Sirius Knott : Thoughts on Expelled!


First, I’d like to thank the atheists, without which I wouldn’t have heard about this movie. I wondered what all of the fuss was about when blogs started erupted vitriol over Ben Stein’s film months in advance of its release. Now that I’ve seen Expelled! No Intelligence Allowed, I recognize their mindless railings for what they are: DAMAGE CONTROL!!

Wow. Did Dawkins lay an egg on this one!

The film masterfully sets up its argument with all the honed skill and elegance of an experienced rhetorician. It’s critics have called it propaganda for its imagery and allusions, but these are the same folks who want to limit how we do science; it should not surprise us that they wish to limit argument to exclude pathos and ethos. They’re simply not interested in engaging the arguments anymore, much less in a fully-fleshed presentation of argument.

The premise is this: Freedom of Inquiry is being suppressed in scientific circles and academia, in general. Dissenters from naturalism/darwinism are being discriminated against by

Stein sets out by clearly demonstarting how widespread the suppression of design advocates is. He notes how prominent atheists simply deny its veracity and how some have been castigated simply for mentioning design without also explicitly denouncing it! The imagery lend associations with Communism [the Berlin wall], Nazism [Hitler’s eugenics program and ultimately the Holocaust] and McCarthyism [note the Edward R Murrow sequence]. Each of these allusions are associated with the suppression of opposing viewpoints, denial of employment and the inevitable inquisition.

Expelled then establishes that Intelligent Design is in fact science, noting especially how complex the cell is at the molecular level and the amount of information contained. He also notes that those promoting ID are serious scientists. [I didn’t miss the fact that one of the guys hit by the atheistic establishment had conducted research which lead to the discovery of new planets!], so this isn’t just a matter of science versus religion, but theistic scientists versus athiestic or nontheistic scientists. He also notes how losing court cases does not hurt ID in the least, noting how scientific facts and research results are not determined in a courtroom. Stein also reminds us that evolutionists actually lost the Scopes trial, despite the propoganda surrounding the “Monkey Trail.” Stein also notes the weaknesses of Darwin’s theory [how much it can’t explain] and how the establishment has taken to attacking religion instead of conducting research and presenting arguments from science.

Having established that ID is a valid scientific theory and that discrimination against ID advocates [or even folks that mention design without expressly denouncing it!] is common, Expelled! notes that while most folks tend to think of people as developing their worldview according to science that the opposite tends to be the case: their worldview determines how they approach science. An avowed atheist who was interviewed related a common testimony of how upon examining Darwin’s theory he could find no evidence of a designer, and since evolution was being taught as scientific truth, he felt he had to choose and so became an atheist. This was part of a segment illustrating how evolution predominantly leads to an atheistic worldview through which scientific research will then be filtered.

The documentary then seques into a powerful and somber segment illustrating the fact that worldviews have consequences. He tours places where Hitler had “defective” human beings gassed and Holocaust sites. It notes here how eugenics, abortion and euthanasia find their moral justifications in Darwin’s theory. Expelled! takes special care to remind us that killing others for the betterment of others’ lives, such as abortion and euthanasia, are only the tip of the iceberg. Darwin’s advocates are capable of far worse.

The film ends on a rather triumphant and partly cheeky note: Stein’s confrontation with Richard Dawkins. In which Dawkins reminds everyone that you shouldn’t dish it out if you can’t take it.

It also ends with a message: America was founded on freedom and each defining struggle in our history has been about freedom. This struggle, the struggle to allow a competing worldview alongside Big Science’s Darwinism, is about Freedom of Inquiry. It’s about the right to criticize and doubt the prevailing theory, as Darwin did, in light of new evidence and new information. Since the establishment view is being forced down the throats of our children, this is especially important that we address this issue. Ben Stein ends Expelled! with a plea for design scientists to make a stand and to make sacrifices against this discrimination, and also with a plea for open discussion and debate of these two competing worldviews instead of dogmatic adherence to a flawed theory.

