Thursday, April 24, 2008

Movie Review: Expelled

On Sunday afternoon, I had the privilege of seeing the new documentary motion picture Expelled featuring Ben Stein and a host of scientists. Expelled deals not so much with the technicalities of the debate over intelligent design, but rather with the issue of academic freedom within the scientific community. Expelled traces the firing and persecution of scientists and journalists over mere mentions of intelligent design. It then goes deeper to examine why intelligent design excites such fervor among many scientists and why freedom of speech about intelligent design is an important issue.

The film is highly artistic and uses clips from old documentary and newsreel footage as well as a few older major motion pictures in order to present iconic images that make us think, draw our thoughts in certain directions, and makes emotional impressions upon the viewer. The images used by this motion picture will be considered controversial. But I must say that their use is high art. Most controversial will be the argument showing the connection between hard-line Darwinian evolution and the eugenics movement, Planned Parenthood and Nazi Germany. Also controversial is the image of the Berlin Wall illustrating the walling off of intelligent design from the world of accepted scientific education, research, and publishing. The disturbing images do make the film unsuitable for small children.

The film only briefly goes into some of the technicalities behind intelligent design. It only uses animation to illustrate the complexities of the living cell. But the arguments made by the film will be understandable at a popular level and are sophisticated enough not to be boring. Both sides have their say as Stein interviews scientists opposed to intelligent design and intelligent design advocates. Clearly the documentary has an agenda, but it is an agenda that is presented to us in a reasonable fashion and with attention given to opposing positions. The film is masterfully edited. The editing is clearly a work of cinematic art. But the points made by the documentary film are legitimate. I strongly encourage people to see Expelled and to consider its message.

Darwinian evolution explains development within species, but is an entirely inadequate explanation for the original origin of life and for the rapid development of multiple existing species. Darwinian evolution cannot explain the so-called Cambrian Explosion, and does not adequately explain the origin of living cells. Now that we know enough about the complexity of the individual cell we know how difficult it would be for a cell to “evolve” one process at a time. In all of our experience and experimentation life does not come from non-life. Dead materials and chemicals do not result in life. Intelligent design posits that the most logical explanation for the vast amount of information in living cells. It is perhaps the only coherent explanation for the origin of life in a dead universe.

Scientists often claim that intelligent design has no place in science because it is not a materialistic process verifiable by purely materialistic assumptions and experiments. But Darwinian evolution as the origin to life is likewise not verifiable by experiment. Science can determine what can be duplicated, but it cannot determine what actually happened. We can say that based on current appearances certain things are possible (yet experiments fail to show life from non-life is possible), but we cannot say what actually occurred with any great certainty. Random material processes have not succeeded in providing a coherent explanation for the origin of life or for the origin of original living cells. Closed-mindedness toward the questions and hypotheses offered by intelligent design shows a closed-mindedness to truth rather than a reasoned commitment to reason.

Scientific opposition to intelligent design is predicated upon the idea that science is a discipline with clear boundaries. Law in the past two centuries has also attempted to make a similar claim. Just as science now claims that it should be free of metaphysics, philosophy, religion, and history, law has also claimed that it should be free of ethics, religion, and philosophy. But such freedom from other disciplines tends to result in error, distortion, and wrong doing rather than in knowledge, freedom, and truth. The reason is simple. The real world holds no such boundaries. Truth is a seamless web in which everything that is true is inter-related with everything else. Attempts at rending this seamless web are often based on worldviews that actually deny the reality of religion, ethics or morality. But then that isn’t searching for truth, that’s making a presuppositional conclusion and seeking to ignore anything contrary to the conclusion. Truth is best sought holistically rather than in a way that excludes any evidence outside certain boundaries and limitations. This doesn’t mean that we should consider things that are absurd or nonsensical or irrational or wrong. It merely means that we should consider everything that is genuinely true and logical. We should look at all of the evidence.

I once heard philosopher Frank Beckwith compare science to a detective story. We’ve all seen those detective shows on television and in the movies where the bad detective assumes that every death is a suicide and refuses to consider any evidence that might lead to a consideration of murder—particularly if the doors and windows to the room where the death occurred were locked. When we are watching a movie or television program, we always know instinctively that this foolish detective is likely to be wrong and that there is some way in which a murder actually occurred. In some ways, scientists opposed to intelligent design are like the detective with a one-track mind for suicide—they want to insist that the windows and doors were not only locked, but that they must stay locked to prevent any free moral agents from outside coming in and tampering with the evidence available in the room. The problem is that reality is not so neatly contained.

