POSTED BY on 9:39 AM under
Ok. So Ben Stein made a movie called Expelled, chronicling the censure of Intelligent Design folks in academia. Since the premise seemed interesting and it's a subject often discussed by religious folks, I decided to check it out. After watching it, I have a few points for anyone interested in my opinion...

To start, there are some rather good things said in the film.

  • First, Stein points out that Darwinism is a necessary intellectual justification for the Holocaust and Eugenics, though it is not a sufficient condition. I think that's a correct statement. Only if you think that survival of the fittest and seeking the genetic uber-man are appropriate paradigms for humanity could you believe in the appropriateness of the Holocaust and/or Eugenics.
  • Second, Stein points out the link between eugenicist Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Barrenhood, and the Nazis. Good. That needs to be said more often.
  • Third, I think Stein's undertaking is a good one - it shouldn't be the case that folks are written off in academia simply by uttering the words 'intelligent design', and I sincerely believe this to be the case presently. Some critics have called this a conspiracy theory, but listening to the monotonously consistent invocation of the scare-word "Creationism" any time ID is brought up seems to lend more credibility to Stein than the critics.
  • Fourth, there was a worthwhile foray into the problem of abiogenesis, for which there isn't even a scientific "best guess" ("It just happened, ok?!?"). The extreme implausibility of inanimate stuff *suddenly* deciding to become "animate" and then *suddenly* deciding to replicate is...well...something which isn't dealt with terribly often. There are a few attempts at proposed answers, but none of them are widely accepted and they each seem to have some serious deficiencies.

Now...there are also some rather bad things about the film.
  • First, it intentionally has the look and feel of a propaganda piece. The use of vintage film clips is, IMHO, excessive. It's meant to ridicule the opposition by linking them with antiquated ideologies. While this can be helpful and I understand why they did it, the particular implementation comes off as rather ham-handed.
  • Second, there's a notable failure to do the following EXTREMELY CRITICAL things: (1) define intelligent design - what is it? - and (2) give some of the problems ID advocates see with evolution as classically presented. No mention of the Cambrian Explosion, no discussion of the lack of the number of transition fossils one might hope for / expect to see, no discussion of irreducible complexity -- these are very engaging questions, and scientists offer some explanations (sometimes contradictory, sometimes utterly inadequate, sometimes rather fulfilling), but the simple fact that none of these subjects are even broached in the film strikes me as a marked deficiency. The closest you get is the rather facile claim that when darwinists talk amongst themselves they acknowledge some problems with the theory. That's waaaaay too vague, if you ask me.
  • Third, the Eugenics / Abortion segment was entirely too short and also failed to engage Euthanasia, which is the final solution (to use the term) for the weakest members of our society. No mention of the disproportionate number of black abortions, no mention of the >90% of Downs Syndrome diagnosed babies being aborted, no mention of the impending "duty to die" that looms like a thunderstorm on the horizon for our nation's elderly should "assisted suicide" come to be the law of the land... I could go on and on about the culture of death and the diminished status of the inherent dignity of all humans. In brief, I think the film's treatment was way too short given the dangers these currently pose.
  • Fourth, I think the "Darwinism leads to atheism" argument is (1) fallacious and (2) tactically bad. First, the necessity runs the opposite direction -> atheism requires that the believer be closed minded to anything except Darwinism, though there are many theistic believers in evolution. Second, this is a scare tactic. Teach your kids Darwinism and they'll have no choice but to become atheists. While this might seem logical to Richard Dawkins, it's absolutely not the case and to make the claim is to rely on an appeal to fear.
  • Fifth, because of the numerous deficiencies, I doubt the film is likely to persuade anyone. I highly doubt anyone will change their opinion of pretty much anything as a result of the film. And that's a shame, because it could have been otherwise. But...perhaps it will get people talking?
I have plenty more I could say, but that's more or less the gist of my thoughts. As for my own belief (if anyone cares), I'm rather agnostic about origins theories. I whole-heartedly believe what the Church requires, but outside of that I'll simply go where the evidence leads. God (and we, His people) has nothing to fear from Truth - indeed, Truth is how we come to know God, for God is Truth. To whatever extent evolution (or ID, for that matter) can be shown to be true, I'll willingly believe. The trick lays in identifying what has been "shown"...
3 comments so far:
    Benjamin Franklin May 5, 2008 at 11:31 AM , said...


    You said that you sincerely believe it to be the case that folks are written off in academia simply by uttering the words 'intelligent design'.

    I saw the movie, and am well researched on the claims it makes. At Reasons to Believe, they state-

    "In Reasons To Believe's interaction with professional scientists, scientific institutions, universities, and publishers of scientific journals we have encountered no significant evidence of censorship, blackballing, or disrespect. As we have persisted in publicly presenting our testable creation model in the context of the scientific method, we have witnessed an increasing openness on the part of unbelieving scientists to offer their honest and respectful critique.

