Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Expelled by Design...

Well, Ben Stein's Intelligent Design screed Expelled is going to start showing up in theaters this Friday, though it's only running in two theaters in my city. I actually saw a commercial for it on TV for the first time this morning. I must admit that I have some morbid interest in seeing the film, though I've no interest whatsoever in supporting its creators by paying to do so. Expelled is little more than a collection of the same tired old creationist arguments mixed in with whining about about "scientific elitism" and weird accusations that Darwin caused the Holocaust.

There are two things that strike me as missing from all the pre-release material on Expelled, the first being the obvious question that, if somehow ID turned out to be true in the face of all on-going scientific research, why would that naturally lead us to the conclusion that the Judeo-Christian God was behind it? Why not Odin, Amaterasu, Ganesh, Marduk, or Cthulhu? What would it prove about any god? Mightn't it just prove that there are aliens and that they created humanity? Because ID is just a repainted version of fundamentalist Christian creationism, it makes an unspoken assumption that if nature were shown to be designed by an outside intellect, it must've been Yahweh that did it. But what leads them to that assumption? Why didn't Ben Stein interview this guy?

The reason is that Stein and his Expelled cronies aren't interested in non-Christian versions of ID is that they're specifically out to tout biblical creationism in the guise of science. Not that I'm claiming that the alien guy is doing any more science than the IDers (actually they're probably working on about the same level), but it's telling that the traditional IDers want nothing to do with these guys. They're all making about the same claims, but the ID crowd wants to make sure that its audience understands, without having to say so, that the operator behind all this meant to be Yahweh.

What's double fun here is that any time you bring up the whole "intelligent design by aliens" to a traditional IDer, you'll get a response along the lines of "Aliens complex enough to create human beings are also too complex to have arisen by chance*, so what designed them?" The reply, of course, is that an omnipotent deity must by definition be far, far more complex than either humans or aliens, so where did it come from? Was it designed by something else? Where did that come from? Did it, and only it, evolve? If a deity has existed for all eternity with no beginning or end, can't one ask, rhetorically, why a static universe in which the building blocks of life have always existed is not at least equally as plausible?** Most IDers have no answers to these questions because their are operating under the assumption that the ID "designer" is meant to be Yahweh.

Also conspicuous by their absence are any prominent Christian scientists who accept evolution. As usual, I'm going to trot out Human Genome Project head Francis Collins, who is an eminent geneticist and also a devout believer in evangelical Christianity. Collins is willing to go to the mat with Richard Dawkins about the existence of God (Collins is big into the anthropic argument.), but he is convinced of the reality of evolution by natural selection after having spent his entire professional life working exclusively in the field of genetics! Where is Collins in Expelled? What about Catholic biologist Ken Miller, author of Finding Darwin's God and outspoken foe of creationists of all stripes? Why isn't he in Expelled?

The answer here is easy - Expelled's producers felt that Christian evolutionary scientists would "confuse the audience". Something that the creators of Expelled want to sweep under the carpet is that the vast majority of Christians working in the biological sciences understand evolution by natural selection to be, for all intents and purposes, an established fact. By refusing to acknowledge that anyone can both be a Christian and accept evolution by natural selection, the Expelled crew is working hard to manipulate their Christian viewers into siding with them by fiat, essentially saying that "Christians aren't allowed to accept evolution".

So yeah, Expelled is coming to theaters on April 18th, but it might behoove moviegoers to think for a moment about some of the perspectives that have been expelled from Expelled.

* Note the use of the word "chance" in ID/creationist-speak, rather than anything more illustrative of the proper evolutionary view of "random mutations being acted upon by non-random selection pressures."

** Sure such a cosmological scheme doesn't jive with modern physics, but doesn't that make it all the more appealing? Stick it to Big Physics by asserting your right to believe in a static universe!

6 comments:

JAK said...

Setting aside the controversy and shenanigans that have gone into the production of this film, one of the most important things to realize is that a huge number of the (conservative) Christians to whom this film is marketed have never been told what evolution really is. Anyone that has gotten their concept of evolution from Answersingenesis, the Creation Museum, Ray Comfort, Josh McDowell, A Beka textbooks, Bob Jones texts, or any of the other usual suspects of anti-evolution rhetoric doesn't have enough factual information to form a well-reasoned opinion on the matter.

