Archive for category Movies

Movie Review: Exodus Gods and Kings

Yesterday morning I caught the early bird showing of the new movie “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” directed by Ridley Scott. Regular readers of Funmurphys: the Blog already know that I have written and published a new book about the Hebrew Exodus from Egypt, focusing specifically on crossing the Red Sea. The book is titled: Between Migdol and the Sea: Crossing the Red Sea with Faith and Science (2014), by Carl Drews. This review is written from a book author’s perspective.

Spectacle and Grandeur

A good biblical epic should provide jaw-dropping spectacle and majestic grandeur. Exodus: Gods and Kings provides these in abundance! Some of the earlier scenes show the great sweep of the Nile delta, with pyramids rising along the banks of the great river, while Bronze Age citizens bustle about under the stern watch of the Pharaoh’s foremen. Ancient Egypt was a marvelous place! This movie really brings out the grandeur of the New Kingdom in all its glory.

Ten Plagues

The Ten Plagues are depicted graphically in the film, and the result is disturbing. A week ago I would have not imagined an infestation of frogs to be all that bad, but I just about jumped out of my theater seat to see all those slimy amphibians crawling over everything! Yuck! Then there came all manner of flies, more flies than I have ever seen even in Alaska. We saw the movie in 3-D, and we were recoiling and trying to get out of the swarm. The plagues are very well done by the cinematographer.

Exodus: Gods and Kings brings out a theological point: During the Ten Plagues, a lot of people suffered greatly. According to the narrative in Exodus, Pharaoh suffered because he refused to let the Israelites go. Ridley Scott makes the point that many common Egyptians suffered as well, through no fault of their own. What kind of god would strike dead all the first-born sons? Modern Christians continue to feel uncomfortable about these episodes, and we debate various resolutions. Generally we conclude that Jesus doesn’t do things that way any more, and we follow Jesus.

God as a Petulant British Boy

God Almighty is portrayed in Exodus: Gods and Kings as a boy about 8 years old with a British accent. I can accept God speaking to Elijah as a “still, small voice” in 1 Kings 19. I believe that God became incarnate in the baby Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem. But the surly attitude of the God-boy in this movie was jarring, and I was left wondering why Moses would accept the commands from such a manifestation of the Almighty. At least the boy should have had more gravitas, and should have spoken to Moses with graceful majesty. Was Morgan Freeman not available?

Goblins and Chariots

There is a scene in The Hobbitt: An Unexpected Journey where Gandalf and the dwarves kill the Great Goblin and escape from the underground goblin kingdom. When my family watches this sequence at home, we usually keep a body count of goblins, yelling out the numbers as they fall. Our total usually comes out to about 140.

During the pursuit of Moses by the Egyptian army, Rameses II charges with all his chariots down a narrow mountain road after the fleeing Israelites. Naturally some careless chariot driver careens off the edge and tumbles down the mountain. Then another chariot hits a rock, and within a few moments there is a huge landslide about 30 chariots behind Pharaoh, and all the remaining vehicles in the column either tumble to their tragic and untimely deaths, or are blocked by the now-impassable road. So – Rameses is left with about 30 chariots out of the 1,000 that departed the Egyptian capital. 400,000 Israelites ought to be able to make quick work of them.

But when Pharaoh reaches the beach somehow all his 1,000 chariots have miraculously re-appeared. Someone was not counting properly! Yeah, I know it’s just a movie. But I was chuckling over the movie’s continuity error while still enjoying the action. And the action in Exodus: Gods and Kings is superb!

Crossing the Red Sea at Nuweiba, not the Straits of Tiran

At one point Moses brings out a hand-written map showing his planned route from Egypt back to his wife Zipporah in Midian. Maybe nobody else in the audience cared, but I instantly recognized the route after studying that geography for five years. Moses, generations of biblical scholars would gladly trade several chapters of Leviticus for just one glance at your map! The traditional route of the Exodus is generally agreed, but there are other proposals.

Between Migdol and the Sea (Drews 2014) Figure 11-1 with lines added in cyan showing routes from the movie Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014). Copyright 2014 by Carl Drews.

