Expelled: an Intelligent Discussion (Brother Tag-Team)

Given the recent hype surrounding the documentary Expelled, we decided that it would make useful fodder for blog-posting. Thus, we are writing a joint post discussing the movie.

First I will give a brief synopsis. The movie tells the stories of a number of scientists who are proponents of intelligent design (ID). These scientists claim to have been discriminated against and ostracized for their views on ID. In the film, Ben Stein interviews scientists on both sides of the issue, and paints a picture of an atheistic scientific establishment suppressing freedom of thought, attempting to protect itself from attack by silencing critics, and warring against religion. The film provides criticisms of both evolution and the scientific establishment – ultimately suggesting links between evolution and genocide.

As a scientist and a Christian, I find myself daily straddling the supposed divide between science and religion. I feel that the debate on this subject has become increasingly shrill, with each side trying to out-yell the other. In many cases, it is vocal minorities at the fringes of the science and religion camps that get the most press. The film has interesting and important points to make, but because of the aggressive approach used I fear it may become yet another escalation in the shouting match. The debate has many players: scientists who are aggressive naturalists, fundamentalist young earth creationists, agnostic scientists who believe aliens created life on earth, Christian scientists who accept most of the modern scientific framework but think that design is evident in nature, agnostic scientists who presume that ID is yet another propaganda campaign of the fundamentalists, Christians who reject ID as valid science, and the list goes on. All of this variety adds to the confusion. One of the key problems in the entire debate is that for many years young-earth creationists have twisted and misused science, presenting flawed scientific arguments that are attractive, seemingly reasonable, and readily accepted by many Christian audiences who are not equipped with the science background to refute them. As a result of this campaign, scientists have grown increasingly suspicious of anything which smacks of creationism. When ID arrived on the scene, mainstream science was unwilling to listen. As a result, very few scientists have really thought critically about intelligent design. They just assume that it is a tool used by fundamentalist Christians to try to promote a theocracy. However, I will not put all of the onus here on the Christian community. There are equally belligerent scientists, such as Richard Dawkins, who embrace a “religious” atheistic faith and claim that their position is a direct result of science and rationality. In my view, Dawkins has as much faith in atheism as any young-earth creationist does in 6-day creation. Thus we find ourselves in the shouting match. It is this shouting match which provides the environment for the sort of discrimination alleged in the film.

ID has various forms, but it is essentially a theory that “irreducibly complex” biological systems exist or may exist. An “irreducibly complex” system is one that has such a complex and interdependent framework that it could not have been created through random means. For a detailed expose on this concept see Michael Behe’s book, or material on the Discovery Institute’s website. While many of the proponents of ID may have non-scientific motives, I think that ID isn’t inherently unscientific. In fact, one of the earliest proponents of the ID concept in it’s contemporary form was Fred Hoyle, who was an agnostic Nobel laureate astronomer who believed that life originated somewhere other than earth. A couple of years ago I had the privilege of eating dinner with Owen Gingerich, author of God’s Universe before he gave a talk at UCSC. God’s Universe is a short and enjoyable book on the relationship between science and religion. Gingerich is both a respectable scientist and a respectable Christian. His book nobly tries to transcend much of the nastiness of the previous debate. However, I think he goes a bit too far. He argues that ID is not scientific, claiming that science deals only with efficient causes and not final causes (more detail on Aristotle’s causes here). While eating dinner with him, I asked a question about science and final causes. Namely, it seems that many historical sciences (specifically archaeology and anthropology) deal with questions such as, “Was this object designed by someone?” and “What was the purpose of this artifact?” Gingerich’s demarcation of science would leave these questions outside the line. His response to my question was, “Hmm…I’ve never thought of that before. I would have to think about it.” While an acceptable answer for dinner conversation, I don’t feel that I have yet heard an answer to this question that is philosophically satisfying from anyone in the debate. Asking whether something is designed seems to me to be an inherently scientific question. Arguably, however, this question becomes much more difficult to answer when you move to the realm of design of biological organisms. What does a designed organism look like? Perhaps the ID advocates have thus far done an insufficient job of exploring this question. However, while difficult, I don’t see any reason why this question should be labeled as unscientific. My impression is that the scientific community labels it unscientific because of who it is coming from.

After a long digression on ID, I will now return to the movie. In general I felt that much of it was overdone. Especially regarding the imagery. It felt like the conservative equivalent of a Michael Moore conspiracy film. However, it did instill a certain amount of fear and inspiration, and I think in many ways it was correct to depict a primae facie rejection of ID within the scientific community, a general lack of free discussion on the topic, and a stigmatizing of anyone who touches the subject . In my experience with the scientific community ID is most commonly mentioned as the butt of a joke. Perhaps my chief criticism of the film is its general aggressive nature, not only in the film itself but also the aggressive methods used by the producers to get their footage. In the name of intellectual honesty and freedom they knowingly deceived a number of prominent evolutionists into thinking that they were interviewing for a pro-evolution film. This troubles me.

