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Expelled: An Opportunity Lost

Written by Jordan Peacock : April 21, 2008

evolutionThe blogosphere has erupted following the first viewings of the new Ben Stein documentary “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed“. Depending on who you talk to, it is either about:

a) censorship and suppression of scientists who voice support for Intelligent Design (ID)

or

b) undermining Darwinian evolutionary thought in an attempt to favour ID.

The first topic sounds worthwhile, until some basic research is done into the cases of claimed censorship or suppression. Expelled Exposed goes into depth on each of the cases to show the fallaciousness of the arguments (to pick a favorite: you can’t be fired by someone you never worked for).

In addition, the recent trial in Dover was debating whether or not ID is within the bounds of science or whether it falls into the territory of philosophy or theology. When even ID supporters admit (as was done in the Dover trial) that expanding the bounds of science to incorporate ID means that other disciplines (such as horoscopes & astrology and other pseudosciences) would then fit the definition of ’science’ as well, it draws an untenable situation. Few parents who are hell-bent on having their children learn creationism ID would want them learning alchemy, kabbalist magic or astrology, but those would all fit under the purview of the new ’science’. With that understanding, it is no surprise then that many scientists, including some who personally believe in a creator God, see the introduction of ID as a threat to their discipline.

Expelled turns the issue, which could be covered gracefully, into a religious war of sorts. Scientific American asked the assistant producer of Expelled, Mark Mathis, why every scientist advocating evolution was an atheist: there are plenty of examples of Christians or other believers who work within and advocate evolutionary biology - why were none in the movie? The response was that this would have confused viewers. Confused meaning the straw man that only atheists believe in evolution would fall apart, exposing a major flaw in the thoughts proposed in the film. To hear a different perspective, here is a lecture from evolutionary biologist and Roman Catholic Ken Miller discussing ID, evolution and the Dover trial.

Finally, Mark C. Chu-Carroll from the Good Math, Bad Math blog writes a devastating critique of the association the film makes between Darwinism and horrors such as the holocaust:

Suppose that it was true that Darwin’s writings about evolution were the primary thing that motivated the Nazi’s genocide against the Jews, the Romany, and all the other “undesirables” that they killed. Forget, for a moment, that the linkage is a crock. Pretend that it’s the truth.

What difference does it make?

Does the truth become less true because some idiot used it to justify something awful?

Science isn’t morality. Science describes what is. Morality defines our understanding of right and wrong. Science doesn’t tell us what’s morally right and wrong. It tells us what is. It can allows us to reason from what we know, to determine the effect of an action, which can allow us to decide whether that action is morally right or wrong. But the science doesn’t tell us what’s moral.

What Stein and friends are doing is trying to say that it’s appropriate to judge science based on what kinds of moral judgements a lunatic can derive from it - and further, they’re basically trying to argue for suppressing the truth when they don’t like the results of trying to infer morality from that truth.

He goes on to describe that you can draw some fairly bizarre ethics from the laws of thermodynamics, but that doesn’t invalidate physics. There may be an argument against evolution, but this isn’t one of them.

In my humble opinion, having followed the making and the build up to this film for some months now, I am disappointed; not so much that it appears to be a crock on par with a Michael Moore pseudo-documentary, but rather because it could have been so much better. A balanced, open discussion over the naturalistic assumptions that the field of science works with and whether there are merits to broadening the discussion of the discipline to exploring other phenomena is a worthwhile discussion. Rather than pulling soundbytes from interviews that people were conned into allowing, a real discussion from bright people on all sides of the issue, arguing pros, cons, and the evidence involved would be a fantastic work that would stimulate discussion and open ears on all sides to hearing that ‘yes, they may disagree with me but they’re not all crazy’.

In the end, I simply do not see anything of merit with the way the film was made; from lying straight out to get interviewees off guard, to stacking ’student’ audiences with extras, to using classic propaganda poses, music and cuts in order to demonize one position and extol another: none of it comes off as loving, Christlike or worthy of attention.

May we learn from this mistake, and rather than playing into the world’s win/lose dichotomy, let us draw people by our willingness to listen to those who disagree with us, even as we hold firm to those things that form our foundations.

Peace to you and yours.

PS: Just for fun, here is a parody of the Expelled trailer, entitled Sexpelled: No Intercourse Allowed.

Author Bio:: Jordan Peacock lives and works in Minnesota with his beautiful wife and daughter. When not playing with technology or music, he’s writing comic books and wrapping up a university education.

image by Esthr

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