My book Between Migdol and the Sea (Drews, 2014) provides a map of the Sinai peninsula in Chapter 11 (right). The traditional route is marked here in red and green. In Ridley Scott’s Exodus, Moses plans to take the cyan (light blue) route down the west coast of Sinai and cross the Straits of Tiran (dotted cyan). But he takes a detour through the Sinai mountains and gets stuck at Nuweiba instead (solid cyan). In the movie the Israelites cross the Red Sea from Nuweiba over to modern Saudi Arabia.

There are a couple of problems with this scenario. An earlier scene shows Moses splashing across the “Straits of Tiran” on his way to meet Zipporah. But this strait in real life is not like Adam’s Bridge across the Palk Strait from India to Sri Lanka, oh no! The Enterprise Passage in the Straits of Tiran today is 250 meters (820 feet) deep.[Between Migdol and the Sea, page 179] Nobody will be splashing across there.

The underwater ridge at Nuweiba is 765 meters (2,510 feet) deep.[Migdol, page 179] That would be quite a hike.

How Not to Communicate Science

This little vignette was actually pretty funny, especially for me. Rameses is getting understandably tired of the Plagues, and he calls in various advisors to learn how to stop the plagues, or at least to predict when they will end. Bad advice results in immediate execution. One of these advisors is a Scientist who has not taken the seminar on How to Communicate Science. He gleefully launches into a technical discussion of how the crocodiles churned up the water and made it turn red, how all that extra sediment caused the fish to die and the frogs to multiply. Rameses knows this already and scowls at Scientist, wondering when he’s going to come to the point. “And what comes next?” asks the Scientist happily. “Flies!” retorts Rameses in disgust, swatting at the hundreds of flies swarming around him. “Yes!” answers the Scientist, obviously pleased that his students are following the lecture.

The next shot shows the Scientist on the scaffold about to be executed.

In science communication we talk about Framing the Message. Framing means to go beyond the facts; your audience wants to know why these facts matter and how they are relevant to their own concerns. In climate science, a government audience wants to know how society will be affected, not just how many degrees the temperature will increase.

Meteorite and Tsunami

In Exodus: Gods and Kings, the parting of the Red Sea is accomplished by a flaming meteorite that falls into the sea beyond the horizon. This impact causes a tsunami in which the sea draws back for the Israelites to cross, then returns in a giant wave while the Egyptian chariots pursue. In the movie God sends the meteorite at the right place and time for Moses to lead his people across, so of course this is full-on theistic astronomy. Ridley Scott does not fall into the “God of the Gaps” fallacy that seems to plague certain atheist bloggers! Good for him.

The Bible says the east wind drove back the water all night long (Exodus 14:20-21). But would a meteorite impact also work? The answer is: not likely. For the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that struck Indonesia, there were three huge waves over 1.5 hours. The wave period from drawback through the return surge was about 30 minutes. There have been some tsunamis with a longer wave period, but the basic wave cycle is measured in tens of minutes, not hours. At the Nuweiba crossing Moses and the Israelites would have to descend 2,500 vertical feet and then crank up the other side back to sea level, all in 30 minutes. The Colorado Mountain Club uses 1,000 feet per hour as a rule of thumb when climbing fourteeners (Between Migdol and the Sea, page 166). A tsunami simply does not provide enough time to make the crossing.

But the wave action is spectacular! Exodus: Gods and Kings does action very well.

Go see it!

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God’s role in crossing the Red Sea

Certain bloggers have begun to misrepresent my religious views on how God works through science and the natural forces. It’s time to post a clear statement (again).

Exodus 14:20-21 states:

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided.
(Exodus 14:21 ESV)

We may summarize the Exodus passage as follows:
1. God sent the east wind.
2. The wind moved the water.

Part 1 is the realm of Theology since it involves Divine action. I would love to know if God used a low-pressure system here, but without further description I cannot tell.

Part 2 is the realm of Science. Wind moving water is what the COAWST ocean model calculates, and this is what I published in PLoS ONE in 2010.

If anyone wishes to replace Part 1 with a scientific statement and hypothesize how Moses knew where to stand at just the right time, they are free to submit a manuscript to their favorite scientific journal. Since the Bible says God sent the wind, I’ll stick with Part 1 as stated.

For readers of Funmurphys: the Blog who wish to know how God works through science, I recommend the following books:

“Finding Darwin’s God” by Kenneth Miller.
“The Language of God” by Francis Collins.
Anything by Karl Giberson.