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12 Comments Add yours

  1. Steven Carr says:

    What must it have been like to be a Jewish child growing up in a Nazi Germany?

    For some reason, the wise words of Paul Copan come to mind ””What then of the children? Death would be a mercy, as they would be ushered into the presence of God and spared the corrupting influences of a morally decadent culture.”’

  2. NP says:

    No, it isn’t about theistic scientists vs. agnostic/atheistic scientists.

    Scientists like Dawkins, Myers, Provine, etc are just a handful of scientists cherrypicked by the producers because they are atheists and will speak freely about their views on religion when asked. They do not represent all scientists.

    Both Kenneth Miller and Francisco Ayala are devout Christians, just to give you a couple of examples of theistic scientists who reject intelligent design. Neither, for obvious reasons, is interviewed for the film (even though Miller is the co-author of one of the most commonly used textbooks on biology in the country and outspoken critic of ID).

    There’s a lot the film leaves out, and thereby vastly exaggerates its claims. For example, Will Provine and Allen MacNeill – both at Cornell University – regularly invite ID advocates to give talks in their evolutionary biology classes. Provine is in the final cut, but MacNeill isn’t.

    What the film also neglects to mention is that there is a whole ensemble of supporters of evolution who have been persecuted against. If the film was truly about “academic freedom”, then why the blatant bias towards adherents of a particular side?

    Stein’s criticisms of Darwin’s theory are absurd to say the least. One of them is that it doesn’t explain how life arose or how the law of gravity arose. It’s a ludicrous statement considering Darwin’s theory explains the origin of biological diversity, and does not purport to explain how life or matter arose.

    Furthermore, complexity is not evidence for Intelligent Design. While there may be gaps in our current understanding of biological systems, positing that an Intelligent Designer was responsible without any falsifiable evidence is akin to somebody in ancient times claiming that Zeus was responsible for lightning. There are is a good reason why Intelligent Design – like astrology and phrenology – is rejected by scientists. It’s because it simply is not the rigorous scientific theory it pretends to be.

  3. Sirius says:

    NP,

    Your blog seems to have been made for the sole purpose of attempting to debunk this film. You do the film makers a great compliment by your choice of how to so specifically spend your free time.

    Your denialism is no surprise. Expelled! begins with a flock of Darwinists denying ID without bothering to explain why other than sweeping generalizations like, It’s not science, and [my favorite] It’s boring.

    Your point about PZ, Dawkins and company can only be taken with a grain of salt. They are vocal, internationally recognizable advocates of the athiest/naturalist front depicted in this piece. Not all scientists are atheists. Expelled! makes ample note of this. The fact that some theists support evolution was also addressed in the documentary. These are red herrings you’re offering.

    Your point that the film leaves out much makes me wonder if you understand either rhetoric or the attention span of the average moviegoer, especially when they’re watching a documentary. This isn’t meant to be a conclusive treatment of all aspects of the debate. It’s a simple argument that warns that ideas have consequences and that truth should be allowed to come out by freedom of inquiry, not dogmatic adherence to the party line [or else].

    You utterly missed Stein’s point about the inadequacy of Darwin’s theory to explain how matter or life began, so here it is: Neither evolution nor naturalism can explain everything, though they profess that in time they will. [We call that faith where I come from.] Since it can’t explain everything, there is room for a competing theory that might explain things more fully. But Darwinists will brook no competition.

    You yourself have ended your comments with the sort of exclusionary bias that these guys promote. Science to them cannot be science unless it a priori excludes all possibility of a supernatural answer to any question. All questions must have natural solutions. But if God exists, some solutions will necessarily require that we take into account the supernatural [God]. [The majority of the solutions will be natural, since we exist and observe a natural world bound by natural laws, but a fingerprint of the supernatural will be evident on some level.] If God exists, excluding Him as a possibility will only make the conclusions of science ultimately false. Naturalist science cares not a whit that it doesn’t know everything and could not exclude God by the evidence; it has faith that this will turn out to be the case and so excludes the very consideration of the possibility that He might exist.

