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The longest thread evolves

1_610x-thumb-300x282.jpgA week or so ago I began to receive feedback that posts weren't being displayed on my entry "Win Ben Stein's Mind," from Dec. 3, 2008. That was my attack on Stein's film "Expelled," which supported Creationism against the Theory of Evolution. The comment thread, having reached 2,648 posts, many of them hundreds of words in length, was fed up, and wasn't going to take it anymore. I consulted the web gods at the Sun-Times. I was told...uh...ahem...perhaps the thread was growing a tad long, and was maxing out the software? After 2,640 posts and 239,093 words, perhaps this was the case.

Today I received a post from one of the stalwart debaters on that thread, Much Aloha Bill, advising: "Put this puppy to sleep. It's had a long run." A few days earlier, Randy Masters, the most stalwart defender of Intelligent Design, had written to advise that a couple of his posts hadn't gone through. And so perhaps Movable Type was gently informing me that enough was enough.

I stayed interested in the discussion right up to the end. Remember, I personally vet every post, and so even though I was rarely responding in the last few months, I was still monitoring. It seemed to me the Evolutionists had won, but then I announced that decision last February, in an entry titled, "Darwin Survives as the Fittest." After all, I have a horse in this race. I believe Darwin's theory is not only sound, but is perhaps the most useful theory in the history of science.

It must be said that Randy Masters debated heroically. He made no attempt to associate himself with the fundamentalists who had, higher in the thread, seriously argued that dinosaurs walked the earth with man and other such poppycock. Drawing from such I.D. defenders such as Michael J. Behe, William A. Dembski and Jonathan Wells, he employed examples of organisms which, in his opinion, could not have evolved, but must have been Intelligently Designed. He was battered by the Darwinians but pulled himself up by the ropes and stepped back into the ring time and again.

2_Darwin tree.jpgThe Tree of Evolution.

Since his argument, in my opinion, cannot be won, I was impressed by his persistence. I confess there were times when I wondered if he was deliberately acting as a devil's advocate, spurring on his opponents. Most of his predecessors had fallen out of the discussion, but he was game, ingenious, and sincere. And week after week, month after month, the thread grew. There were perhaps a dozen still involved when the software maxed out.

I almost didn't write that Ben Stein entry. I set out to write an ordinary review of "Expelled" for the excellent reason that I am fascinated by the elegance and insight provided by the Theory of Evolution. I was going to review the film, not write a 4,000-word screed against the clueless Ben Stein. That was until I arrived at the astonishing final passages of his film, and then I grew really angry--as angry as I've been about any film. I quote:

Toward the end of the film, we find that Stein actually did want to title it "From Darwin to Hitler." He finds a Creationist who informs him, "Darwinism inspired and advanced Nazism"...

...Stein is only getting warmed up. He takes a field trip to visit one "result" of Darwinism: Nazi concentration camps. "As a Jew," he says, "I wanted to see for myself." We see footage of gaunt, skeletal prisoners. Pathetic children. A mound of naked Jewish corpses. "It's difficult to describe how it felt to walk through such a haunting place," he says. Oh, go ahead, Ben Stein. Describe. It filled you with hatred for Charles Darwin and his followers, who represent the overwhelming majority of educated people in every nation on earth. It is not difficult for me to describe how you made me feel by exploiting the deaths of millions of Jews in support of your argument for a peripheral Christian belief. It fills me with contempt.

When I wrote the entry, I was naive enough to believe that Stein's association of Darwin and Hitler was an aberration, some kind of personal quirk. Amazingly, it turned out that many agreed with him, and traced what they felt were the logical links between the most influential scientist of all time and the evil monster. Many of their arguments, I found, were borrowed, paraphrased, or sometimes just copied, from right-wing web sites that also retailed other lies and distortions.

I began to realize that almost any position, no matter how absurd, can find support and spurious "facts" somewhere on the web. Consider the current reports that Obama wants to murder your grandmother. And oh, yes, I've received links proving that charge. If you have a living grandmother, it's a wonder she has survived this long. The problem with the debate on the Longest Thread was that the I.D. side was polluted by factoids, fallacies and hyperbole, drowning out those, like Masters, who attempted to engage in rational argument.


Don Rosa's drawing of the Duck Family Tree 

The zealots of Creationism are indefatigable. Even now there are attempts to legislate that the pseudo science of Intelligent Design must be taught in school systems as a "debate" with Evolution. In common sense terms, that debate was over a century ago. Yet there are votes out there for politicians who support such legislation, and at the 2008 GOP presidential debate, no less that three candidates said they do not believe in evolution. I suppose I should be gratified that there weren't more. They were Mike Huckabee, Tom Tancredo, and Sam Brownback. Some took their stand on religious grounds, but didn't include Mitt Romney, who as a Mormon knows his church has no official dogma about whether or not Darwin's theory is valid. A Mormon can be a Darwinian if he chooses. Romney chooses to.

But it isn't my purpose to take up the debate again. This entry is more of a salute to what will apparently be the longest thread in this blog's history. I wanted to see if Bill Hays' post "put this puppy to sleep" had even made it online--but frankly, I grew tired of trying to scroll down, down, down, to the bottom of the thread.

At one point, about 75,000 words ago, I actually submitted this thread to the Guinness Book of World Records, suggesting (without evidence) that it was the longest single thread on the web. There may be some with more total posts, but are they any longer? Posters on this blog, I don't need to tell you, tend to be wordy. I've received comments longer than the entries that inspired them.

Guinness replied that they don't even consider such web-based "records." That makes sense, because it would in theory be possible to create a thread limited only by your endurance in copy-and-paste keyboarding. So there will be no world record. And no more entries on the Ben Stein thread. And early next week I'll be off to the Toronto film festival, where I'll post more or less daily entries, as I did from Cannes. Entries on movies. Just think.

Of course--if you want to continue the discussion about evolution, this entry does start a whole new comment thread. Smile.

Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly in Jon Amiel's "Creation," premiering at Toronto:

Trailer for "One Million Years B.C."

Spencer Tracy and Fredric March in "Inherit the Wind"

Three leading I.D. proponents defend their theory, and three Darwinians respond, in a debate reprinted from Natural History magazine.

The entry that started it all: "Win Ben Stein's mind." .

My entry titled, "Darwin survives as the fittest."

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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