These three Christians (and others) receive harsh criticism from Young-Earth Creationists and New Atheists alike. I am proud to be in their august company in one small way.

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Historicity of the Exodus

My new book Between Migdol and the Sea (2014) argues strongly in favor of the historicity of the Hebrew Exodus from Egypt. A large group of Semitic Shasu really did depart from New Kingdom Egypt, make their way across the Sinai wilderness, and invade Canaan. Their recollections of that experience are contained in the biblical book of Exodus.

I present information from scholarly sources in support of the historical Exodus, and include some of my own research as well. Migdol makes five major points:

1. General archaeological support for Exodus

The general background of the narrative in Genesis 37 through Exodus is well-supported by archaeology. Chapter 9 of Between Migdol and the Sea cites Finkelstein and Silberman’s book The Bible Unearthed:

One thing is certain. The basic situation described in the Exodus saga – the phenomenon of immigrants coming down to Egypt from Canaan and settling in the eastern border regions of the delta – is abundantly verified in the archaeological finds and historical texts. From earliest recorded times throughout antiquity, Egypt beckoned as a place of shelter and security for the people of Canaan at times when drought, famine, or warfare made life unbearable or even difficult. (F&S Unearthed 2001, pages 52-53)

2. Realistic number of Israelites

The population estimate of “millions of Israelites” is wildly incorrect. This number throws off everything else. Because bloggers and Wikipedia editors think they have to find traces of millions of people, naturally the Exodus tale seems far-fetched. Chapter 8 calculates a total population of 36,000 using four proxy measures of the Hebrew population found in the biblical text. The revised number is much more in accord with historical realities of Egypt and Canaan during the Late Bronze Age. If you read of someone discussing “millions of Israelites” who allegedly took part in the Exodus from Egypt, that person is not a serious scholar.

3. Archaeology cannot tell us everything

Archaeology has limitations. Archaeology is not the only window into the past. One puzzle of the Sinai wandering is the apparent lack of remains from the Hebrew passage through the wilderness. However, as Professor Kenneth Kitchen points out, “tented wanderers like the Hebrews (and others) have commonly left no surviving traces.” (Reliability Old Testament 2003, p. 191) Migdol Chapter 9, p. 218-219, provides an additional example drawn from my own travel in the Colorado wilderness.

Archaeology is neither the only nor the final word on ancient history. Literature, geography, demographics, genetics, physics, chemistry, and even coastal oceanography all have much to say about history. A combination of disciplines provides the most reliable approach to evaluate the historicity of the Exodus. I make this recommendation throughout Between Migdol and the Sea.

Israel Finkelstein and Neil Silberman are fine sources as archaeologists, but their handling of the Old Testament as literature is poor. Kitchen agrees with me (Reliability 2003, p. 464). For example, F&S claim that “the Genesis stories revolve (mainly) around Judah” (Unearthed p. 44, 46), and this idea forms a substantial part of their Josiah Hypothesis. But their claim is not correct. The Genesis stories revolve around Jacob/Israel, Abraham, and then Joseph in that order. Judah the Patriarch comes in at a distant tenth (Migdol 2014, p. 225-227).

4. Accurate picture of Egypt during the New Kingdom

Exodus 1:11 reports that the Hebrew workers built the store-cities of Pithom and Raamses. Pithom and Pi-Rameses (modern Tell el-Retabeh and Qantir) were indeed occupied during the New Kingdom reign of Pharaoh Rameses II (Hoffmeier Sinai 2005, p. 57, 64)(Kitchen Reliability 2003, p. 257, 256). The city of Pi-Rameses flourished from about 1270-1120 BC, after which Tanis replaced it in prominence. These and other examples (Migdol, p. 245-249) show an accurate knowledge of Egypt during the Ramesside period that would be very difficult to obtain in Jerusalem during the reign of King Josiah (~620 BC).

5. Narrative of the crossing is scientifically accurate

Passage of the Jews through the Red Sea, 1891 painting by Ivan Aivazovsky.

