Monthly Archives: April 2008

“Flunked Out” — A Review of Ben Stein’s “Expelled”

If I really wanted to let my sarcastic side loose, I wouldn’t have added any words to my review of Ben Stein’s propaganda tour-de-force Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed beyond those present in this post’s title. But I’m not feeling so sarcastic today. In fact, I’m feeling quite angry.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I won two tickets to see Expelled. Being new to the area, I really didn’t know who to take. By chance, I met JP, whose wife attends my wife’s local bible study. Being the intelligent fellow JP seemed to be, I figured seeing Expelled would be right up his alley. Thankfully, I was right, and we had an excellent conversation on the merits and boundaries of both science and religion during yesterday’s drive home from Salinas, where we viewed the movie. (Thank God it wasn’t an IMAX. The director of photography loves closeups. Remember the “Seinfeld” episode about the mole?)

We both admitted that the movie was an extremely powerful piece of propaganda, regardless of the truthfulness or falsity of its claims. The liberal use of pre-color television, news, and motion picture clips were ingeniously interspersed throughout the movie in order to reinforce the charges that Expelled made, namely: (1) people from various industries have lost their jobs and sufferered humiliating ruination all because they “mentioned” Intelligent Design in the workplace, and (2) Darwinism is the beginning of a slippery slope into atheism and a philosophy of life that not only allows but encourages abortion, euthanasia, eugenics, and other moral monstrosities, much like those (if not identical to) crimes against humanity conducted by mid-20th century Nazism and communism.

In regard to the first charge, I was naturally skeptical. One of my favorite rock bands of the 90s was Extreme, founded by former Van Halen lead singer Gary Cherone. As the band progressed through their four studio albums, Cherone’s Christian faith made its presence known increasingly. Their third album was titled III Sides to Every Story (1992), which was was divided into three parts: “Yours,” “Mine,” and “The Truth,” the last of which contained some of the most gorgeous statements of Davidic pleading and faith I’ve heard in modern music. But I digress. My point is that Ben Stein, et al, were not telling the whole story regarding the alleged dismissals of those Stein interviewed, and it appears that the interviewees took great pains to paint pictures of a vast atheistic conspiracy to target Christian scientists or teachers who believe in God by leaving out (conveniently, I might add) details that would change the story from “Mine” to “The Truth.” ExpelledExposed.com provides more illuminating details on each of the six “victims.”

Ironically, Expelled interviews two Christian theologians, Oxford’s Alister McGrath and Cambridge’s John Polkinghorne, both of whom haven’t been “expelled” from their respective institutions for being strong believers in the Judeo-Christian God. Thus, it stands to reason that the truth behind the dismissals of Expelled‘s six case studies may very well be for reasons other than the mere belief in an Intelligent Designer. On the other hand, if they were in fact dismissed for pursuing scientific proof of Intelligent Design in their work (and/or not producing enough grants, published literature, etc.), I can understand why they should lose their jobs: Intelligent Design is not science, and no self-respecting scientific or academic institution should have to allow psuedo-science into the classroom and/or laboratory. In the words of the American Astronomical Society,

In recent years, advocates of “Intelligent Design” have proposed teaching “Intelligent Design” as a valid alternative theory for the history of life. Although scientists have vigorous discussions on interpretations for some aspects of evolution, there is widespread agreement on the power of natural selection to shape the emergence of new species. Even if there were no such agreement, “Intelligent Design” fails to meet the basic definition of a scientific idea: its proponents do not present testable hypotheses and do not provide evidence for their views that can be verified or duplicated by subsequent researchers.

Has the Intelligent Design movement produced anything of scientific note? Anyone? Anyone?

The movie also makes the claim that scientists’ attempts to discover a natural explanation for the origin of life on earth have come to a complete standstill since the failed experiments of the 1950s in which scientists applied electricity to a primordial soup in hopes that life would spontaneously arise. This can’t be further from the truth, as scientists have recently made great leaps toward understanding what environmental conditions may have served as a cataylst for the origin of life. (No Lightning Allowed. Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

Also disturbing was Stein’s “guilt by association” sleight-of-hand, which linked Darwinism’s allegedly logical ends and the horrific Holocaust perpetrated by Hitler’s Nazi regime. Stein even quotes Darwin at length while touring the remnants of Germany’s concentration camps, creating a powerful indictment of a brilliant man who harbored no such ill will toward any of his fellow man. But Stein’s Darwin quote is selective, leaving out entire sentences in order to make Darwin sound like a card-carrying member of the Aryan race. To the contrary, if one were to read the passage in context and in full, it turns out that Darwin extolls the nobleness of the human race (having risen above its animal instincts) and depicts the elimination of the weak and helpless (like those conducted by Hitler’s goon squads) as a supremely selfish act and an “overwhelming present evil.” Shame on you, Ben Stein. Back of the line! No primordial soup for you!