I'll defer the extended rant on this subject until a little later.

Garret said...

Hi Skippy
"why would that naturally lead us to the conclusion that the Judeo-Christian God was behind it? Why not Odin, Amaterasu, Ganesh, Marduk, or Cthulhu?"

He is the most reasonable to believe of all those mentioned Gods- care to defend Ganesh? Why should I accept Cthulhu?

"The reply, of course, is that an omnipotent deity must by definition be far, far more complex than either humans or aliens, so where did it come from?"

Only effects have causes- God is the uncaused first cause- a cosmological aguement ensues.

"Most IDers have no answers to these questions because their are operating under the assumption that the ID "designer" is meant to be Yahweh."

Again, this is not a ID argument, it is cosmological.

Collins and Miller have philosophically caved in to an origin answer that is not biblical- is this the most reasonable thing to do? Perhaps, given that the weight placed on physical evidence COUPLED WITH the specific philosophical lens they were trained into seeing via modern education, I am not surprised. But something is supposed to happen at conversion- your eyes are opened, you see the world for what it really is-it was created, and a specific claim is made by the creator. The question for the Christian is- are you going to distrust that account because of philosophy hostile to it, or are you going to use the worldview that the bible gives and approach the evidence from that angle? When you do, the same evidence presented by scientists- such as human chromosome 2 -leads to a different answer all together- same evidence, different answer- the difference- the philosophical non empirically verifiable belief in God and that He created everything.

"* Note the use of the word "chance" in ID/creationist-speak, rather than anything more illustrative of the proper evolutionary view of "random mutations being acted upon by non-random selection pressures."

Non random selection pressures are "non random" because they are identified, not because they are "non random". Are you saying that environmental pressures are NOT random? What guides them? You merely replace the word "chance" with a sentence that denotes complete submission to random, unguided processes- in a word- "chance". These chance processes, any of which could have by chance been something different, would have created different mutations or none at all. It is all "chance".


Jak
Please let me know when you come up with a different mantra than the "Christians to whom this film is marketed have never been told what evolution really is." chant. We have been educated and have taken biology in universities. People who hear and study and understand evolution can still come to reject it writ large.
You have said that I don't understand it, because I brought up abiogenesis and you launched into how that is not "evolution". Well, it is origin of life, but you can't make the claim that I don't understand evolution from that. You can't make the claim that a rejector of evolution does not understand it with out seeing what they do and do not understand, and the reasons for their view.
Thanks, gents,
Garret

Skippy said...

Briefly:

1.) Yahweh is more reasonable than Odin or Marduk in exactly what way? Because you philosophically prefer him? Because his cult won out? Why?

2.) "Uncaused first cause"? Again, if you're going to make an argument for an uncaused hyper-complex deity, you may as well just make an argument for an uncaused static, temporally infinite universe. Why is your idea of an uncaused God more reasonable than an uncaused pre-existing universe? Remember you constant invocations of letting your philosophy color your interpretation of the evidence - the actual scientific reasons that we essentially know that we don't have a steady state universe can't be used as an argument because someone else's metaphysic might interpret all the evidence as IN FAVOR OF a steady state universe.

3.) Don't be coy. If you had the slightest inkling that, say, Ray's advocacy of ID was being made in order to argue that the designer was aliens, Thor, or Dr. Who you wouldn't listen to him for a second. ID is a pure repackaging of creationism, with all the theological assumptions whitewashed over but still very much present. I might note that the ID textbook "Of Pandas and People", which was the original vehicle through which the movement was meant to be peddled, began life as a purely Christian creationist textbook. After the 1987 Supreme Court decision banning creationism from science classes, "Pandas" went through a verbatim reprinting with no changes except for the words "creation" and "god" being replaced with "design" and "designer".

4.) Regarding environmental selection pressures: Within any environment there are predictable measures through which selection can operate. If an environment is dry, for example, organisms capable of existing with little water can be expected to thrive whereas creatures without such an ability can be predicted to have less success. In any environment, creatures that are capable of breeding quickly and often can be expected to thrive.

Consideration of any given environment allows one to predict and observe various selection pressures that will impact which organisms are the most successful in passing on their genes. These pressures are not random in the sense of "Out of organisms A-Z, each one has an identical chance of surviving to breed, but half of them won't by sheer unpredictable chance." They are determined by complex interactions with (and within) the environment and the relative "fitness" of any organism can thus be predicted.