Passage of the Jews through the Red Sea, 1891 painting by Ivan Aivazovsky.
Wikimedia Commons: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Aivazovsky_Passage_of_the_Jews_through_the_Red_Sea.jpg

Between Migdol and the Sea Chapter 3 presents a history of researchers and non-scientists who realized (with some surprise) that the crossing narrative in Exodus 14 matches a weather event known as wind setdown. Chapters 4 and 5 describe how my own research revealed more details of the Israelites’ escape through the Red Sea (Hebrew yam suf), including a likely site at Tell Kedua in the eastern Nile delta.

Exodus 14 is an accurate description of a wind setdown event. Migdol Chapter 10 notes that the Kedua Gap is about the only spot where the waters could divide. What is an accurate account of a rare weather event doing in a Bronze Age text? The simplest explanation is that someone was near the Migdol cluster of forts and observed it happen. For this tale to make it to Canaan, someone had to depart from Egypt and take the story with them. That is an Exodus.

Book

Obviously there is much more detail in Between Migdol and the Sea than the summary provided here. The book includes a list of 167 References, many of them to scientific and scholarly publications. For readers of Funmurphys: the Blog who are interested in the Hebrew Exodus from Egypt, this book will give you plenty of solid information to consider. It makes a great Christmas present!

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Kindle e-book: Between Migdol and the Sea

The Kindle version of Between Migdol and the Sea is complete! Book readers who prefer electronic viewing to print can now learn all about Crossing the Red Sea with Faith and Science on their Kindle readers.

Alert followers of Funmurphys: the Blog will note that almost two months have passed since the print version of Migdol was published. You may correctly infer that preparing the Kindle version of Migdol was challenging. There are several reasons for this. A technical book is not a romance novel. It was not a problem to include my numbered citations in the text, and place a list of published references at the end of the e-book. But three scientific aspects of Between Migdol and the Sea gave me some trouble:

  • Figures
  • Tables
  • Formulas

Figures

Exodus route from Egypt to Canaan

Between Migdol and the Sea: Chapter 11 Figure 1. Traditional route of the Exodus from Egypt into Canaan. Copyright 2014 by Carl Drews.

I included a number of illustrations in my book, some in color and some in black and white. These figures help the reader to understand the science and geography of the Hebrew Exodus from Egypt. The problem is that the various Kindle readers have different displays. Some are high resolution (lots of pixels per inch), and some are in black-and-white. The reader can also select a huge font or a tiny font.

I want readers of Between Migdol and the Sea to have a good reader experience, no matter what device they are using. Amazon provides a preview application that simulates what the book draft will look like on various Kindle models. After a lot of fiddling, I decided to set the width of images to 800 pixels and let the Kindle determine how to lay out the page based on its internal algorithms.

Tables

There are various online forums discussing e-book formats, and some of the comments state that certain formats don’t even support tables. Ugh! Scientific writing sometimes requires the presentation of a group of numbers. Do you really want to read a long series of declarative sentences? No, and I don’t want to write repetitive prose either. Fortunately the Kindle models really do support tables. There is a five-column table in Chapter 7 (Following the Trail) that looks best if you rotate your device into landscape orientation.

Formulas

In Chapter 8 (Counting the Israelites) I present a revised estimate for the number of men, women, and children who crossed the Red Sea with Moses: 35,750. I really wanted to nail down the number of escaping Hebrews and refute the long-standing canard that there were “millions of Israelites” departing from Egypt during the reign of Rameses II. That huge number was simply messing up everything else, especially archaeology. I included a set of calculations to explain and support my estimate. Here is an example:

Formula 8-4

Between Migdol and the Sea: Chapter 8, formula 4.

If you don’t like to read all these numbers, you can get the idea just from the plots. Formulas don’t flow and re-size as well as plain text does in an electronic book. I converted my formulas to images, and the result is satisfactory.

Flames of Desire

Flames of Desire represents the archetypal romance novel. I just made up that title, but there is an actual romance novel by that name if you care to search for it. As a scientific writer I have this idea that the most difficult part of formatting and printing a romance novel is to get a good photo of Fabio and Megan Fox for the front cover. Famous models are expensive, and so are long wispy evening gowns; plus you have to put some Medieval castle into the background. Maybe they just green-screen those looming thunderclouds. But the text of the book interior is just text; it flows from page to page when the reader changes the font size or uses a larger device. There are no figures, no tables, and no formulas in Flames of Desire. The Kindle version should be easier to produce than the print version.