I will mention that the viewer who wishes to be well-informed will also take a good look at the counterarguments offered by http://www.expelledexposed.com/. I hope that the movie will lead to much needed rational discourse on the subject. I fear it will lead to a knee-jerk backlash by the scientific community. In closing, while writing this post I find myself asking the question, “Did I just jeopardize my scientific career?”

-Matt, the elder brother


Interestingly enough, I had not even heard of Expelled until last week when John mentioned something about it on our blog. After watching the trailer, I was definitely interested in seeing it, as it was so utterly provocative. It is much harder for me to comment on the actual climate within the scientific community, because, well, I study Greek and Latin, but hopefully I have some of my own useful commentary to contribute.

My first reaction to Expelled was that it was entertaining. I laughed at least once every few minutes, usually because of the black-and-white films that they would so comically insert into the documentary sections, which acted as a kind of silent, moral narrator. When you consider this on a serious level, though, I’m not sure that these interjections (particularly in such frequency) are entirely appropriate for a documentary. They trivialize the debate, reducing the opponent’s ideas to a joke, which is just a subtle straw-man. When you go to the movie theaters, you are usually going to see a drama, an action movie, a love story, etc., and you are fully aware that what you are seeing is not true. When you go to the movies to see a documentary, though, you have a general assumption that everything being told you is i) true and ii) objective. While Ben Stein doesn’t necessarily cross over this first boundary by making up ridiculous lies about the evolutionist side, he definitely does not present both sides in the same light. I was slightly disturbed by the fact that they framed the interviews of evolutionists to seem wicked or dumb, sometimes even using very dark, spooky lighting. Honestly, after seeing all of that footage of Richard Dawkins, I think I would scream and run if I actually saw him in real life. The ID proponents were the clear martyrs, being directly compared to the Jews in the Holocaust. I mean, seriously, how much more dramatic of an analogy could Mr. Stein really have chosen? If he is accusing the other side of all-out war on ID scientists, it is unfair that he has failed to unveil his own underhanded war-strategies. At one point, the scientist who met Ben in Paris said that he thought there should be a much greater attitude of scientific self-criticism. Unfortunately, Ben Stein’s movie has weighed in fully on one side; it is, in a way, one hand clapping. These propaganda devices were clearly effective in the audience we were in, because Allison and I heard frequent comments from people applauding this attack on evolution. At the end, everyone clapped, which was troubling to us both, because Expelled will probably polarize American society (hopefully a better-informed scientific community will be more immune to this).

I also had mixed feelings about the connection drawn between Darwinism and eugenics, as if all evolutionists are in favor of euthanasia, mass sterilization and social-breeding. Again, the connection to the Holocaust (which is in many ways a legitimate one) nonetheless suggests that if we allow our scientific community to be ruled by evolutionists, then we are going to end up committing some atrocity, such as the Holocaust. So fängt es immer ein (That’s how it always starts). This is obviously stark übertrieben (grossly exaggerated, to balance one German expression with another). I do appreciate the connection drawn between science and world-view, however. Frequently these associations are kept low-profile, but one cannot ignore that embracing a Darwinian anthropogeny leads down a slippery moral slope. If we are here only by accident, how can anything be right or wrong? Absolute morality, in its very essence, implies some telos (final cause). Where Expelled goes too far, though, is that they imply that all evolutionists, if not already, are quickly changing into spineless, heartless, amoralists who don’t care about anything or anyone, as if the average evolutionist would have no moral qualms with murdering his own mother, granted that it led to a higher state of evolution (isn’t that a kind of morality, anyway?) This straw-man is absurd. Although evolutionists no longer have a firm moral ground upon which to build a system of ethics (a point I’m very glad was made in the film), they do not reject all sense of right and wrong. Moral relativism and a de-privileging of human live are certainly a danger that can easily lead to supporting abortion, cloning, and possibly social breeding, although this last one is probably going too far.

There were two moments in the documentary that I particularly enjoyed. The first was during the interview with one of the ID scientists in Seattle, who said that there are two possible routes to take when examining where human life came from: one with design, and one without it. Scientifically, there is no reason to reject one out-of-pocket, but that is effectively what the scientific community has done. I felt like this was a very level-headed analysis of the academic climate. Another quote I appreciated was from a British scientist who said that it is not science that comes before the world-view, but the world-view that lays the foundation for how scientific data is interpreted. Scientists must recognize this and provide their own world-views as a disclaimer to their scientific research. It is impossible, and equally irrational, for a scientist with a firm belief in God to somehow exclude this bias from his scientific research; in the same one, a devout atheist cannot, and should not, do science without framing her research in terms of her larger understanding of the universe. It seems that religion and science are not only inseparable, they are in fact married in a way; for if God exists, then science is a clear path to understanding his nature through how he created the universe (in fact, science must have been designed for this reason); if God does not exist, then the religion of atheism (or lack of religion) carries the day, and science is a cold, impersonal description of the world around us.

On a closing note, I resonate with Matt’s desire for the scientific community to debate these things through good research and open-minded discussion. I fear that Expelled will only throw oil on the fire. There is no doubt a Berlin Wall is running right through the scientific community, but it is not clear yet whether Ben Stein has helped to tear it down or build it up higher.

