of faith, including Charles Darwin, and Galileo and many many scientist since them, desperately wanted what they found to line up with the words of the bible, but, they found it didn’t. It caused great turmoil in their faith, and with mine.

    Once you go down the path that says, you can believe in evolution and the bible, then, you must ask, why didn’t God describe it that way? God certainly could have done it the way described in Genesis. The geologic record could have shown fossils of man along with the very first life forms, but, it doesn’t. God could have flooded the earth at the time of Noah, then why isn’t there one single trace of it in the geologic, biologic or anthropologic record? Or, why doesn’t the bible describe the evolution of mankind?

    Either, the bible is true, or it is not true. If it is true, then all that we see, all that we touch, all that we observe, all that we study and understand about our world, should agree with our bible. But, sadly, it doesn’t.

    The other point I would like to make is this. The bible doesn’t say that God designed the world, it says, he spoke it into existance. Doesn’t calling God the designer belittle whom the bible speaks of? Perhaps to God speaking the world into existance need no more design than us calling the kids to dinner.

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  18. Peg says:

    Ed,

    The point you make in paragraph 1 is exactly right — creationism does not equal evolution, and vice versa.

    The definition of creationism in paragraph 2 isn’t how I learned it. Creationism simply means one believes the universe came into being and was ordered by someONE rather than by someTHING or by some random event. That’s all, nothing else. It has nothing to do with evolution. Same thing re: ID teachings.

    Real Christianity never sets itself up as the opponent of scientific inquiry — why would it, since scientific research is (to the Christian) merely an attempt to “think God’s thoughts after Him”? And taking natural order as one of many ways to understand that God exists is a valid viewpoint.

    What Christianity opposes is any form of science that devalues human beings — things like experimenting on people without their permission, or displaying peoples’ dead bodies without their permission (“Bodies” exhibits), or “harvesting” unborn children for medical purposes, or developing new and exciting ways to kill each other. Anything that treats human beings or human bodies as “things” rather than individuals cherished by God can and should be opposed by people of faith.

    I realize there are “religious” folks out there whose vocal decibel levels are higher than their IQs but that doesn’t mean all people of faith are the enemy. Every movement has its lunatic fringe, yours as well as mine.

    BTW Ligonier (where RC Sproul got his start) is not too far from us… I’ve never met RC but there’s only 1 degree of separation so I’ve been aware of his work for a long time. He is a good, kind, and intelligent man, well-respected in his field and not in any way a lunatic. I don’t always agree with everything he says but he is worthy of considerate hearing and polite response.

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  19. Ed Darrell says:

    Peg,

    The origins of life is not part of evolution theory. Darwin did not really speculate on origins of life in the 1859 book.

    Creationism denies natural selection in the classic form. Creationism in 1830 denied that species have variation at all. Creationism has shifted over the years, adopting any number of disproven claims in order to set religion as the opponent of science — a wrong-headed philosophy in Christian doctrine, certainly, and an odd way to take a stand in the 21st century. Recently, and in this mockumentary film “Expelled!,” many creationists take the position that natural order is indeed proof of God, and these people deny much of the past 20 years of genetic research and evolutionary development research in order to hold to their position that life is just too complicated for anyone to understand.

    I think that’s a weak and faulty argument for faith, and personally I find it quite contrary to scripture. But under our Constitution, people may believe any fool idea they choose. That freedom does not extend to their right to instruct my children or grandchildren — or any child who may grow up to check my groceries or pump my gasoline — in their folderol.

    More immediate to me, their right to believe in foolish things does not grant them a right to interfere with cancer research, heart research, or infectious disease research, as they too often try to do. Ignorance is a more dangerous disease than cancer, often. I resent religious fanatics claiming a right to spread ignorance.

    Darwin’s theories point to how new species arise from existing species. As you’ve noted, that assumes life is already in existence.

    Scientific experimentation may demonstrate how life arises; it’s come awfully close already — but that’s not the goal of astrobiology and origin-of-life research. Researchers are trying to figure out what the necessary markers of life are, to aid the exploration of nearby planets and deeper space. You should probably get familiar with current research in the area of origins of life — I think it’s much more advanced than you realize. Start here with this wonderful introduction to Andrew Ellington’s work; and check out Astrobiology Magazine, and look especially for NASA’s work in the area.

    And if you seriously study the work of the ID movement, you’ll find that ultimately they do disagree with the idea that selection of any sort affects subsequent generations as evolution theory proposes. And specifically, they deny that such breeding CAN effect changes in living organisms without some intervention from God. It’s simply impossible to say that Darwin was wrong on the grander view, but not wrong on any specific detail, as the ID people often try to claim in public appearances. Claiming Darwin was wrong is essential to the ID movement’s need to demonize Darwin and science, in their view how to get religious instruction into public schools. It’s not a path I would choose were that my goal, but it is the path they chose and defend — all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, they hope, where, they hope, politics will trump science and law.

    And, were it true that intelligent design is a benign speculation worthy of study, why would it be that the Discovery Institute and its colleagues show up to government education agencies to argue against teaching evolution, insisting it’s a violation of religious freedom for any child to learn science?

    We are under assault here in Texas. Were it true that ID is not intended as such an assault, we would not be.

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  20. Peg says:

    Thanks for the pointers to the articles. I agree evolution — a matter of selective breeding over time, whether natural or man-made — effects changes in living organisms that will continue into subsequent generations. I don’t think anyone’s disagreeing with that point.

    However evolution is really about the development of species, not their origins (in spite of the ambitious title of Darwin’s book). Darwin et al don’t, and can’t, explain how living things got here in the first place, and no amount of scientific experimentation can do so. Asking for scientific proof of the beginning of all things, no matter what one holds as truth, is an impossibility.

    Creationism, which the second of the above articles holds up to ridicule, is not the opposite of evolution. There is nothing in any religious teaching that says both creationism and evolution can’t be true. Creationism is the belief that the origin of all things is a rational being greater than ourselves, that the natural order demonstrates a rationality of planning and foresight that is above and beyond the collective wisdom of humanity. To say that nature displays a rational order about it — and one that we didn’t put there — is hardly a stretch of the intellect.

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  21. Ed Darrell says:

    Rational arguments here:
    https://timpanogos.wordpress.com/why-study-evolution/
    https://timpanogos.wordpress.com/intelligent-design-a-pig-that-does-not-fly/

    You’ve come in a little late, Peg, and I apologize for not taking the time to fill you in. Yes, there’s a fight going on. Yes, the other guys are getting kicked. No, it’s not unfair. They started kicking the women and children, first. Now it’s their turn.

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  22. Onkel Bob says:

    Peg, there are numerous well documented flaws in the arguments put forth by these men. These flaws have been brought to their attention and yet they refuse to acknowledge, address, or refute these flaws. When you get to this point, the only thing left to say is that ignorance is not a point of view. After that, ridicule and parody are the least of the punishments they deserve. If I were the tyrant of Athens, I deem the sentence of Socrates would be appropriate.

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  23. Peg says:

    I’m not hearing any rational arguments here, just a lot of put-downs of Stein, Sproul, and anyone who agrees with them. Isn’t education supposed to be about open-mindedness and rational consideration of many viewpoints?

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  24. Sproul says about 4 minutes in, “It’s a religious issue and a philosophical issue”…he should have just stopped there and left it at that. That, I could have agreed with.

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