But I could be wrong. For all you romance novelists out there, please feel free to let us know in the comments section below what challenges you encounter in preparing Flames of Desire for print and electronic readers. Tell us about your craft! Here at funmurphys we are happy to hear and learn from your different perspective.

Boulder Book Store

For book buyers who prefer to shop locally, Between Migdol and the Sea is now available at the Boulder Book Store on Pearl Street in Boulder, Colorado.

Exodus: Gods and Kings

The new movie by director Ridley Scott will be released to U.S. audiences on December 12, 2014. I am posting a humorous series of blogs that evaluate the movie with respect to science and history. To read more about Exodus, please visit Carl Drews at Google Plus.

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Dark Watchmen Vs. The Architect of Fear

Is this the day? Is this the beginning of the end? There is no time to wonder. No time to ask why is it happening, why is it finally happening. There is time only for fear, for the piercing pain of panic. Do we pray? Or do we merely run now and pray later? Will there be a later? Or is this the day?

This is the opening narration for the original Outer Limits episode “The Architects of Fear” where a group of scientists fake an alien invasion in an attempt to forestall escalating international tensions and a potential nuclear holocaust. We took in the Dark Knight over the weekend and this quote could have opened the third act of the film where the Joker is threatening the Gotham City with widespread destruction.

The Dark Knight is a dark film about a city fighting a terrorist. it’s one of the grimmest movies I have seen in a while. It’s not as downbeat as “Seconds” but certainly the “Empire Strikes Back” may be the last mass market film to end on so low a note. It’s very well done but definitely a movie with adult themes.

Heath Ledger’s performance is chilling. His Joker reminded me of Lewis Black on a rant (who they should consider now that this will be Ledger’s last role). It becomes clear that the Joker is truly an agent of chaos, his real goal is for the citizens of Gotham City to lose their faith in orderly society (“the hidden conspiracy of goodwill”) and descend into anomie. I viewed It as a cautionary tale for any free society fighting terrorism.

“He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”
Freidrich Nietzsche Aphorism 146

Batman is challenged to drop his own code of ethics and use whatever means necessary. But in spite of horrific provocation is able to follow his internal compass.

“Sed quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” Juvenal

Which is normally translated as “But who will guard the guardians?” and Alan Moore interpreted as “Who Watches the Watchmen?” (more on that in a moment). To locate the Joker Batman engages in a massive invasion of privacy, but does so in a way that he has no personal control over the information gathered or the mechanism he created, allowing it to be destroyed when it’s no longer needed. This is in the face of a villain who is killing any government official who tries to stand against him, and for good measure follows through on his threat to blow up a hospital.

Although I said it was a dark film about adult themes the boys both enjoyed it and we had a long discussion about civil liberty, and the difference between the police, the National Guard, and the Army. And the difference between the way that a free society fights criminals, affording them protection under the law, and enemy combatants who are committed to the destruction of a society.

“The mature man lives quietly, does good privately, takes responsibility for his actions, treats others with friendliness and courtesy, finds mischief boring and avoids it. Without the hidden conspiracy of goodwill, society would not endure an hour.”
Kenneth Rexroth in the “Introduction to Tolstoy’s The Kingdom of God Is Within You”

Ultimately, when confronted with the challenge to kill complete strangers or be killed themselves, Gotham’s citizens–even its criminals–refrain.

The previews included the new Watchmen movie, which looked outstanding. If you haven’t read the comic graphic novel, it’s an extremely dense and intricately plotted exploration justice, vigilantism, and what it means to be a hero. My personal preference would have been for a 12 episode miniseries, with each episode an hour to 90 minutes long to do Watchmen justice, but that’s probably harder to fund and monetize and it’s taken more than two decades to bring it to the screen as is. It will probably get redone in 30 years as a hypertext movie to do it justice.

Alan Moore was apparently not aware of the Outer Limits episode “Architects of Fear” when he wrote Watchmen, but became aware of it as he and Dave Gibbons were collaborating on it, inserting a reference to it in the last issue.

We watched the the “Architects of Fear” again tonight, and I was surprised and how scary it was and how poignant the concluding narration remains:

Scarecrows and magic and other fatal fears do not bring people closer together. There is no magic substitute for soft caring and hard work, for self-respect and mutual love. If we can learn this from the mistake these frightened men made, then their mistake will not have been merely grotesque, it would at least have been a lesson. A lesson, at last, to be learned.