    Stein is advocating that we follow the evidence where it leads, instead of declaring that only one set of solutions [sola naturale] may be considered.

    As for your other objections to the film, this documentary was not about every facet of the debate. It was about how establishment science [naturalism] is discriminating against and attempting to muzzle any competing theories. The fact that the establishment [Big Science, if you will] is verifiably doing so suggests that Darwinism and pure naturalism are no longer scientific. It is the nature of scientific exploration to question the authority of the prevailing wisdom in the pursuit of better understanding of the world. The fact that Darwinism refuses to allow anyone to do so suggests that it is now more dogma than true science.

    They might as well be screaming, “THERE IS NO SCIENCE BUT NATURALISM AND DARWIN IS ITS PROPHET!”

    –Sirius Knott

  4. NP says:

    Thank you for your response, Sirius. My blog has been inspired by the release of this film, but I aim to comment on the broader issues of intelligent design, science education, etc. Indeed, even once the buzz over this film dies down, I still intend to give my two cents on this issue of whether intelligent design constitutes science, and whether it has brought anything worthwhile to the table.

    My comments about theistic scientists accepting evolution is neither denialism nor a red herring. In fact, it would be safer to say that Expelled is full of red herrings and strawmen.

    One of them is rather evident in your reply, when you say Ben Stein makes the point that evolution cannot explain how matter or life began. That is a ludicrous statement because not only is it blindingly obvious, but also because nobody who understands Darwinian evolution claims that it ought to explain how life or matter arose. Darwin sought to explain the origin of biological diversity, and while the theory of evolution itself has evolved through a synergy with population genetics, molecular biology and developmental biology, that hasn’t changed what the scope of what the theory attempts to explain. There are of course countless unanswered questions and scope for competing theories – if there weren’t, we wouldn’t need science. However, the point that many scientists and critics of ID (including those like Ken Miller, who are Christians nonetheless) have been trying to make is that competing hypotheses must stand on their own merit, not the shortcomings of the alernative theory.

    Portraying science as a dogmatic enterprise is a paranoid distortion of the reality of how science is done. If you look at the field of biology itself, there has been considerable debate and alternative hypotheses over the past century itself. Take the example of Lynn Margulis, whose hypothesis of symbiogenesis was initially rejected by scientists. It’s important to take note of the distinction between rejection and suppression; while scientists did not agree with Margulis’ views, there was no suppression of them despite it not conforming to the prevailing paradigm. Once the evidence for symbiogenesis accumulated, symbiogenesis gained credence and is now widely accepted. The same was true of Barbara McClintock and transposable elements. Science is by and large a self-correcting mechanism; but change will not come from political posturing (as in the Dover trial) or appeals to emotion (as in Expelled); it needs to come from compelling and falsifiable evidence.

    Science by definition employs methodological naturalism. This was true of modern science long before Darwin – so the conflation of Darwinism and naturalism/materialism is specious at best. This is not to say that the supernatural does not exist, but the nature of science is such that it is limited in scope.

    Furthermore, many of the advocates of ID do not claim to know the identity of the Designer, but rather they claim there is evidence of design. Thus theoretically it does not have to be about the supernatural at all. But, I must stress that thus far ID proponents have not come up with a compelling method of detecting intelligent design, and till they do so any preconceptions of ID are unwarranted.

    Could you please provide any concrete examples of cases where allowing supernatural explanations has led to scientific progress?

    I am of the opinion that science is limited in its scope, and if the supernatural does in fact exist there will inevitably be unanswered questions. Carl Sagan said that science is asymptotic to truth, and I am inclined to agree.

    Sorry for the long reply, but I will just conclude by saying that the alleged cases of suppression in the film are vastly overexaggerated. Unfortunately, you seem unlikely to give this possibility serious thought. Have you considered that the academics and educators are incensed by the film not because of the truth of its claims, but its egregious mistruths? And that what you consider “damage control”, is simply a response to the biased – and often misinformed – claims made by Ben Stein?