By the way, we have presented our own preliminary thoughts about this documentary, but we would greatly appreciate feedback and questions from you, as there is no doubt more to be discussed here.

-James, the younger brother

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41 Responses to Expelled: an Intelligent Discussion (Brother Tag-Team)

  1. myrmecos says:

    Oh, Stein’s movie will build the wall higher. You can’t call your opponents Nazis and hope that’ll resolve anything.

    I work on the taxonomy and systematics of insects. Beetles, at the moment, but also ants. Evolutionary theories are really quite productive for my research, and we’ve made all sorts of interesting discoveries. Yet apparently I’m leading society down the slippery slope to genocide? Just for following my interest in insects? Please, that’s offensive.

  2. James says:

    Myrmecos, I am sorry to have offended you, but I sense that you did not take what I said how I intended it. It is a misrepresentation of my argument to say that “apparently I’m leading society down the slippery slope to genocide.” I stated that abortion and cloning are issues generally defended from the evolutionary position, and specifically noting that taking it further is inappropriate. My main point was simply that religion provides a moral foundation that Darwinianism cannot. I was simply stating that this is a consequence of accepting a Darwinian anthropogeny, that life has no purpose (telos).
    I do appreciate your comment, and I added a sentence in that paragraph to help clarify my position.

  3. myrmecos says:

    James-

    Let me make it clear that you did not at all offend me- I found your post to be genuine and thoughtful. It’s Ben Stein’s movie that I find offensive. That’s all.

  4. John says:

    OK-my turn! I watched the movie last night and enjoyed it. When Ben Stein was doing the “Nazi-stuff” my political alarm was triggered. I thought to myself “OK-now those on the far left are going to be really upset because they will knee-jerk and say that Ben Stein accused all evolutionists of being Nazi’s.” That’s not really what he was saying-he was saying the ‘logical’ approach to those who don’t believe in a higher power and morality is that if they had complete control of society (and had no internal or external checks on that power) the ‘survival of the fittest’ philosophy of Darwin would justify, in their thinking, participating in such things as eugenics. It’s a FACT that the many of the Nazi scientists and doctors believed this way. Stein showed some Communist pictures, but didn’t dive too much into their philosophy. He could of spent a long time on the Khmar Rouge in Cambodia that did a genocide of groups they believed ‘unfit.’ These are legimate, entertaining argument sfor a mass documentary like “Expelled” to talk about. Come on-it’s a movie-not a science paper in a scientific journal!

    I especially enjoyed the special effects and music showing the structure of the cell. What a complex, incredible machine! And I enjoyed the mathematical improbability of “a self-replicating string of proteins” coming into existance.

    It was so funny for Stein to get Dawkins to say that perhaps life started because the ‘aliens’ seeded the Earth to get life started. Wow, to believe in that, but not in God. Beam me up, Scotty!

    On other thing-this society is about ideas and since it’s a democracy (so far) whoever wins those ideas gets to control society. It’s fine to me that Stein is making these liberal scientists look bad. They didn’t think they were being interviewed for an ‘anti-evolution’ documentary did they. No one could of been tricked-it’s Ben Stein! Everyone knows that he’s a center-of right Republican! (It was abundently clear that Ben Stein is not a young-Earther, and is fine with evolution, as long as there is an Intelligent Desiger who starts and controls evolution). We as Christian scientists (and laymen who are interested in science), have to get our heads out of the sand, so to speak, and acknowledge that many secular scientists think we are complete idiots because we believe in God. Why would they want to have a conversation with people they think are idiots? Therefore, we need to take political, legal, and moral action to make sure that the First Amendment is strong so that true ID scientists have the academic freedom to state their case. No legitimate scientist should get ‘expelled’ and this movie was an entertaining adovacate of that.

  5. Matt says:

    After letting the movie sink in over night, I can say that there is one more disappointing aspect of the movie, which I did not address in my post. It really doesn’t look at any of the details of the science behind ID, and only makes disparaging comments (as James notes) about various evolutionary theories. I think that one could come away from the movie without a really good idea of the scientific arguments on either side. Instead of being an appeal to the scientist (or the layperson) to think hard about these issues it focused on peripheral aspects (e.g. discrimination against ID, philosophical concerns about evolution, and demonizing of naturalistic scientists). It would have been nice to have looked more at the thoughts behind these camps, so that the audience could think for themselves. I suspect that the producers didn’t do this because it wouldn’t have sold as well to the masses.

  6. John Huneycutt says:

    Matt and James,

    I looked around and found this reviews and commentaries about “Expelled” that you might be interested in:

    http://news.aol.com/newsbloggers/2008/04/18/ben-stein-exposes-richard-dawkins/

    http://www.breakpoint.org/listingarticle.asp?ID=7746

    http://www.spectator.org/dsp_article.asp?art_id=12759

    Of course, these come from a “pro-Ben” viewpoint. Therefore, I found some “anti-Ben” reviews:

    http://www.boston.com/ae/movies/articles/2008/04/19/no_intelligence_allowed_in_expelled/ and http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1729703,00.html

    I still like the film. By the way, Matt, I too would of liked some more explanation of ID and Darwinism, but it might of been too much for the typical movie audience.