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Movie Review of “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed”

Last night I went to see Ben Stein’s film “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed” at my local hexadecaplex. For $9.75 I got to see a terrible movie, and you got this review. I recently served as a guest speaker for an adult Sunday School class entitled, “The Harmony of Faith and Science” at a local Christian church, so this topic is fresh in my mind. I brought a clipboard with me and did my best to take notes in the dark: 5 pages of notes, and 3 more afterwards out in the cinema lobby.

The “Expelled” movie starts right off with an amateurish cinematic device: displaying old black-and-white newsreels of bad historical events while the narrator intones something you’re supposed be scared of. The opening sequence features the construction of the Berlin Wall. Throughout the movie we see clips of tanks, guns, Nazi soldiers, fistfights, a condescending school teacher, even Eddie Haskell beating up The Beaver! – flashing up on the screen whenever Ben Stein talks about Something Bad. When the film makes claims of repression and academic unfairness, you can bet that another old newsreel with scratchy sound is coming. My audience even laughed at a guillotine coming down on an empty block, it was so ridiculous! These clips are a childish device for trying to convince people. I don’t know why anyone over the age of 10 would fall for them.

Anyone expecting a Christian movie here will be disappointed. By my count Jesus is only mentioned in a background song, and the word “Christ” is spoken once. The Bible is mentioned a couple of times, but the Book is never opened. God is mentioned a fair number of times, but mostly in the general sense. The movie contains no in-depth discussion of God’s revelation in the Bible or in the person of Jesus Christ.

The movie reviews at Wikipedia and Scientific American are scholarly reviews, with proper citations and clear reasoning. They leave you with the unfortunate impression that “Expelled” is in the same class of scholarship. But make no mistake – “Expelled” is a really bad movie! Even those bad reviews make the movie sound more sophisticated than it really is. Think of Ben Stein blundering his way through a series of interviews and you’ll have a better idea of what “Expelled” is about.

The movie makes some astoundingly wrong claims. David Berlinski states, “We don’t even know what a species is!” Huh? What has he been reading? A speciesis “often defined as a group of organisms capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring. While in many cases this definition is adequate, more precise or differing measures are often used, such as based on similarity of DNA or morphology.” It is true that species distinctions are sometimes fuzzy, but this fuzziness is evidence for evolution. Berlinski is citing evidence for evolution in the very act of denying that there is any.

I was amused to see how the filmmakers used bad lighting and unusual camera angles to make Richard Dawkins look like a vampire. Dawkins The Vampire appears throughout the movie, the very embodiment of all that is evil in modern science. He even gets his own theme music; my fellow movie-goers were very polite not to holler out “Don’t go in there!” Dawkins The Vampire is extremely useful to Ben Stein for creating Outrage, and this is the same use that creationists have for him.

“Expelled” attempts to make the usual creationist connection between “Darwinism” and atheism. This is bunk. Looking for theology in Origin of Species is a bit like looking for fishing techniques in the Gospels; you can find valid information, but it’s obvious that the main message is something else. Nevertheless, here is how Charles Darwin closed his Sixth Edition:

There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.

The “Creator” is Darwin’s reference to God in the Victorian language of his time. Darwin may be a Deist or an agnostic, but the theological view expressed here is certainly not atheism.

If anyone cares what Adolf Hitler said, here is a quotation from Mein Kampf regarding God:

Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord (Adolf Hitler, 1943, in Mein Kampf. Translated by R. Manheim. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. Volume 1: A Reckoning, last sentence of Chapter 2: Years of Study and Suffering in Vienna).

If this blog were a Ben Stein “documentary” we would zoom in on the words “Almighty Creator”, like he does with a quotation by Thomas Jefferson. However . . .

I need to review an important concept for everyone’s benefit: The Christian Church does not formulate doctrine based on the views of Adolf Hitler. The Church does not derive its position on biological evolution by examining the views of Adolf Hitler. The Church does not take a stance on homosexuality based on what Adolf Hitler did. The Church does not learn about the Creator based on what Adolf Hitler wrote, either in a positive or a negative sense. I hope that’s clear now. And by the way, checking against Mein Kampf is not part of the scientific peer-review process either.