And poor Richard Dawkins. If he only knew for what his interview was really intended. As much as I disagree with Dawkins’ philosophy, I feel sorry for him and others (like PZ Meyers) who were hoodwinked into thinking their interviews were being filmed for an objective documentary. Does anyone know if Alister McGrath and John Polkinghorne, both theistic evolutionists, knew that their interviews would be featured in Expelled? From the quotes used, I doubt anyone in the audience would have suspected that they are theistic evolutionists who, as far as I know, don’t accept the precepts of the Intelligent Design movement.

You’d think that Expelled‘s deliberate misrepresentation of the facts, both in terms of movie production and presentation of the scientific evidence, would make me angry. Not so much. I wouldn’t expect anything more from a fringe establishment trying to masquerade their faith as science. With such an entrenched paradigm, their actions don’t surprise me. So what is making me angry? Honestly, it’s the fact that one year ago I would have fallen for Stein’s presentation—hook, line, and sinker. I’m also angry at how easily Christians fall for half-truths and outright lies. I’m angry at how often we Christians check our brains at the door and are perfectly willing to serve as messenger boys for the most outrageous urban legends, folk sciences, doctrines, and just plain idiotic belief systems. I’m angry at Christianity’s penchant for dismissing the claims of biological and astronomical science despite the voluminous amount of evidence in favor of evolution.

Have you seen Expelled? What are your thoughts?

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“Be-de, be-de, be-de, that’s all folk science!”

Faced with the scientific evidence of an old earth, as well as the literary evidence that Genesis 1 was intended as a combination creation “myth”/temple text, I found it much easier to understand how some Christians could reconcile the theory of evolution with their faith. I immediately recalled the name of Howard J. Van Till, whose theistic evolutionist contribution to Zondervan’s Three Views on Creation and Evolution I never read because I dismissed it as an outrageously inconsistent position that was incompatible with the doctrine that the Bible, as God’s inerrant word, is historically and scientifically accurate in regard to all topics upon which it touched. But I knew that I’d come across Van Till’s name long before. I checked my personal library’s creation/evolution section (still bursting at the seams with YEC literature and a smattering of OEC stuff from Hugh Ross), but couldn’t find his name. Then I remembered: it was packed away in a box of books in the garage.

Over 20 years ago, my dad gave me Science Held Hostage: What’s Wrong with Creation Science and Evolutionism, written by Howard J. Van Till, Davis A. Young, and Clarence Menninga. (In retrospect, I’m pretty sure my dad wouldn’t have agreed with the authors; I think he just wanted to give me a book that fit my interests.) Sadly, I didn’t crack it open for two decades. But after having adopted Walton’s ANE perspective, something urged me to unpack that box, dig out the book, and “pick up and read.” Within a few short chapters, I was convinced of the book’s core message: both creationists (of the young- and old-earth sort) and evolutionists (of the rabid atheistic sort—hence, the “-ism” in evolutionism) had presented us with a false dichotomy. As such, both atheistic evolutionism and special creationism victimized the public by demanding we choose one of two options: either (1) science can settle infallibly (or legitimately discard) questions of a philosophico-religious nature, or (2) religion can infallibly answer questions of a scientific nature.

Because both groups colluded (albeit unintentionally) to form this false dichotomy, Van Till, et al, considered both groups to be “folk science.” In “FROM CALVINISM TO FREETHOUGHT: The Road Less Traveled”, Van Till writes:

. . . a ‘folk-science’ is a set of beliefs about the natural world—beliefs that need not be derived from, or even consistent with, the natural sciences—beliefs whose primary function is to provide comfort and reassurance that the rest of one’s worldview is OK.

Thus, both atheistic materialism and special creationism derived their distinctive beliefs based not on established methods of scientific inquiry, but rather on their worldview.

Now I was getting somewhere! Nevertheless, I wasn’t yet convinced that naturalistic evolution was the answer. So, for an extremely short season, I clung to the idea that science could prove the existence of an Intelligent Designer, whose nature is unarguably, well, “super,” for lack of a better descriptor. Jumping on the Intelligent Design (ID) bandwagon would allow me to accept common descent to some degree while refusing to admit evolution to be the sole mechanism by which God created, especially when it came to the creation of the human race and the infusion of the soul. There was a part of me, like Dr. John Walton, that wanted to retain one or more historical anchors in the Genesis 2-3 narrative.