    I also wanted to let you and James know that I intend to buy and read Michael J. Behe’s new book “The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism” For a long time now I wanted to find out more about ID. I will also read the Discovery Institute’s website articles.

  7. Cheno says:

    “a cynical political stunt in the guise of a documentary” says rottentomatoes.com.

    I agree, but i still liked it. Why? Because of the last bit, where they make the analogy between the Berlin wall and this debate. more on that later. Looking over the better-written critiques of this movie (present company included) i would summarize the objections into these: 1) it’s political 2)it’s dishonest in its approach and its methods 3) it doesn’t actually teach you anything

    1) of course it’s political. Has there ever been a documentary that wasn’t? no. ALL of michael moore’s films are political, and the fallout is likewise politically flavored. is there really a problem with that? i don’t think so. i didn’t walk away with the feeling that EXPELLED made the claim to be objective. At least there wasn’t a 15-minute section on the 2004 election.

    2) it’s dishonest in its approach and its methods. I’m going to posit that it is acceptable for Jewish people to talk about the Holocaust. Even if what they are saying is grossly untrue, outrageously ill-thought-out, or painfully stupid, everyone who is not Jewish should shut their mouths and listen. I’m sorry if you were lied to about the premise, the name, or the motivation behind the movie in order to get a frank interview. My question to you though, is why you can’t give frank interviews in the first place?

    3) after i watched an inconvenient truth, (right after i washed my mouth out with soap over the whole-sale butchering of statistics, hoping that Mr. Gore would learn his lesson vicariously) i became interested in learning more from both sides of the argument about man-made global warming. i would come to find out that most (read: all) of what i had been told in that movie was false, but the important thing was my interest in the subject. if people join me in reading and learning about this subject, then bravo! if dialog and debate and argument and discussion are fostered, even if it’s only because people are scared that they might be nazi’s, then that’s good.

    I’m glad i watched it. I would never have looked at Mr. Dawkins’ website, or taken him seriously if i hadn’t watched it. I would never have given the discovery institute a second glance if it hadn’t been for this film. Is there a berlin wall running through science? if so, did this film build it higher? i don’t know, but i’d like to find out, and that, to me, is what is really important.

    Cheno

  8. James says:

    Yeah, Matt, I feel like Expelled helped inform me about a lot of things, in particular, about various personalities in today’s scientific community. It’s encouraging to hear that other people have come away from the movie genuinely inquisitive, because that is obviously the main thing that we need to tear down this “Berlin Wall,” open discussion and honest inquiry. I hope that most people are like you, namely skeptical, when seeing a widely-publicized documentary, and not like me. I can’t help but feel that I am sitting in high school or something.

  9. Matt says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful comments Matt (Cheno). As I said in my post, I hope it will cause more people to think about the issue. I’m glad it got you interested in the issue. However, I suspect that most people who watch the film won’t be inspired to think critically about the debate, instead I think most will simply reaffirm whatever predisposition they had toward the debate to begin with.

    Regarding the misleading of many of the interviewees (John and Cheno), I can completely understand their not wanting to be interviewed for such a film. The media in general is notorious for misquoting people and/or editing their statements so that they are not an accurate representation of what the person said. Its not that I wouldn’t be frank in an interview for such a film if I knew that it was going to be a lopsided portrayal of the issue against the side I was on. It’s that I would be afraid of how they might use my footage against me. No one wants to partake in a lopsided debate where one’s own side is not treated fairly. Perhaps these scientists were naive to not realize what was going on, but I think it’s hard to make an argument justifying such tactics for the interviews.

  10. Frank says:

    I enjoyed the documentary and it is clear that there really are two distinct world views and that Stein is correct – the “scientific” point of view has totally bought into the atheist, evolutionist position. The result is a culture of death that has lost the integrity of scientific inquiry and embraced the kool-aid of abortion and eugenics. Cheers to Stein for having the courage to call them on it!

  11. Susan says:

    I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I plan to. But I have to say this – you expect documentaries to be one-sided. Objective journalism is very rare. Since evolution holds a monopoly in US education, I think it’s refreshing for the other side to take a shot.

    And Matt, I do think you would jeapordize your career if you espoused a six-day creation. Fortunately for your career, I don’t think that you do. But unfortunately for my faith, I respect your scientific opinion a lot – to the point that if you don’t believe the Genesis account, my own faith struggles. I don’t think that scientists realize the power that they have. In our society, scientists are trusted to be correct and their opinion carries much weight.

  12. dumnezeueateu says:

    Hey there.
    Actually there isn’t much to this documentary.
    Scientific American debunks it completely.
    I’ll give you my link and you can find several links inside my post.
    It’s not english so ignore the text, go for the links.
    http://dumnezeueateu.wordpress.com/2008/04/10/creationism-vs-evolutionism/

    Darwinism isn’t about moral education. It’s about biology and the evolution of organisms. But we do have quite some reasonable legal systems, good general rules encompassed in the General Declaration of Human Rights and our own view of morality, of what is soccially acceptable. Where is the need for bibles and gods? Of course, they were needed before when we knew so little about the world, but not now. We do know enough to make some judgement with our own heads.