Garret said...

1.) Yahweh is more reasonable than Odin or Marduk in exactly what way? Because you philosophically prefer him? Because his cult won out? Why?

Because the cosmology of Yahweh is much more reasonable.
Why should I believe in a bunch of battling gods?
I answered the question another way -"The bible is a collection of documents for which its writers suffered and died (for the gospel), as you know, having read the documents of Paul. WHY would they suffer for 25 years or so before being put to death, through the imprisonment, beatings, rejection, societal persecution, for something they only kinda-sorta believed could possibly be true, versus KNEW to be true.
Very unreasonable would be to believe it was for a lie, to have received such a miserable worldly gain. Another thing- the texts ask a lot of us....if they were going to make something up, wouldn't it be more typical of pleasure seeking- rather than moralistic "goody two shoes" hard to live out requirements to suffer for!? Something worldly oriented perhaps? Christianity is certainly not convenient! Clearly something significant happened that caused these men to abandon the pillars of their old faith and replace it with new faith, and new covenant and it was NOT comfortable for them, so it screams significance. A huge change doesn't come lightly, for simple superstition, which tends to simply fade away...."

"2.) "Uncaused first cause"? Again, if you're going to make an argument for an uncaused hyper-complex deity, you may as well just make an argument for an uncaused static, temporally infinite universe."

Why should I might as well believe some random thing? You seem to think a Christian is someone who believes "whatever one can think of".
The theistic claim is NOT that everything in the universe needs a cause- but rather that all EVENTS need a cause. There cannot be an infinite regress of events, logically.
There is "event causation" and "agent causation". The cosmological argument is an appeal to agent causation. Agent causation is argued as the first cause of event causation.

As the FIRST cause (God is "agent") He is the start of ALL (event causation) causes, He is where the infinite regress (of event causation) ends. He is the beginning of all things, it starts AT Him.

"3.) Don't be coy. If you had the slightest inkling that, say, Ray's advocacy of ID was being made in order to argue that the designer was aliens, Thor, or Dr. Who you wouldn't listen to him for a second."

Nah- like I said I used to listen to hours of foolishness on Coast to Coast AM - but believing them is a different matter, as you, a skeptic know.

Skippy said...

Why should you believe in one God and his host of celestial beings waging cosmic battle against a slightly less powerful Anti-God and -his- host of celestial beings? Isn't that tantamount to "a bunch of battling gods"?

"The bible is a collection of documents for which its writers suffered and died..."

Likewise, Muslim suicide bombers are willing to die gorily for their religion. Does that make Islam true?

Vikings frequently chose death on the battlefield over surrender in order to find glory in Valhalla. Does that make the old Norse religions true?

Many American Indians chose death before gunpoint religious conversion. Does that make their religion true?

Buddhist monks give up almost all worldly comforts in order to pursue their spiritual path. Does that make Buddhism true?

David Koresh and his Branch Davidians faced death during their prolonged stand-off with law enforcement, and ultimately 76 were killed rather than back down from their beliefs. Does that make Koresh right?

Falun Gong practitioners in China risk harassment, imprisonment, and "re-education" for practicing their spiritual system. Does that make Falun Gong true?

Finally, at the final tally, religious persecution has killed far, far more non-messianic Jews than Christians. Does that make OT Judaism correct?

You can't honestly think that no member of any other religion has ever been willing to suffer and die for his or her beliefs, and as long as that's the case, the willingness to do so cannot be held up as evidence that any particular religion is true.

Garret said...

Hi skippy,
I'm sure all those who died for those religions were sincere in their beliefs. The Christian martyrs I am talking about were there at the scene of the Christ event, were witnesses to the resurrection. That is the claim. It is a different thing to die for something you sincerely believe to be true, and something you saw with your own eyes, and KNOW to be true.
Then you imply that is the only reason to believe, that is false, merely it is one good reason of many. It is compelling to me, but not to others. The other religions are false because Christianity is true. Or Christianity is false, another true. Christianity and Buddhism and Odinism can't all be true, they make competing and contradictory truth claims. Sure I could be confused on some of the details- inerrancy for instance, but the confusion is mine, and can exist outside of the reality of Christianity.