But Van Till continued to haunt me. Although Science Held Hostage was written well before the advent of the ID movement, I soon came to the conclusion that ID was committing the same “sins” as the YEC movement and that ID methodology didn’t serve the advancement of scientific knowledge. In fact, ID’s presuppositions appeared to serve the advancement of scientific agnosticism in principle, if not in practice. It appeared that the ID movement was willing to throw its hands up, lock the laboratory doors, and no longer explore possibilities or test theories beyond what they declared to be “irreducibly complex.” Heck, if past generations had settled for that kind of answer, we’d still be a geocentric society with a fear of traveling beyond the sight of land.

The illusion of “irreducible complexity” isn’t as unassailable as ID proponents would want the public to believe. As much as I sympathized with the ID movement in its quest to prove the existence of an Intelligent Designer via the scientific method, thus explaining “knowledge gaps” as evidence of divine creative activity and supernatural tampering, the core of my being didn’t want any part of that. Did I really want to be caught holding the ID bag when scientists declared that something previously thought “irreducibly complex” by ID proponents was, in fact, “reducibly complex”? Of course not.

Van Till’s aforementioned essay “FROM CALVINISM TO FREETHOUGHT” essentially updates the core of Science Held Hostage‘s message to take ID into account:

Similarly, the concept of Intelligent Design functions today as the folk-science of a large portion of the broader Evangelical Protestant population in North America. A fundamental tenet of ID’s folk-science is that the system of natural causes fails to include the formational capabilities needed for assembling certain complex biotic structures, such as the bacterial flagellum. If natural causes are inadequate, then the form-imposing intervention of some non-natural Intelligent Designer must have been essential (wink, wink, we don’t say who the Designer is, but you know who we mean). And if supernatural (power over nature) intervention was necessary for the formation of rotary motors on E. coli bacteria, then there is nothing standing in the way of Evangelicals maintaining their conviction that God could have performed all of the other supernatural acts portrayed in the Bible.

And so it was that, once confronted with the scientific, literary, and philosophical evidence, I abandoned my support of the YEC/OEC/ID movements and moved (quite happily, I might add) toward my current evolutionary creationist position.

But, how then, could I continue to be a theist? If the scientific method was inadequate for proving that God created the universe, what leg did I have to stand on? Enter an unlikely bedfellow: Stephen Jay Gould.

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Genesis Destroyed by Exegesis So-Called?

Men today do not, perhaps, burn the Bible, nor does the Roman Catholic Church any longer put it on the Index, as it once did. But men destroy it in the form of exegesis: they destroy it in the way they deal with it. They destroy it by not reading it as written in normal, literary form, by ignoring its historical-grammatical exegesis, by changing the Bible’s own perspective of itself as propositional revelation in space and time, in history.

— Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984), Death in the City [1969]

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From Creationist to Evolutionist – Chris Tilling’s Story

I know Van Till was supposed to be the subject of my next post, but this link was too good to pass up! Chris Tilling, at his Chrisendom blog, tells his own creationist-to-evolutionist story, albeit in a much more succinct way than I have.

[HT: Exploring Our Matrix’s James F. McGrath]

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D’Souza: “The Failure of “Intelligent Design”

Dinesh D’Souza, whose conservative political commentary I’m more familiar, has written an excellent article on the reasons behind the failure of Intelligent Design to become an accepted scientific alternative to Darwinism. As a Christian, D’Souza is sympathetic to the ID cause; at the same time, however, he also recognizes that its methodology is unsound and its target really should be the atheistic agenda of some atheistic Darwinists (e.g., Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris), not the fact of evolution and/or the theories of its mechanisms.
Although D’Souza doesn’t use the term “folk science” to describe “atheism masquerading as science,” Howard J. Van Till does. And Van Till’s early work is the focus of my next post. For now, I’d like responses to this post to focus purely on D’Souza’s article.

UPDATE: HT to Steve Martin via Undeception’s Steve Douglas for finding atheist PZ Meyers’ critique of D’Souza’s claim that evolution is being taught in an atheistic manner. I applaud D’Souza’s on-the-money critique of ID, but I certainly don’t appreciate his over-exaggeration of the facts (if, in fact, he is exaggerating) in order to make his point. False claims in service of the truth certainly don’t help people act objectively.

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Questions for Answers in Genesis #2

I haven’t posed questions to Answers in Genesis for a while now, so I suppose the second installment of “Questions for Answers in Genesis” is long overdue. Let the inquest begin!

From AiG’s “Answers Weekly” (26 Jan 08):

One of the most frequently asked questions posed by Christians and skeptics alike concerns how Noah could fit all the animals on the Ark. Secular evolutionists mock those of us who take the account of the Ark and a global Flood as literal history. They claim Noah couldn’t have fit the supposed millions of animals needed on board.But a little research shows clearly that Noah didn’t need millions of animals. Only representatives of each kind of land-dwelling and air-breathing animal were needed. Creationists have shown that there can be many different species within each kind—for example, dingoes, wolves, coyotes, and domestic dogs all of these belong to the same kind.