  13. Matt says:

    How would you define good, dumnezeueateu? And why are human rights important in a moral system based solely on evolution?

  14. Matt says:

    Susan, I appreciate your frank comments. I was pretty hard on young-earth creationists, and I think rightfully so, but I didn’t really justify my statements. I do think there are sound scientific and theological reasons to reject it, and I do not think this affects the salvation message. Interpretation of Genesis and how it relates to science is something that I have struggled over a lot. My personal journey in this area has been a slow and somewhat painful one. James and I are thinking of perhaps doing a series where we examine the science, theology, history and scripture surrounding the creation debate. Do you think something like this might be helpful for you?

  15. Longing for Holiday says:

    Hi, guys: thanks for leading me here. If you haven’t picked up Tim Keller’s The Reason for God (reasonforgod.com), you should. I think you’d like it. Very moderate.

    As for me, there are only two things in the Biblical account that I can’t reconcile with evolutionary theory: God’s role and a historical Adam and Eve.

    A friend of mine’s dad (a physics prof) wrote the following book. It’s practically unitelligable to me (when he gets into the physics), but an interesting reconciliation of science and the Bible.

    http://www.amazon.com/God-Who-Makes-Things-Happen/dp/0595422365/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1208782005&sr=1-2

  16. Susan says:

    I think both Rebecca and I would be interested in a discussion of Genesis and creation.

    Also, what about Noah’s ark? And what about miracles? Do we really believe the Red Sea was parted? Why believe that and not Genesis? How do you reconcile not believing part of the Bible? Is it simply untrue (which I would have a BIG theological problem with) or is it just misunderstood? I’m not asking to be argumentative but because I’d truly like to know how committed believers reject the Genesis account. If I could have my cake and it eat, too – believe the Bible AND “credible” scientists -I’d like to do it, too.

    I would be interested in knowing what specific mistakes are currently being made by young earth creationists. I really don’t know because most of what I read is biased toward that view.

    Rebecca and I are both interested in reading from a few old earth creationists. I understand even James Dobson espouses this view – not that he’s a scientist – just a topic of earlier blogs.

    I just don’t want the outcome of the discussion to challenge my faith to where believing is a daily struggle – as it often is for me.

  17. Ed Darrell says:

    Can you detail for me any way in which an analogy between evolution and the Holocaust is legitimate?

  18. James says:

    Ed, thanks for your question. I hope I can provide an answer that is at least half-way satisfying.
    One of the points of Expelled is that the Holocaust was “justified” by contemporary science, given Darwin’s relatively recent breakthrough. Also at that time, anthropology was basically arranging “species” of men from more ape-like to more advanced. (Phrenology was a study almost entirely dedicated to trying to figure out how primitive and advanced mens skulls were different in shape and size).
    In no way was I trying to say that the horrors of the Holocaust are the fault of science, merely that Hitler used them to morally “justify” his actions. He was created a more superior German race through ethnic “cleansing.” My point with elaborating on this connection made in Ben Stein’s movie (one which I think is used inappropriately, as if modern evolutionists are little Hitlers) is that a purely evolutionary system has a hard time providing a basis for morality. On what grounds can someone say that Hitlers actions were actually wrong? Or if they are “wrong,” it is hard to give the word the same weight that moral conscience would like. It is not that science should guide its research and data around moral convenience; I was simply stating the unfortunate (for me) consequences that evolutionary anthropogeny requires.

  19. I don’t think Hitler did anything ‘morally.’ I think what you mean is that Hitler would have used evolutionary ideas to justify his ideas by way of reason and logic. Not morals.

    Science isn’t about morals. It’s about facts. Which creationism, for the most part, does not have.

  20. Nimravid says:

    “My point with elaborating on this connection made in Ben Stein’s movie (one which I think is used inappropriately, as if modern evolutionists are little Hitlers) is that a purely evolutionary system has a hard time providing a basis for morality.”

    There are a vast number of us out there who read sentences like this and boggle. Why is a scientific theory expected to provide a basis for morality? Do you use the theory of gravity as a basis for morality? The theory of relativity? Molecular orbital theory? Sure, molecular orbital theory says a lot about forbidden transitions, but that’s not a moral judgement! ;-)