    Our main concern about EXPELLED is that it paints a distorted picture. It certainly doesn't match our experience."

    Also, In a New York Times interview, Walter Ruloff (producer of Expelled) said that researchers who had studied cellular mechanisms, made findings suggestive of an intelligent designer. “But they are afraid to report them”.

    Mr. Ruloff also cited Dr. Francis S. Collins, a geneticist who directs the National Human Genome Research Institute and whose book, “The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief”, explains how he came to embrace his Christian faith. Mr. Ruloff said that Dr. Collins separates his religious beliefs from his scientific work only because “he is toeing the party line”.

    That’s “just ludicrous,” Dr. Collins said
    in a telephone interview. While many of his scientific colleagues are not religious and some are “a bit puzzled” by his faith, he said, “they are generally very respectful.” He said that if the problem Mr. Ruloff describes existed, he is certain he would know about it.

    I agree with many of the things you say in your post, but the premise that academic freedom is being denied to those espousing ID is vastly overstated, and lacks actual substantiation.

    Given the lack of even a comprehensive statement of what ID theorizes, combined with the complete lack of any predictions which could be empirically tested makes it apparent that ID proponents, instead of being silenced, are merely silent.

    Catholic Audio May 5, 2008 at 1:59 PM , said...


    Thank you for an excellent response! I'll have to look further into some of your objections -- I'm certainly open to the claim that there's no suppression, it's just bad science. Like I said, I'll have to look into it some more.

    I also think you've offered a particularly salient conclusion:

    Given the lack of even a comprehensive statement of what ID theorizes, combined with the complete lack of any predictions which could be empirically tested makes it apparent that ID proponents, instead of being silenced, are merely silent.

    Eloquently succinct. Nice work!

    If you think about it, though, what ID proponents are advocating is a "design inference", if you will, as well as a questioning of the adequacy of Darwinian evolution to explain the current state of biology.

    ...but how do you "test" for a design inference? An inference isn't testable at all, which perhaps is why ID is pejoratively labeled a "pseudo-science". Nonetheless, such inferences are valid if warranted. My main beef is that in the film we weren't given sufficient grounds to permit a warranted inference, not that inferences themselves are illegitimate.

    Moreover, theoretical cosmology (bubble universes, etc.) offers paradigms that are completely metaphysical (and therefore categorically untestable), but we don't call it "pseudo-science" or dismiss it for that reason...

    So that said, I'm not sure testability is an appropriate standard for the claims of ID. It's primarily an inference claim. Also, the ID critique of the Darwinian account doesn't need to be testable - it's simply a critique that that evidence doesn't fit the theory. All you can do is respond to the critique with counter-evidence - you can't simply claim that no one should pay attention because the critique isn't testable. can...but it's highly unsatisfying...

    But in any case, my reasons for claiming ID folks are shut out stems from two sources: (1) anecdotal evidence (which is extremely squishy by its very nature, so there's only so much to be gleaned from it) and (2) the dramatically unfair claim that ID is young-earth-6-day creationism in new clothes. I'd claim the second point is an extremely prevalent view in academia, and I'm not sure you'd disagree. It's that characterization I object to. Dismiss or accept ID on its own grounds - don't poison the well with talk of Creationism. So it's because of that link that I think ID folks are written off...though, as I've said, I'm rather open minded about the matter.

    But, again, very nice response! If you have further thoughts, I'd be interested in listening.

    God Bless,

    Benjamin Franklin May 6, 2008 at 12:56 PM , said...

    Hi Ryan

    Thanks for the compliment. I've been spending way too much time responding to blogs about Expelled, but at the very least, it has enabled me to distill my thoughts about it into somewhat cogent statements.

    If you don't mind, I would like to further discuss some of the points you bring up.

    It would be naive for anyone to assume that there is no discrimination involving ID proponents. Likewise, there is, in some areas, discrimination involving evolution proponents.

    Is there still racial discrimination? Sure. Do fat people and old people and ugly people suffer discrimination and prejudice in job interviews? Sure. I tilt at windmills, but I don't think there is anything anyone can do to completely eliminate it.

    What bothered me about Expelled, is that they elevated what one reviewer called "acadamcian pissing matches" to the level of monstrous consiracy and a threat to the American Way.

    In looking at ID, I have found that there are really two aspects. There is ID on the scientific level, and then there is the ID movement. There is really no clear line of delineation, but there are, indeed, scientists with good credentials, trying to advance ID on a scientific basis. I would include Behe,Dembski and some others in this group. My beefs with this group are that:

    1- they havent done much of anything to advance their case in several years. To my knowlege, they aren't doing any active research, and haven't even modified their work to address
    valid criticism. For example, most of what Behe claimed was irreducibly complex has been show to be, in fact, reducible. To wit- the eye, the clotting system, the flagellum, and with new research, DNA itself. But Behe almost seems to be on the outs with the Discovery Institute these days, since he published "Edge of Evolution"

    more to follow


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