  5. Rob says:

    NP,

    Sorry to butt in on this two-way discussion, but the point you make about the proper scope of inquiry related to Darwinian evolution strikes me as sophistry. A perennial problem in the ID-evolution debate is the continually evolving and devolving definition of “evolution.” The definition morphs with the rhetorical exigencies of the moment. And Lord knows (no offense) the popularizers of the Darwinist worldview such as Dawkins will pronounce on anything under the sun, including the most fundamental metaphysical questions.

    When you assert that Darwininian investigation is not concerned about the origin of life, do you mean to imply that the scientific establishment is willing to give IDers a seat at the investigative table with regard to origins, since big science hasn’t been able to come up with much?

  6. NP says:

    Rob,
    Much of the ambiguity over what “Darwinism” means stems from creationists who conflate it with ideologies like materialism and atheism, and from “Social Darwinism”. But Darwin’s theory of evolution was formulated to explain the origin of diversity. Darwin himself stated that some creator would have breathed life into the first life form – he did not posit an inorganic origin of life. There are some who say that Darwinian principles would also apply to prebiotic evolution i.e. the formation of the first cell from inorganic molecules, but by and large Darwin’s theory explains how evolution of already existing life forms occurs.

    ID is welcome to recognition by the scientific community if and when it manages to produce positive and falsifiable evidence for their theory. As I mentioned in my earlier posts, other scientists had to do it the hard way; ID advocates want to put the cart before the horse.

  7. Sirius says:

    NP,

    That dog don’t hunt.

    Creationists CORRECTLY state that neo-Darwinism is basically materialism and atheism. Why? Is a deity required for evolution to work? Is any supernatural process allowed in evolution or does it work by natural selection alone? Materialism and atheism.

    What of Darwin’s evolution? On the one hand, I am constantly reminded that Darwin’s theory has undergone several revisions because that’s the nature of science. On the other, where, oh, where does evolution allow for deity? Only at the outset. We could only say that it is a materialistic process started and created by a deity[aka deism].

    As I’ve put it several times, ID should be subject to the same standards of evaluation as Darwinism [in whatever variety]. Yet evolution has not produced positive and falsifiable evidence for its position. It has only provided speculation carefully guarded by a priori and quid pro quo. The fossil record, the only evidence we could examine, does not line up with Darwin’s theory and has, from the outset, beeon declared “imperfect” and therefore not a candidate for falsifying evolution [which it most certainly would!]. And the observable biological world continues to provide only evidence of variation with a species.

    Now I admit some frustration over the INCONSISTENCY of your remarks. Are you then allowing for a deity [or dare we say design] the creation of life, matter and the universe? Just so long as He doesn’t interfere once life has begun?

    –Sirius Knott

  8. NP says:

    Sirius, your assertions are ludicrous. Is germ theory akin to atheism or materialism simply because it does not require a supernatural entity? Of course not!

  9. Sirius says:

    Red herring.

    We’re discussing evolution, not germ theory. Please try to stay on topic.

    And please try to use your little brain this time.

    If the theory does not require a supernatural entity and THEN goes beyond that to EXCLUDE all possibility of the supernatural from consideration, then it is by definition both atheist and materialist.

    –Sirius Knott

  10. NP says:

    Sirius, your assertion is ludicrous.

    Would you consider economics to be atheist or materialist if economists don’t consider the “invisible hand” to be a supernatural force?

    Once again, you need to draw a distinction between methodological naturalism and ontological naturalism.

  11. Sirius says:

    NP,

    You need a dictionary. Does naturalism, by definition, allow for the possibility of the supernatural? Or is there a reason the prefix “super-” is attatched to supernatural? Oh, that would be because it designates something beyond the natural, huh? Likewise naturalism pertains to the purely natural and does not allow for anything beyond that stricture, which is why it can’t answer any of the truly interesting questions like: How did the universe begin? What is the meaning of life? Why do we bother to exist at all? Is there a purpose? Is there a God?

    You, my nebulous friend, are making a false dichotomy, which is to say a straw man.

    Again, please stick to the subject at hand you squirming pseudointellectual eel.

    –Sirius Knott

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