  21. Jon S. says:

    More than a few people have commented on the film’s portrayed link between Nazi ideology and Darwinism, suggesting emotional manipulation on the part of the filmmakers. However, let’s not forget that this connection has in fact been studied for years! Richard Dawkins is well acquainted with the writings of Richard Weikart, specifically Weikart’s book “From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany” and historical scholars have researched these themes long before anyone had ever heard of intelligent design. My point? In the film, Mr. Dawkins is more than willing to write off religion as antiquated, as obsolete, as harmful even, and dangerous. Religion, in the writings of Dawkins, Hitchens, Sam Harris and other published atheists, has fostered violence throughout history and polarized nation against nation, and a valid case could be argued, I suppose, in support of that. HOWEVER… let us not forget atheism would also fall under that banner of religious ideology (given that they paint with such a broad brush) and as responsible filmmakers, I applaud the fact that they actually take time to address how one’s standard of morality and one’s worldview is governed by personal belief. Remember: the film is not an attack on evolution (change over time), but rather is an indictment of the scientific community’s attempt to muzzle anyone who challenges how this theory has been mis-applied to areas of study which Darwin had never intended. I lost count as to how many scientists in the film – when asked how life actually started – responded with the words “I don’t know.” And yet, for those who seek to pursue scientific inquiries to find answers, it appears there are only two camps (the possibility of a SOURCE of intelligence impacting upon this genesis, or the notion that life merely began absent of a SOURCE). I have yet to hear anyone respond intelligently (or without hostility) as to why – in the present day climate – there is a very real and documented campaign to stifle and censor and muzzle ANYONE who falls into the first camp, and only give consideration to the latter. The film does an excellent job of illustrating this.

    While the scientific majority may CLAIM to invite and nurture honest discussion and inquiry, one need only look at the response to this film (and the campaign specifically by Dawkins and others to get people NOT to see this film) to see how unwilling they truly are to engage in any discussion that might challenge their (for lack of a better word) “doctrine.”

  22. James F says:

    First of all, Matt, I appreciate the link to http://www.expelledexposed.com. It deals very well with the mendacious claim that Darwin was necessary for the Holocaust and shows how the film’s case that “Big Science” led to persecutions was rife with misrepresentation. As a fellow scientist and fellow Christian I also say, please don’t worry about your career – discussions of philosophy and theology are, I would argue, very basic to the human condition. The problem is when people try to push a non-scientific concept as real science. We need to put to rest the fallacy that Intelligent Design is a scientific theory and that there is a controversy in the scientific community over evolution.

    A scientific theory (unlike the casual usage of “theory” as a guess or an idea) is overwhelmingly supported by evidence and heavily scrutinized through peer-reviewed scientific research until it gains general acceptance in the scientific community. Scientific theories provide a framework for understanding the natural world, and can be used to make predictions that can be tested and applied in the natural world.

    Intelligent design resoundingly, utterly fails to qualify as a theory. Peer-reviewed scientific literature represents a truly vast body of knowledge – there are about SEVENTEEN MILLION individual papers indexed at the National Library of Medicine’s online public database (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez/). Not a single paper refutes evolution, and not a single paper provides data in support of intelligent design.

    Is this the result of an ongoing global conspiracy to suppress ID that would make the conspiracy theories invoked by the 9/11 truth and moon landing hoax movements seem feeble by comparison? No. The reason that there isn’t a single peer-reviewed ID research paper is that ID does not provide falsifiable, testable hypotheses: it can be boiled down to “this is so complex, it can’t be explained by natural laws and processes, so there must be a designer working in supernatural ways.” This cannot be tested, and it predicts nothing. Note well the idea of supernatural means – this is different from theistic evolution, the philosophy that God created the universe through natural processes. Furthermore, a central concept of ID, “irreducible complexity,” has been throughly debunked. I refer you to Prof. Ken Miller’s excellent lectures on the subject here:


    What damns Intelligent Design even further was that it was never about scientific inquiry: it was conceived as a way to impose a specific, fundamentalist religious view into education and society in the guise of science (see the Wedge Strategy http://www.antievolution.org/features/wedge.pdf ). It is very telling that the definition of intelligent design used in the pro-ID textbook Of Pandas and People was EXACTLY the same as the definition of creationism in an earlier edition. Even the intellectual godfather of Intelligent Design, retired law professor Phillip E. Johnson, had this to say:

    “I also don’t think that there is really a theory of intelligent design at the present time to propose as a comparable alternative to the Darwinian theory, which is, whatever errors it might contain, a fully worked out scheme. There is no intelligent design theory that’s comparable. Working out a positive theory is the job of the scientific people that we have affiliated with the movement. Some of them are quite convinced that it’s doable, but that’s for them to prove…No product is ready for competition in the educational world.”
    http://sciencereview.berkeley.edu/articles/issue10/evolution.pdf

    In short, this is obviously worth discussing as a social issue, but the full story needs to be on the table.

  23. Ed Darrell says:

    Stein claims Hitler justified anything on the basis of science? Does he have any evidence for that?

    Further, since Hitler was anti-Darwin, shouldn’t he be concerned about his being anti-Darwin as well?

    Stein is apparently a worse historian than he is scientist. This is a complete screw up of a film, I gather.

    And, if you’re really curious about morality, you might want to start with Darwin’s chapter 5 of Descent of Man in which he describes how morality could have evolved, and how a morality that contains something like Confucius’s and Rabbi Hil-el’s rule, “Do nothing to anyone else that you would find offensive if done to you,” is necessary for the evolution and success of a social species like humans.

    I suppose, though, that Stein and his merry band reject all such rules, calling them “unChristian.” Odd, unholy view for a Jew.