Science can focus on being science. But it needs to be open to connecting with and recognizing all truth. Disciplinary strengths and limitations should never become a reason for ignoring reality.

You would be wise to see the movie expelled and to consider the message it presents.


Anonymous said...

I frankly do not understand how an attorney and dean of any law school could reach the conclusions you do after Kitzmiller.

What did you think of the Kitzmiller transcripts and opinion and how do you reconcile those with the movie?

J. R. McFaul

Dean McConnell said...

Even though some creationists seek to use Intelligent Design as a way to get Christianity in the classroom, that does not mean that the idea if intelligent design is invalid or that ID arguments are wrong. Nor does it make the opinions if ID opponents true.

I do not agree with the whole "disciplines have neat boundaries" approach used by the courts in cases dealing with ID and creationism. Just saying an idea is not science does not make it so. The notion that only materialist explanations are acceptable in science is silly.

Anonymous said...

Thnak you for your response.

But it raises another question to this trial attorney.

You say "The notion that only materialist explanations are acceptable in science is silly."

As a practical matter, how is a judge sitting in a court and hearing evidence expected to handle a seer's testimony that a "defendant's aura" demostrates his innocence of the charges? How do you propose to admit such evidence, if you do?

Right now, Daubert, and its state counterparts serve to exclude such testimony. Those cases specifically limit themselves to materialist explanations. Do you think Daubert's limitaiton is a mistake?

Alrthough "act of God" is a defense in CERCLA cases, tort actions and other cases, I have nver seeen an atttempt to assert a supernatural event shch as acts of God, angels or even demons as a defense to a tort action or at a criminal trial. Are you proposing that we now do so?

If I understand you correctly that is the logical progression of this expansion of science into the non-materialist realm.

I apologize for not being able to do the identity on the blogger, hence my email address to verify.

Dean McConnell said...

I think you are misapplying my point. There is nothing wrong with rules that keep so called experts using "junk science" out of court. It is also true that human courts have to base judgements on things most human beings can perceive and verify.

The point is that Darwinian evolution is more like an "aura" or a claim that an act was done by an angel than like the specific gravity of a particular rock. The evidence just is not there. Instead it is accepted because there is no other purely materialistic and mechanistic explanation. Intelligent design is not offering testimony of feelings about the mystical. It is saying that as a matter of science, some phenomena cannot be explained accurately without taking into account that the phenomena evidence an intelligence behind them. The irreducible complexity of cell life is not a mystical phenomena. It is observable evidence. Intelligent design does not posit who or what the intelligence behind life is, it merely notes there is no real scientific possibility of it occurring by random chance alone.

If you leave your home in the morning with an empty kitchen table, and when you return in the evening there is a cake on the table, you can safely say some intelligence (probably human in this case) made th4e cake and left it on your table. You would not hypothesize that earthquakes and wind and molecular motion got the ingredients together, baked them, and produced the cake by chance. Life is far more complex than any cake. The amount of time scientists believe the universe has been around is only like an afternoon compared to the amount of time it would take for chance to account for life based on the complexity and the mathematical odds.

The history of the universe cannot be credibly explained by science alone.

Anonymous said...

All of those arguments were presented and rejected in Kitzmiller. Have you read the transcripts and the opinion?

"The evidence just is not there. Instead it is accepted because there is no other purely materialistic and mechanistic explanation."

The objection that this assertion lacks foundation and is an expression of an unqualified non expert is sustained.

It's factually inaccurate.

The rest of your comments are factually devoid recyled creationism 101 arguments from incredulity. I'm very disappointed.

Dean McConnell said...

I skimmed through the transcripts some time back. I did not find them dispositive as you seem to do.

The real problems in that case were the remarks about purpose made by the school board members and the questionable text book choices and recommendations made. Bad facts make bad law. Bad facts make bad law once again. I do not agree with the judge's opinion. But perhaps you are a radical positivist and believe if a judge says it it is settled? If most scientists agree with something does that settle it?

Detailed scientific and philosophical discussions of ID and Darwinism were not a part of the record and are too complex and voluminous for me to incorporate in my blog anyway. The whole premise of the judge's conclusion is that truth and knowledge can be neatly partitioned. They cannot.

I do not accept your judgement or your evidence rulings. People need to be free to discuss this issue without prejudice. If you are not persuaded that is OK. I think it is wrong in this case to silence free discussion.

What are your arguments for Darwin? Are you aware of experiments that have produced life from inanimate materials?

Francis J. Beckwith said...