So, if I’m reading this correctly, AiG is positing that speciation since the Flood (ca. 2500 BC) occured a rate faster than even naturalistic evolutionary theory would suggest! Just to make sure I wasn’t misunderstanding AiG, I did a quick Google search and found this on AiG’s website:

… new species have been observed to form. In fact, rapid speciation is an important part of the creation model.

Wow. So why do creationists have such a hang-up over the agonizingly slow rate of evolution (as theorized by mainstream scientists) over the past 3.7 billion years? AiG goes on to say, “But this speciation is within the ‘kind,’ and involves no new genetic information.” No new genetic information? Can this be proven?

From 16 Feb 08:

Science presupposes that the universe is logical and orderly and that it obeys mathematical laws that are consistent over time and space. Even though conditions in different regions of space and eras of time are quite diverse, there is nonetheless an underlying uniformity. Scientists are able to make predictions only because there is uniformity as a result of God’s sovereign and consistent power. Scientific experimentation would be pointless without uniformity; we would get a different result every time we performed an identical experiment, destroying the very possibility of scientific knowledge.

Amen and amen! I’m surprised Ken Ham isn’t an evolutionist! (Of the theistic type, of course.) But then AiG had to say this:

Evolutionists are able to do science only because they are inconsistent. They accept biblical principles such as uniformity, while simultaneously denying the Bible from which those principles are derived.

How is accepting a “biblical” principle while simultaneously denying the Bible’s divine origin inconsistent? (By the way, I’m curious to know where in the Bible it states this scientific principle of “uniformity.” Bueller? Bueller?) Even as a YEC, I knew better than to use this kind of strawman argument.

Until next time …

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I’m Going to Get Expelled!

This afternoon, I won two tickets to see Ben Stein’s propaganda tour-de-force Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, the much-touted response to atheistic naturalism by the Intelligent Design community. (Of course, the ID community refuses—out of fear, I might add—to acknowledge that Darwinism and/or naturalistic evolution isn’t inherently atheistic, but I digress …) So it is that, the weekend of 18 April, I’ll be traveling up to a theater in Salinas (about 25 minutes from Monterey) to attend the show, after which I’ll jot down my thoughts on the movie and post them here.

If you’ve just won two tickets to the movie and you believe that evolution is scientific fact (and not just a theory), would you merely walk in the door, watch the show, and walk out again? Or would you attempt to present your viewpoint to any in the audience willing to listen? If so, how?

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Arguments I Think Creationists from Answers in Genesis (AiG) SHOULD Use

As every Internet surfer does on occasion, you start out researching one thing and end up in a completely unexpected location. This time, I ended up at Answers in Genesis’ (Aig) webpage titled “Arguments we think creationists should NOT use.” (Don’t ask how I got from searching birth records of my relatives to searching for the birth record of our planet.)

Under the heading “What arguments are doubtful, hence inadvisable, to use?” is the argument that reads: “There is amazing modern scientific insight in the Bible.” Oddly enough, I completely agree with their advisement! Here’s AiG’s response to this argument (the most important part of which I’ve bolded in red):

We should interpret the Bible as the author originally intended, and as the intended readership would have understood it. Therefore we should be cautious in reading modern science into passages if the original readers would not have seen it. This applies especially to poetic books like Job and Psalms. For example, Job’s readers would not have understood Job 38:31 to be teaching anything about the gravitational potential energy of Orion and Pleiades. Rather, the original readers would have seen it as a poetic illustration of God’s might—that God, unlike Job, could create the Pleiades in a tightly-knit cluster, which is what it looks like, while God created Orion as a well spread-out constellation, again something well beyond Job’s ability. Similarly, Job 38:14 is not advanced scientific insight into the earth’s rotation, because the earth is not being compared to the turning seal, but to the clay turning from one shape into another under the seal.

Excuse me while I clean up the milk that just poured out my nose …

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Why Do You Believe in [fill in the blank]?

I came across this quote today (attributed to Chicago Sun-Times journalist Sydney J. Harris) while reading Howard J. Van Till’s “FROM CALVINISM TO FREETHOUGHT: The Road Less Traveled“:

“It is impossible to reason a man out of something he has not been reasoned into. When people have acquired their beliefs on an emotional level, they cannot be persuaded out of them on a rational level, no matter how strong the proof or logic behind it. People will hold onto their emotional beliefs and twist the facts to meet their version of reality.” Why do you believe in evolutionism, special creationism, atheism, or [fill in the blank]? Did you come to believe it through a reasoning process, or do you admit that you have (or may have) an emotional attachment to it that’s stronger than your intellect? Heck, is that even a fair question?

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From the Ministry of Science Propaganda

I don’t know who produced it and why, but I think this video has the potential of being “claimed” by numerous players in the origins debate. What do you think?

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