  24. Ed Darrell says:

    Do we really believe the Red Sea was parted?

    And if so, whether on the right or the left.

  25. Matt says:

    I see your confusion Nimravid. Perhaps I should let James defend himself, but here are my thoughts. First off, let me say that I agree with your implication that a scientific theory should be judged not by its effects on ones moral code, but by the evidence. I suspect James agrees. I do think James was a bit lax with his terminology. It’s really naturalism that he feels is lacking in a framework upon which to build a robust morality.
    However, it is certainly possible for a scientific theory such as evolution to inform one’s moral system. Evolution is not a theory about just any physical phenomenon. It is a theory about us, about who we are and where we came from. Thus it holds a somewhat more important place in one’s overall world view than many other scientific theories, and in many cases may have connections to one’s conception of morality. The holocaust is simply one example of someone trying to misuse evolution as a basis for social and moral judgments. Evolution is special in another regard. Since it seeks to explain our origin, many people (sociobiologists) also use it not to build moral systems, but instead to try to explain how we got them. Thus the relationship between evolution and morality is fairly complex. Note that none of this provides any argument against evolution, simply against the misuse of it.

  26. Matt says:

    Will,
    I think the confusion here is on definition of morality. In referring to Hitler’s morality, James was exactly referring to taking evolution and combining it with reason to justify horrific actions. Whereas I believe you were using morality in a normative sense (def 2 in below). See, for example, definitions 1 and 2 in:

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/morality-definition/

    That said, it seems to me that it’s an interesting and open question as to whether Hitler was just trying to justify actions he knew were wrong, or whether he really thought he was doing good. I have no idea which is really the case.

  27. James says:

    Matt was correct in assuming that I do not think a scientific theory should be judged based on its ethical/moral implications, but rather the evidence. I tried to say this in my comment, actually, when I said: “It is not that science should guide its research and data around moral convenience;” Perhaps I was also too loose in using a term such as “evolutionary anthropogeny,” but naturalism is what I was getting at. It seems that this post and its comments have opened up a scientific/philosophical can-of-worms, which probably cannot be fully addressed here, but will no doubt inform our subsequent posts.

  28. Matt says:

    Longing for Holiday,
    Thanks for the book suggestions. Keller was giving a talk (of the same name) at Stanford a few weeks ago that I really wanted to make, but unfortunately I had a conflict. Maybe I’ll have to pick up a copy of his book.

  29. Matt says:

    Susan,
    I think these are all good questions, and if we do a creation series (which seems likely at this point) then we’ll certainly try to address them. In short, I think miracles and the creation story are qualitatively different kinds of things. Just because I accept mainstream science, doesn’t mean I have to forfeit belief in miracles. It is my opinion that forcing Genesis into a literal 6-day creation is something that was never intended. Stay tuned for more details…

  30. Carol says:

    My simple answer is this, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By FAITH we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” That pretty much does it for me.

  31. James says:

    I’m glad to see you aren’t a monophysite.

  32. Carol says:

    What does that have to do with anything? And, thanks for making me learn a new word today.

  33. John says:

    James, don’t worry about Carol. I can assure you that after all of my conversations with her I believe Carol to be a miaphysite who believes in the φύσις of Christ as both divine and human.

  34. James says:

    Well, given all of this discussion about naturalism (which in its very definition rules out the existence of another kind of thing, namely the supernatural) was making me think about monophysitism versus dualism (the belief that there are two separate substances that exist: spirit and matter), so when you said that God made visible things out of invisible things, that’s what I was thinking about, although in a strict sense, this isn’t exactly talking about two substances, but substance and non-substance. It was mostly just a connection that made sense in my mind.

  35. Bad says:

    “The first was during the interview with one of the ID scientists in Seattle, who said that there are two possible routes to take when examining where human life came from: one with design, and one without it. Scientifically, there is no reason to reject one out-of-pocket, but that is effectively what the scientific community has done.”

    This argument makes sense precisely up until the point where you realize that, scientifically, there IS a good reason to reject the former out of hand AS SCIENCE: as formulated by the DI and others, it’s simply untestable hand-waving. It allows for anything, and hence explains nothing.

    That’s not to say that it isn’t possible that design could be scientific. But all the avenues in which it could be are precisely the ones that the current ID movement is avoiding like the plague: either because they are already falsified or risk being easily falsified, or because they don’t play into the basic attack on “naturalism,” since by definition they would all be evidence of a design process taking place within the confines of the natural world.

    The film makes a big point about laughing at Dawkins’ suggestion that aliens would be the best case scenario for ID as science, but it can only do this because it’s spent 90 minutes keeping the audience in the dark about what science is in the first place: an exploration of those explanations that can employ EVIDENCE to confirm or disconfirm this or that claim.

  36. Carol says:

    I’m glad that it made sense somewhere. :)

  37. James says:

    Bad, Are questions like “Was this designed?” really untestable? If you stumbled across rocks on a river bank arranged in the word “H-E-L-P,” is there any way to test whether they just happened to lie in that arrangement on accident, or whether someone put them there for some purpose, namely to cry for help?

