Apr 8 2008
|Expelled the Movie arrives April 18th|
According to Ben Stein's Expelled - No Intelligence Allowed Web site, the movie releases nationwide on April 18th.
According to the site, Mt. Pleasant's Palmetto Grande, Summerville's Azalea Square, and Charleston's Charlestowne Square on Mall Drive are scheduled to show the movie.
I watched the long trailer and found it interesting that Stein is wondering why ID'ers questioning Darwinism (his term) is unacceptable today but would have been acceptable during the day of Einstein or Galileo. Is his reference to the open-mindedness of Galileo's day a joke, irony, or his belief?
He believes that the attack on ID is an attack on free speech. Until watching the trailer, I wasn't aware that a conspiracy of legislators, courts, media, science, educators, et al prohibit the ID'ers from operating Web sites, publishing their own "scientific" journals, books, movies or performing their own ID experiments.
Maybe the conspiracy isn't so apparent under this administration and in South Carolina.
Can't wait to see the school buses lined up for this self-labeled "documentary".
Apr 22 2008
Laura and I are planning to put the following "editorial" in the next issue of the SHL newsletter. What do you think?
Some Thoughts on the Theses of “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed”
by Alex and Laura Kasman
On April 18th, a documentary film starring droll game-show host Ben Stein was released in theaters which “investigates” the controversy of Intelligent Design (ID). The two theses of the movie are that: (a) there is a conspiracy within scientific circles to prevent the publication of good research papers supporting ID and (b) the theory of natural selection and evolution of species is somehow to blame for the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany. Despite the serious logical flaws in these arguments pointed out by other authors (see, for example, Michael Shermer’s thoughts in Scientific American at http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=ben-steins-expelled-review-michael-shermer), it seems likely that the Michael Moore-ish use of humor and emotion will prove convincing to many viewers. So, we believe there cannot be too many articles working to correct the misconceptions of the film and have chosen to attempt one ourselves. Fortunately for us, the film is so wrong that we have been able to find some unique points to make in criticizing its theses that have not already been made elsewhere.
Let’s start with thesis (a). “Expelled” presents examples of scientists whom it claims have been unfairly punished for their attempts to bring some ID into the refereed scientific literature. As one can read elsewhere (see http://www.expelledexposed.com), critics of the film argue that the cases discussed in the film either greatly exaggerate the supposed “punishment” or ignore more reasonable alternative explanations for what happened that do not depend on any prejudice against ID. But, how is one to decide who to believe, the film or the critics?
Let us point out that this is an unusual sort of conspiracy. In the usual conspiracy theories (e.g. Kennedy Assassination or Area 51), a small number of people know the truth, but seek to keep it a secret from everyone else. In this ID conspiracy theory, however, there are a small number of people who know the truth and are trying to tell everyone else, but nobody will let them. Imagine the scope of this conspiracy. Think of all of the universities that you know of in your home state, in the country, and in the entire world. Any university you have heard of because of their football team or because your cousin’s daughter went there or whatever. Now, collectively, these schools must have literally thousands of biology, astronomy, and geology professors. Those people are the editors and referees of the journals in those subjects. There is no hierarchy that puts any small number of them in charge. The vast majority of these people would have to be “in” on the conspiracy for it to work. When a paper is submitted to any one of the hundreds of journals in these fields, it has to go through an editor and some referees whose job it is to consider whether the paper presents good evidence to support its thesis. We are expected to believe that the people involved in this conspiracy would prevent an article presenting evidence for ID from being published despite it’s high quality. What appears to be missing in this conspiracy theory (as in many others, which is why they are rarely credible) is a motivation for those involved in it. If their motivation was that they really do not believe in Intelligent Design, then if they were sent a really convincing paper showing evidence for ID, wouldn’t it change their mind and thereby remove them from the conspiracy? Or, if they did believe in ID, what would be their motivation for keeping others from learning about it? A more reasonable explanation, it seems, is that the supposed evidence presented in these papers is extremely weak (at best) and that such papers would not be accepted for publication in refereed science journals regardless of their subject.
Now, onto the second thesis: the supposed link between Nazism and Darwinism. Something really horrible happened in Germany in the 1930s. Not wanting to admit that human beings just like us were responsible for those atrocities, an unsurprising first reaction of many people is to attempt to figure out a way in which to classify the Germans of the time as being different from themselves. For instance, it is common for many religious Americans today to presume that the Holocaust was a result of atheism in some way. However, the facts do not support this assumption. One thing which is clear is that the vast majority of Germans at the time were religious Christians and that most of the churches in Germany expressed support for the Nazi government. Nobody knows for sure what Adolph Hitler believed, but in his speeches and writings, he always suggested that he believed in a God (and believed that this God was on his side). One can speculate that this may not have been true, but such speculation seems to be based only on the prejudice that bad people are atheists...and in a case of circular reasoning, Hitler is also used as the primary evidence to justify this prejudice. But, there are plenty of other instances of similar horrific human behavior that prove that no atheistic influence is necessary. Nobody seems to deny that the horrors in Rwanda, Yugoslavia and the Spanish Inquisition were conceived and performed by devout religious believers. So, as far as we’re concerned, the film’s suggestion that the Holocaust was in any way a consequence of religious non-belief is just another example of this circular argument and prejudice against atheists in contradiction of the facts.
But, “Expelled” makes a more specific claim that it is Darwin’s theory of evolution that is somehow responsible. The suggestion seems to be that it was because of Darwin that the Nazi’s were able to conceive of this notion of genocide to make a “pure breed” of Aryan. Interestingly, we have not yet seen anyone point out an obvious flaw with this argument. The novel part of the theory of evolution of species is that such selection can occur naturally: early giraffes with longer necks were able to reproduce more effectively because they were able to get more food without any need for someone to make this choice. However, people had been breeding plants, dogs and cattle, selecting for traits which they wanted, since the dawn of civilization. Similarly, laws preventing reproduction between black men and white women in the American slave colonies demonstrate that these ideas could be and were applied to humans long before Darwin was born. No theory of natural selection was needed for the Nazi’s to propose their own unethical and unnatural selection process. If the theory of evolution of species was cited by the Nazis to justify their horrific behavior then this reflects no worse on Darwin than the fact that the SS officers wore crosses and the used motto “God mit uns” reflects poorly on the Christian God.
Anti-semitism and unspeakable violence of man against his fellow man both predate Nazism, the theory of evolution and modern science. Unfortunately, these seem to be representative of a horrible potential for hate and immorality that is part of the human condition. We should do everything we can to understand and prevent such behavior, but falsely attributing it to particular scientific theories or religious beliefs will not help with these goals. Similarly, controversy in science also predates the modern ID movement. But, an inability to get published does not necessarily indicate an unfair bias against your theory. If the papers are not published because they do not present clear and convincing evidence, then it is a fair bias, because that is exactly what the refereeing process is supposed to achieve. The ID movement has accusations of unfairness, and implications that the alternative view is to blame for horrible atrocities. What they lack, however, is any good evidence to support their claims.