My Anglican church uses the Bible to determine doctrine, and the Bible alone. Anglican Article Six states: “Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.” So what does the Bible say? Here are some verses from Genesis 1:

11 And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so.
20 And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.
24 And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.

The Bible describes the earth as God’s agent of creation – the earth brings forth life at God’s command. This picture is in accordance with a theistic view of evolution, or BioLogos if you prefer the terminology of Francis CollinsKenneth Miller also holds this view. Genesis 2 emphasizes that life is ultimately made from dirt, which is also in accordance with biological evolution.

Ben Stein raises the possibility that Christianity and evolution are compatible, citing the positions of the Catholic Church and most Protestant denominations, then quickly discards the notion based on quotations by Dawkins The Vampire and a reporter (with glasses; I didn’t catch his name). I don’t know why any Christian would expect theological truth to come out of Richard Dawkins’ mouth. But Stein gets the brief quotes he wants and then quickly moves onward, but not so quickly that he can’t mention the term “liberal Christians”. Later Count Dawkula reads through a list of insulting terms for the God of the Old Testament.

I simply can’t believe the claims of academic unfairness in “Expelled” without further investigation. The movie quickly and firmly establishes its non-trustworthiness through the use of those interspersed newsreel clips. If Ben Stein will do that, he’ll do anything. Here in Boulder we are familiar with the recent case of Ward Churchill, and we know that there is often a large discrepancy between why a person says he was fired and what his employer says. I’m not going to sit there in a movie theater and say, “Gosh this is a “documentary”! Everything must be true!” I recommend reading the Wikipedia article for more information.

During many interviews it’s obvious that the film editors have selected certain short film segments from a larger interview to make that person look bad or stupid. If the subject rubs his nose during the interview you’re sure to see that clip. Ben Stein acts needlessly stupid and looks bored during most interviews. Is this some kind of clever interviewing technique? A particularly stupid comment from Stein is, “I thought science was determined by the evidence, not by the courts!” Kitzmiller vs. Dover did not decide a scientific question; it decided that Intelligent Design could not be taught in the public schools.

There were two people in the film for whom I have great respect: Alister McGrath and John Polkinghorne. McGrath is the author of an excellent book about the King James Bible that you should read. He delivers a convincing and well-deserved criticism of Dawkins The Vampire. The Rev. Dr. John Polkinghorne is a Physicist and an Anglican priest. Elsewhere Polkinghorne has stated: “As all sensible people know, scientific Evolution is completely compatible with Christianity: so is Gravity, Relativity (and the rest of Physics, Chemistry and Biology for that matter).” Stein claims that nobody he interviewed believes that evolution and faith are compatible, but that’s obviously not true.

The tour of the Nazi medical facility at Hadamar was sobering. Ben Stein exploits this event by prompting the tour guide to connect it with Darwinism. The only substantial connection between Darwin and Hitler was to interview Richard Weikart and talk about his book From Darwin to Hitler. But anti-Semitism existed for centuries before Darwin! Even Ben Stein concedes that “Darwinism does not automatically equate to Nazism, but was used to justify it.” And Hitler was a psychopath who would twist any “hodgepodge of ideas” to suit his purposes.

Eugenie Scott comes across pretty well, despite the best efforts of Stein and the film editors. They do manage to show that she has a messy desk. There is very little of substance in this movie.

I was surprised to see Michael Behe, the Apostle of Intelligent Design, neither featured nor even mentioned in the “Expelled” movie. Perhaps he was not invited to appear in the film, or he wisely decided not to have anything to do with this farce.

I expected that the “Expelled” movie would make me angry. Instead, I was chuckling as I left the theater. I was chuckling at how pathetic the movie was! “Expelled” might become a cult film someday: “How Not To Make A Documentary”, or “How To Make A Totally Unconvincing Movie While Looking Like A Buffoon”. “Expelled” is just a terrible movie!

At the very end Ben Stein confronts Dawkins The Vampire one final time. It’s hard for me to believe that Count Dawkula, as smart is he is supposed to be, did not see that he was being set up to be the villain. But that’s exactly what happens. Count Dawkula also fell for the oldest interviewer trick in the book: Stein remains silent, and the evil Count thinks he has to fill in the awkward silence with something. So Count Dawkula rambles into speculation about how if there were intelligent designers who designed this planet, they must also have evolved. But it’s mostly incoherent. Score one for Ben Stein.