I just don't understand the reply "but Kitzmiller said...." Unless the opinion is holy writ, I do not see why legal scholars, such as Don McConnell, may not assess this opinion and conclude that it is not very good. Roe v. Wade, Plessy v. Ferguson, Dred Scott, and even Brown v. the Board of Education have all been subject to trenchant criticisms by legal scholars from a variety of political persuasions. It seems to me just plain silly to single out Kitzmiller as if it were an inerrant text.

Mr. McFaul sets up straw men that no sophisticated anti-materialist actually offers as part of his case. Here's one to chew on: is it a principle of correct thinking that a person ought to accept only rational beliefs? Now provide a materialist answer that does not assume or explicitly rely on immaterialist premises. By the way, that means you can't use logic, since that is immaterial, invariant, and unchanging, and yet, apparently knowable.

Good luck.

Joseph R. McFaul said...

"The notion that only materialist explanations are acceptable in science is silly."

Assume this is actually the law in the courtroom. Now let's examine the cake hypothesis again with that as our legal guideline:

"If you leave your home in the morning with an empty kitchen table, and when you return in the evening there is a cake on the table, you can safely say some intelligence (probably human) in this case) made the cake and left it on your table."

Are you or Francis suggesting that I can argue that angels put the cake there? Demons? Tweeenies? And that I woudl be allowed to call an expert witness who can see the auras of the very angels who placed the cake there?

Surely you are not making that argument. No court would or should permit such testimony. I easily conclude that the cake was placed there by a human intelligence.

Now put soemthing else on the table not designed by a human being? What would that be? A spider web? A bird's nest? Both designed. The point: "Intelligence" does not equal "supernatural" or "immaterial." Intelligence is observed and measurable in this natural world.

Since I assume you are not suggesting that I could scietifically prove the angels, demons and tweeniens then "The notion that only materialist explanations are acceptable in science is silly" is incorrect.

"It a principle of correct thinking that a person ought to accept only rational beliefs"

Is correct, but...

"Now provide a materialist answer that does not assume or explicitly rely on immaterialist premises."

No need to. You have equivocated, as you often do, one of your terms. In this case, you create a false dichotomy between "rational" and "materialist." I don't agree that "rational" and "material" are mutually exclusive. Logic is part of nature, routinely, but not always, exhibted and measured, by humans.

But you know what? God gave us our intellect. Both of you make the mistake that scientific evolution somehow disproves God or the human soul. It doesn't even adddress those subjects.

Science by its nature is limited to emprically observable phenomena. That statement limits science. Its limitation to empricially observed matters does not inevitably lead to the conclusion that science is "all there is." But, if it's not empirically observable, it's not science. That's all Kitzmiller held (with respect to science). (Kitzmiller also held ID was a sham, which it is, but that's not important to this discussion at the moment.)

You also intentionally micharacterized my argument, Mr Beckwith.

I did not "single out Kitzmiller as if it were an inerrant text."

Do not mischaracterize me again.

You are very well aware that lawyers rely on cases that have decided specific issues. The judge in Kitzmiller, after hearing testimony by Michael Behe, directly on Dean McConnell's point asserted above, rejected Behe's suggestion that science should incorporate the irrational as unworkable both in science and in court. Kitzmiller is a reported case. Requiring a lawyer to address the judge's reasoning in a reported case adverse to that lawyer's legal argument is not referring to some inerrant text--it's what lawyers do.

Now, Dean McConnell repsonds to my challenge by saying he finds Kitzmiller unpersuasive. That, at least, is a justifiable response to a proffer of a case directly on point--he simply disagrees with it.

He hasn't offered a very cogent reason for disagreement.

The conjuction of "Detailed scientific and philosophical discussions of ID and Darwinism were not a part of the record and are too complex and voluminous for me to incorporate in my blog anyway"


"Are you aware of experiments that have produced life from inanimate materials?"

indicate he did not read the expert testimony by philosophers (who were,in fact, very much part of the record) and he does not understand the first thing about bioligy since evolution does not address the creation of life from inanimate objects.

A laywer who misanalyzes the case and is unfamiliar with the science is not persuasive.

His hypothesis is demonstrably incorrect. Several ID books have been published. There is even an ID peer reviewed journal:

The Journal of the International Society for Complexity Information and Design.

Notice the frequency of publication and the date of the last issue.

ID also has its own research lab operating since early 2005, the Biologic Insitute.

The total amount of research put out by the Institute since 2005?


Nobody is silencing ID. It has nothing to say.

J.R. McFaul