    “Science” has a rather ironic derivation, in this case, coming from the Latin “scio,” meaning “I know.” Perhaps it is not possible to know whether something was designed or not. Science, however, is not our only way of knowing things (in fact, science is never good enough for us to actually have ruled out all other possibilities). No one conducts an experiment to test whether “2+2=4” or not. In fact, the way that we know that (a priori) is somehow quite stronger than scientific knowledge, because of its logical impossibility of being refuted. My point is that untestability does not rule something out as a logical possibility, and it does not even necessarily exclude us from being epistemologically justified in believing it. I must disagree with you, Bad, on this point. I think the dichotomy remains open.

    In effect, to argue that ID is untenable, because it is in untestable commits the logical fallacy of arguing from a lack of evidence (unless this argument is structured differently). If the rocks on the river bank actually WERE laid there on purpose, then that would be what is important, and what science should seek to know. Things are either true or false, regardless of whether we can know them or not (I’m not sure how this applies to quantum physics, although I don’t think its actually the “knowing” that influences things, rather the “observing”).

  38. Ed Darrell says:

    Sure, you can test to see whether a word spelled out is accidental or not. First, you’d look to see where the stones came from. If the holes are fresh, and if they are down stream or down slope from the word on the bank, that’s a pretty good clue they didn’t get there through any natural means. One might also assess the probability of the letters arising naturally by comparing other naturally-occurring letter incidents . . . if there are none, there’s a strong hint.

    Perhaps investigation of the arrangement of the rocks would come up inconclusive, but it’s unlikely that it would, and if it did, it’s still highly unlikely to have occurred naturally. On the other hand, there is a popular poster that shows the entire English alphabet and the ten numbers, as portrayed on butterfly wings. The kicker here is that none of them are arrayed so as to spell out a message. The odds are mighty low that any natural occurrence could arrange those rocks in such a fashion (if you have a hypothesis for how it could occur, by all means, state it).

    In this case, a scientific investigation would probably produce an answer satisfactorily close to the truth to be sufficient.

    Yes, people test 2+2 all the time.

    My point is that inventing silly approximations of science for ID don’t make it science. You’re describing cargo cult science instead.

    ID is untenable because the motley collection of facts are all better explained by evolution theory, they pose no new hypothesis for a theory, and what is testable (the one or two items) can be tested and falsified. ID is both untestable as a theory that God did it, and disproven in the few other claims it makes.

    ID says “the rocks were laid out by God; hallelujah,” and the survivors of the airplane crash perish for lack of help. Science says “investigate.”

    I think science is a superior way of knowing.

  39. dumnezeueateu says:

    Gosh, who said you should base your moral views on evolution?
    It’s kind of hard really, because it involves a lot of dying.
    But it can be done, it’s not so bad, we have some moral sense that is our own, in our own minds, in the way we care about others. It’s not religious in nature, it’s actually selfish in nature. Since i hit this i say read Dawkins’s The Selfish Gene that explains most of this ideea and is a pop science book that is extremely easy to read.

    I never said we should go back in time and destroy any need for gods. Hell, religion based morality is fine as long as you don’t resort to silly “you will burn in hell for saying this”.
    it’s fine to say : you should not kill anyone. Let’s say that is based on the 10 comandments.
    Ok, fine, but why does this need to come from God? Isn’t it obvious that by not breaking that law and making sure other do not break the law you make sure that you live a longer life, or die from other causes?
    Why is there a need for God in morality?

  40. James says:

    First of all, dumnezeueateu, I think you are slightly confusing morality and ethics (what you are describing is ethics, that is, how we should act in society). Also, you equivocate by saying that “you should not kill anyone” can be based on the 10 commandments and then saying immediately after that, that this law really stems from evolutionary processes, that is, it is fundamentally beneficial to the self.
    You also confuse me when you say that it is okay to believe in hell, but somehow not to believe that people actually go there.
    Also, your system of morality, if it is really generated from a “selfish” principle, then any laws or moral rules can be broken as long as it can be shown that doing so is in the interest of the self. That is to say, genocide can be justified if the one committing genocide gains from doing so…this is an unsatisfactory principle for forming moral rules.

  41. Bad says:

    James: ID is untestable as long as it allows for an includes litterally anything, including simply no restraints like natural law.

    If a riverbank spelled out help, that WOULD be precisely the sort of specific hypothesis I argued that ID proponents avoid making: a design argument that IS testable. Things like communicative signatures, tool marks, discovering blueprints, discovering prototypes, and so on, are all evidence of design. But these are exactly the sorts of testable evidences for design that we DON’T find in, say, genomes.

    The reason is pretty simple: since most ID proponents really quietly think that the designer is a supernatural god, they imagine this being as simply being able to do anything at all, any way, at any time, for just about any ad hoc purpose. The examples of design I cited are testable precisely because they involve certain limitations of working in the physical world. That doesn’t fit people’s picture of a perfect God who can just do anything it wants instantly. And so they shy away from those sorts of testable claims (both because they know full well that if tested, they fail in the face of nature, and because that isn’t what they really want to envision in the first place).

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