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The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Bob Ford

I dragged the funWife off to see The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Bob Ford last friday night based on the recommendation of this review at Libertas. I was entranced by the film, the funWife compared it to The Horse Whisperer – the longest, most pointless, boringest movie ever made, let alone conceived. So there you have it – two people, one movie, diametrically opposed viewpoints.

The movie is long, almost 3 hours, but I was mesmerized the entire time. The train robbery scene is simply the most visually stunning art I can recall seeing in a movie theater. Compelling characters, stunning visuals, a laconic pace that allows characters to not just flower but bear fruit as well – what’s not to like? I have to wonder, though, if part of the attraction of this movie is that there are so few like it made anymore.

I wish Hollywood made more movies like this – big, sprawling, character driven. This movie is Brad Pitt’s best work (yes, I know that’s not saying much) but sorry girls not only does he keep his clothes on, he’s usually wearing a large hairy coat. Casey Affleck is amazing, the rest of the cast outstanding, the Missouri countryside never more beautiful (too bad it wasn’t shot on location).

The only sour note was the casting of James Carville as the governor of Missouri. His appearance brought a laugh from the Missouri audience, and his line “my wife has told me I’ve talked long enough” (I bet she, i.e. Mary Matalan, has) and it was jarring in a movie that was otherwise so immersive in the time period.

I was surprised the film could generate as much tension as it did when you know what is going to happen, although the chunk of the movie after the “assassination” was a revelation. What a sad testament to the state of Hollywood today that a movie like this is relegated to art houses. Hollywood just doesn’t know what to do with a grown up movie. Trust your audience, and we’ll both be rewarded.

We’ll always have No Way Out

Maybe I was too harsh on Waterworld.

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Pathfinder

Brian Noggle must be made of stronger stuff than I, because he titled a post “I Can’t Wait For Joe Williams’ Review“. What’s next, “I can’t wait to be smacked repeatedly by a large mackerel”, or “I can’t wait to have a bucket of bricks dumped on my head” or “I would really like to have my toenails pulled out one by one”.

I have to say, I saw the same trailer while I waited to see “300” the other day, and at first I was intrigued – nothing gets my intrigue up like seeing helms with lots of horns, wings, and assorted dodads and swords of destiny – but when it was clear that the movie was going to be a post-modern morality play dressed up in ornate plate armor I lost most (but not all!) of my interest. Yes, ornate plate armor is just that irresistable.

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300

I saw 300 last night and I have to say it wasn’t as bloody as I thought it would be after reading the reviews300 is a mythic epic, well worth seeing in the theater if you like that sort of thing, and like action movies filled with buff men, flying blood (they really really like their blood spatters) and flying heads (of the chopped off variety). But the biggest reason to see it in the theater is to see it it on a big screen. Sometimes I hear movies described as visually stunning, but believe me, this movie is visually stunning. The director, Zach Snider, doesn’t forget for one frame that he is visually telling a story. The movie represents a Spartan survivor of the battle telling the tale to his country men on the eve of another battle against the Persians, so the movie has a certain Homeric cast to it. And there are times the creepiness factor got a bit too much for me and I actually turned away from the screen.

After watching it, I have to wonder if I saw the same movie as some of the critics — were they expecting a documentary? Maybe it’s just me, but I got the impression they were sort of hoping that Greek civilization, and thus Western civilization, got strangled in it’s cradle this time. Because if it had, we wouldn’t have been faced with the horror of people proclaiming about freedom while owning slaves. We would just would have been faced with people owning slaves and never once even mentioning freedom.

What motivated 300 hundred Spartans and 700 Thespians to fight to the death against the Persians in 480 BC? It sure wasn’t a desire to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, end poverty, envision world peace, save the Whales, end Global Warming, or some other modern worthy enterprise. The world was much simpler then – or at least the struggle for survival was much clearer (and harder), and the extreme Lycurgian laws that Sparta lived under were all about how civilization could survive. Sometimes we forget the idea that love of country, a conviction that our culture is superior, and a devotion to duty and others are important values and not just quaint ideas without power to be forgotten or mocked.

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